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Spiritual Friendships Pt. 2

In our first session on friendship, we looked carefully at the following important principles of building solid friendships:

  1. Friendship must be God-centered.
  2. Friendship includes the formation of a commitment/covenant accompanied by a tangible sign(s) of that commitment.
  3. Friendship is dependent on faithfulness and love.
  4. Friends show candor and give counsel.
  5. Purity of heart and gracious speech will make friends.
  6. True friendship is reciprocal and displays the following character qualities: nonjudgmental, accepting, genuine, self-disclosing, trusting, loving, caring, committed, strong, firm, empathic, willing to listen, loyal, and able to compromise.
  7. Friendship is listening to the heart, helping a friend to understand his heart.
  8. Friendship is getting in touch with your friend's unique spirituality, with what God is doing in his life.
  9. Friendship is getting in touch with the spiritual questions your friend might be asking at each stage in his/her life.

That's what godly, committed and covenantal friendship is all about. But just as important is that we know what are the inappropriate expressions of friendship.

What Friendship is Not

Godly friendship is not playing God—1 Pet. 2:25

. Jesus, no one else, is the Overseer of people's souls. A godly friendship is one which doesn't mediate, but helps the other person get in touch with and respond to the Overseer for himself.

Godly friendship is not co-dependence—feeding on each other.

Spiritual friends have room for aloneness and solitude. We are free to be ourselves, to celebrate the unique stamp God has placed on our lives. We are free to be inadequate and dry and not together all the time. We don't need someone to fix us every minute we need a slight adjustment or have a season of questions. Friends know when to question and probe, when to be silent and wait for an invitation to help. Therefore, spiritual friends are not independent, but mutually dependent on Christ.

Spiritual friendship is not control; i.e., one person taking charge of another's life.

Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another;" and 13:10 reads, "Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice;". Proverbs 12:15 says, "the way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice;" and 19:20 says, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise."

Discipleship is certainly the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28). The only command of the Great Commission is "make disciples." Therefore, discipleship is healthy and appropriate only if it allows a person to grow into an equal who can minister to as well as receive from me. It is good only if it enables the disciple to respond and grow in his relationship with the Bishop/Overseer of his soul—Jesus Christ. Spiritual friendship either finds an equal or makes one.

When I had a burnout at Hillcrest, the elders had to tell me what to do. I couldn't make a decision and had no perspective. Interestingly, I had discipled most of these men in one fashion or another. It was hard on me, but very healthy for them and for the church to direct me and care for me.

Discipleship can be bad if it is used in the opposite way, becoming a means for control; to suppress growth or equality and maturity in Christ. If it turns one into a puppet or makes him/her continually dependent, it is harmful. No one can take Jesus' place in friendship, marriage, relationships, or children's lives. It is terribly disillusioning for many when they get into a relationship (marriage, friendship, or discipleship) with too high an expectation for their mate, friend, or disciple. They expect that person to fulfill needs and provide mature answers that only Jesus can fulfill and provide.

There are limits to what a friendship can and should do.

  • Don't put all your hope in a friend, a mate, a mentor, a discipler.
  • Keep your focus on Jesus and receive from this relationship as if it is coming from Him and enabling you to be like Him.
  • In some cases the relationship may not seem to be harmful, but under closer scrutiny, you find the person who takes control produces a clone—warts and all.
Do you really want your mentoree/friend to be like you? How should our friendships work out? What a wonderful privilege to be a catalyst and help people grow in Christ and become like Him. In order for it to happen, you will have to prize and appreciate your friend's strengths and abilities, so that instead of feeling inferior to you, he will be your partner in a reciprocal relationship. This means you catch him doing something right; you allow him to grow and mature in the unique way God has made him; and you give him confidence, helping him stand on his own, not dependent on you but as dependent on Christ as you. A give-and-take relationship takes grace and love. It will mean you take advice and even rebuke from your disciple—Prov. 13:10; 25:12. That is one of the most difficult things a friend/discipler will do. It's nice to be the answer man, to have people dependent on you. It's nice to have what you say be quotable. But the only way to see a disciple live out 2 Tim. 2:2 is to allow your him/her to become your equal—your partner. It is the most rewarding part of friendship and discipling.

 


Special Study: Friendships Between Men

Introduction: What are the factors that build or hinder friendship? This is an important question, because today people are building fewer friendships.

