The Priceless Value of Genuine Friends

December 27, 2014

""Faithful are the wounds of a friend...""

""A man's counsel is sweet to a friend...""

""Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend...""

""Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.""

(Proverbs 27:6,9-10,17)

 

In 1993, after I watched a godly man close to me take a serious moral fall, I realized that if he could fall, so could I. I needed some friends who knew me deeply, would look me in the eye regularly and ask me the hard questions, and who would persevere in holding me accountable. 

I called three men who were pastor buddies. To be honest, my purpose in inviting these men together that first year was actually more utilitarian than relational. I needed them. We were close, but I never dreamed what would develop over the next 20 years. They would become my most treasured friends.

OUR FIRST RETREAT

…lasted for three days that first year and we got completely honest with each other. I designed a simple self-evaluation tool that looked at each area of our lives. We filled this sheet out privately and then openly shared about each area. We realized that if this was to work we must be completely transparent. And...we ate together and played a little, very poor golf together.

Over the last 20+ years we have met annually for this 3-day retreat.  And increasingly more and more often during the years we have gathered to check each other's spiritual, emotional, and physical health. We have pushed each other, rebuked each other, challenged each other and counseled with biblical counsel. 

We have cried together and laughed together. We have prayed together and played together. What started with a single round of golf evolved to three days of golf and hours of prayer and sharing in our retreats. Our golf has become a bell curve. It began with 18 holes and evolved to 36 holes a day for three days for several years…and now has gradually returned to 18 holes a day…and some days we don’t even want to do that! But as our golf has become weaker, our friendship has grown stronger.

Recently, at my 97-year old father's memorial service (the one who unknowingly began these friendships), I looked up and there were my three buddies. Although I didn't ask, if I had thought about it I would have known they would be there. But seeing them reminded me once again of the rich man I have become. Other than my family, these three men have been the fullest relational treasure of my life. No money could buy what our deep affection affords. And, the model of their friendship has changed every other friendship in my life. I have many, many friendships now.

GOD'S INTENT

...is for us to have such relationships.  In the beginning it took perseverance to get these men together for a concentrated time. One of our guys was the best about calling us often and making sure we were all connected. He is our relational bulldog. Another is the most disciplined man we know, challenging us to continually take fresh steps in every area of our lives. Another is our greatest intercessor. Over twenty years he never entered his Sunday pulpit without first praying for the rest of us, and our children, by name. Our families have been carried by his intercession. And another continually pushes us to love Jesus and each other more deeply.

ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS

...where my life would have been without the accountability of these friends. Right now in America, 50 men leave the pastorate every single day. The pressures and temptations are intense. What began for me as a necessity has grown to a priceless treasure that I nurture now, not by duty, but by genuine Jonathan-David love.

TO HAVE A FRIEND

...you must be a friend. Friendships, it seems to me, must be cultivated. You must work hard at times to make them grow. The best relationships are fueled by intense honesty. Some men are not ready for their lives to be openly scrutinized (and even rebuked at times). But if you will pursue friendships and be the best friend someone else has ever had, the reward is overwhelming.

If you love everybody but have no deep relationships, re-evaluate your life. Make your ambition this year, along with all you do, to connect with 2-3 other men on a deeper level. Take a retreat. Tell them your intent. Work hard at this accountability and do not let go. And pray that true friendships will develop.

""HISTORY IS CHANGED

…among friends,"" my good friend, Bob Bakke often says. And he's right. However God desires you to be a change agent in this world will be dramatically enhanced by friendships. That simple statement has made me more intentional the last years in developing—not just acquaintances or ministry partners—but real friends.

I don't know if I'm very good at it. And my selfishness often gets in the way, but the older I become the more I relish friendships. Even among my staff and Elders, I want us to be a team of men who love each other and will live and die for one another. Friendship will take you light years farther than utilitarian business or ministry relationships and will make it a lot more enjoyable along the way.

I know some pastors who disagree with this approach, but it seems biblical to me and has proven true in my life. And, without question, the greatest Friend, who was willing to give His life for His friends, modeled this. He loved his closest friends—even unto death—even when they did not know how to love Him.

I DON'T KNOW

…what my life will ultimately accomplish for God's glory. But I do know this: it has been richer and deeper because of the gift—the cultivated, but blessed gift—of some real friends. And, I'm a very, very grateful man.




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