First consider how difficult it is for men to build a friendship. In our culture and those of some other Western nations, many males have never experienced a close male friendship. Those who do have friends usually have low levels of trust and personal sharing, and generally invest little in these relationships.

David W. Smith writes of men: "We learn early in life to be combative or at least competitive, yet few of us learn to be conciliatory. Few of us value close interpersonal relationships, and fewer still seem willing to invest the time and emotional energy necessary for the development of closeness. The fragmentation of community life; corporate pressures; the breakdown of the extended and nuclear family; the drive for success; and the rate of mobility have all taken a tremendous toll on the numbers of intimate friendships we acquire and sustain"—The Friendless American Male, David W. Smith, p. 23.

Herb Goldberg, in his widely read book, The Hazards of Being Male, argues that "it is extremely difficult for a man to progress beyond the first and superficial stage of interpersonal relationships..."—Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege (New York: New American Library, 1977), p. 136.

And Daniel Levinson, following 10 years of research on the topic of male friendship, wrote, "In our interviews, friendship was largely noticeable by its absence. Close friendship with a man or a woman is rarely experienced by American men"—Seasons of a Man's Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), p. 335.

Both Goldberg and Levinson use strong and pessimistic words, but others, too, believe that male relationships, if they exist at all, are usually superficial and self-serving.

What are some of the ways friendless American males significantly and negatively impact our society, our churches, and themselves?

Impact negatively the quality of marriages. If men haven't had meaningful friendships, they may not develop one with their mate, or even know what they are missing!

Impact on male children. If their children grow up not seeing the model of a male friendship with qualities of sharing, transparency, and encouragement, they may not develop friendships beyond superficiality either.

Impact the physical well-being of males. Because men are not experiencing quality friendships/relationships, they are having physical problems. "Many researchers argue that the key to harmlessly venting daily stress is a strong network of friends and family. Breaking ties, as in divorce for example, or never having established such relationships, appears to increase the incidence of heart disease, strokes, hypertension, migraine and tension headaches, rashes, ulcers, and even infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. If we are to avoid their potentially ruinous impact, we must share the frustration, stresses, loneliness, and anxieties of everyday life with people we love and who love us in return." The Friendless American Male, p. 25.

Impact the quality or even the existence of small groups. A man may be very uncomfortable sharing in a small group and therefore avoid involvement in one.

Impact obedience to Scripture. In what arena will men apply Scriptures concerning caring for members of the Body if they don't have an arena of application, such as a spiritual friendship or a small group?—Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:15.

Impact the quality of relationships between singles of the opposite sex. If one hasn't learned to develop a friendship with a person of the same sex, sharing the emotional and spiritual side of friendship, he may quickly move to the physical in a relationship with the opposite sex.

Impact the age at which people marry. Some men are delaying marriage because of inadequate experience in developing friendships with other men. They subsequently don't know how to develop a friendship with a woman.

Why is it that men don't have many friendships? What are some of the barriers to godly friendships between men?

 

  1. Men have an aversion to and confusion about showing emotions. Unless they are playing or viewing sports, men traditionally don't share their emotions easily. Obviously this isn't true of all men, but it is certainly true of many. Remember what Goldberg says: "A man has difficulty going beyond the first and superficial stage of interpersonal relationships" (The Hazards of Being Male.).

    Men are more likely to communicate and relate at a cognitive or thinking level. They deal mainly with the facts. They like to get together from time to time and talk about sports, the stock market, money, houses, jobs, things, etc. It's easier to avoid talking about subjects involving love, fear, and resentment. But something has happened in our culture in the last 10 years to cause a lot of confusion for men. Instead of being taught... He shall not cry; he shall not display weakness; he shall not need affection, gentleness or warmth; he shall comfort, but not desire comforting; he shall be needed, but not need; he shall touch, but not be touched; he shall be steel, not flesh; he shall stand alone... men are receiving confusing messages (Read from Honest To God, by Bill Hybels, pp. 31-32).

    Today the question is, "What is the appropriate, proper way to express emotions?"

     

  2. Men have an inability to fellowship. Many men find it hard to accept the need to fellowship with other men. The simple request, "Let's have lunch together," is likely to be followed with the response, "Sure, what's up?" The message is clear: the independent man doesn't need the company of another man. "If you want to get together, then there must be a problem."

    In fact, the image of the independent American man is that he has few, if any, emotional needs. In truth, a lot of emotions are swirling around inside and he would like to find a way to vent them. Since he can't easily say he needs to talk, he manufactures nonemotional reasons for being together: a business deal to be discussed; a game to be played; or—as some use as an excuse to be together—drinking.

    So the dilemma is: How can we get into conversations about our thoughts, emotions and needs; conversations that will build us up spiritually? Christian men need to know how to fellowship; they need quality times of fellowship to survive the pressures and changes they face in their lives and culture.

     

  3. Men have had inadequate role models. From time to time a movie or TV program will show a friendship between two males, but usually the model features anger and bravery, not a nurturing friendship. The newly prized qualities of patience, compromise, longsuffering, support, understanding, acceptance, openness, sensitivity, and intimacy are not often modeled for us.

    "Many men grew up in a masculine vacuum—they grew up with fathers who were non-nurturing, uncommunicative, or absent a lot of the time. This left them in a literal no-man's land of confusion about how to express authentic maleness"-(Hybels, Ibid, p. 32).

    Sadly, the mask of strength goes on and tends to keep us from knowing each other; and the fears, joys, loves, hopes, and concerns are largely kept within, preventing men from forming close friendships.

     

    Some Revealing Questions about Role Models

    How many of you men reading this had fathers who had godly and mutually supportive male friendships? How many of you were ever taught how to find and build friendships?

    On the other hand, how about the wisest man who ever lived? What did his father teach him about friendship? Solomon had a number of good models of friendship. Many of his father David's friends are mentioned in Scripture, especially Jonathan. As a result, David wrote a lot about friends in Proverbs-35 verses, to be exact. Look at Proverbs 27:10-"Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father... " Solomon stands in contrast to many men today, who have not seen models of godly and mutually supportive male friendships.

     

  4. Men tend to be inordinately competitive. Competition is highly respected among men. As Vince Lombardi used to say, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Many coaches and corporate executives have held to the belief that "nice guys finish last." Winning becomes all-important sometimes, thus men find it difficult to set aside the need to win, do well, or look better than other guys. I must confess I find it difficult playing a game of baseball unless I win. There's nothing wrong with friendly competition, but some men are so uptight about doing well and beating the competition, they often miss out on the joy of participation and the simple fun of being with friends. An inordinately competitive spirit is a barrier to friendship.

     

  5. Some men seem to be unable to ask for help. It's tough for a man to admit deep personal needs or longings and ask for help. He is reluctant to seek help for anything, from an ailing marriage to an ailing body. Many are reluctant to share problems not only with a counselor but even with his own wife or family—and God forbid he ask help from a friend! Asked why he refuses to share, the typical man will respond that he doesn't want to burden the family (or friend) with problems. The real problem is that often he wants to be self-sufficient. That may be a good quality when it comes to making a living, but it robs a man of the support, love, and concern of his friends.

     

  6. Men often have a distorted order of priorities. Success is more important than relationships, and status is obtained by the acquisition of material wealth rather than the number of close friends one might have. How high is the development of friends on your list?

     

  7. Many men harbor insecurity about friendships with other guys. Many are afraid of how it might appear if they show interest in being a friend with another guy. They don't want it to look like they have an unhealthy interest.

     

Application Questions

  1. What do you like or dislike about the following definitions of "friend?"

    "A trusted confidant to whom I am mutually drawn as a companion and an ally, one whose love for me is not dependent on my performance, and whose influence draws me closer to God."

    "A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become and still gently invites you to grow."

     

  2. Who are the five or six people who have had the most positive influence on your life? List their names and their relationship to you—friend, parent, spouse, teacher, employer, sibling, etc.

     

  3. Why are these individuals so important to you? List the personality and character traits they have that attracted you to them. How does your list compare to the nine principles listed in this outline?

     

  4. Do you have the same traits that you like in others?

     

  5. What trait do you most admire in others but don't have?

     

  6. In Psalm 55:12-14, David laments a friend-turned-traitor.

    What aspects of his former friendship do you think David valued the most? Psalm 55:12-14 "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. 13} But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14} with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God."

     

  7. What do the following verses saying about friendship?

     

    1 Cor. 15:33 Bad company corrupts good character.

    Prov. 12:26 A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

    Prov. 13:20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

    Prov. 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

    Prov. 22:24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, 25} or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.

     

  8. Why do you think we become like our friends? Are we usually affected positively or negatively by them? Why?

     

  9. Solomon captures one of the key ingredients in a genuine friendship in Proverbs 20:6. What is it? Why do you think this is such a crucial ingredient in a genuine friendship? Prov. 20:6—"Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?"

     

  10. The following verses give us the characteristics of a faithful friend. What are they? Examples? Which one means the most to you?

     

    Prov. 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

    Prov. 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

    Prov. 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. 9] Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

    Heb. 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

    Heb. 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

    Rom. 1:11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12} that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

     

  11. How long should you be faithful to a friend who is always in trouble?

     

  12. What have you learned from your past failures with friendship?

     

  13. Do you need to be friends with everyone? Why?

     

  14. What part does initiative play in having friends? What should we do to prepare ourselves for friendships? John 15:9-17; Prov. 4:5; 20:5; Matt. 23:11.

     


The following questions can be helpful as you begin to establish a spiritual friendship with another person.

 

Spiritual Friendship Questions

Your Past Spiritual Journey

 

Begin by sharing your Spiritual history—your autobiography. When and where did you first experience God's love? What have been the high and low places in your spiritual journey? Share one specific memory of feeling close to God.

Share one specific period when you felt distance from God. If you could live your life over, what changes would you make? Be as specific as you feel comfortable.

Talk about the most important encouragements you have received in your spiritual life. Who did they come from? What were they? Why were they so helpful?

 

Your Present Spiritual Journey with God

 

How do you feel about your relationship to God at the present? What do you think God might be saying to you now about where you should be in your spiritual journey?

Where and when do you presently feel the most distant from God?

Or what hinders or hurts you in your desire to know and follow God?

Or what atmosphere do you find is not conducive to your spiritual life? Why?

 

Spiritual Disciplines

 

What enables you to feel close to God now? Or what are you presently doing to open your life up to the Lord? What spiritual disciplines or patterns are you keeping to enable or encourage your spiritual growth?

More specifically, what are your strengths or growth areas in any of the following disciplines? Scripture memory/meditation, prayer, devotional reading/study of the Scripture, fasting (media, food, overscheduling), solitude/silence/listening, service in the church—e.g. gathering and/or scattering, simplicity of lifestyle? Where would you like to grow in the whole area of spiritual disciplines? What would help or hinder you in this area?

For example, how are you doing in the discipline of prayer? Where is it easy and where is it hard? What kinds of prayer are you involved with? Where do you want to go and grow in your prayer life?

What enables you to handle temptation? How can others help? Do you need help now? What do you feel guilty about most often? How do you handle your guilt?

 

Your Physical Journey

 

What are your goals for diet and exercise? What exercise/sports do you enjoy the most? How restful are your sleeping patterns? How are you affected by the following: lack of sleep, being overweight, lack of exercise? How can others help in this area?

 

Your Emotional Journey

 

How are you feeling about yourself? How is your temper and your patience with yourself? With others? What makes you impatient or angry the easiest? Who are you the most patient with?

How are you dealing with the stress in your life? What are the causes and signs of stress in your life? What will lessen your stress?

Have you ever been depressed? What have you learned from the experience? Do you still need help with your depression? In what way?

What makes you joyful? How can/do others help you with your emotional lows?

How important is contentment to you? Are you content with your life? What are the sources of your discontent? What brings contentment to you? To anyone?

 

Your Relational Journey

 

Over your lifetime, do you feel you have been treated fairly by others? By your family? How have you handled your mistreatment/abuse? Do you need any help?

Marriage—How is it really going with your mate? How is your prayer with and for your spouse? Are you able to share spiritually with your spouse? Why or why not? What are the issues you're working on to build your marriage?

Family—How is your family time? How do you feel about your child's spiritual development? What are you doing to contribute to your child's spiritual growth? What are the deepest desires/goals for your marriage and your family?

Friendships—Can you describe what's going on in the lives of your closest friends? Have you told them about any issues of depth regarding your life? Do you have any key relationships that need healing or forgiveness? In general, what spiritual desires do you have for your closest friends? (Caution: don't divulge confidences)

How do you best contribute to a friendship?

Where and how do you need to grow in your friendships?

 

Your Journey in Community

 

What experiences of meaningful spiritual community do you presently have? In your past? What are your needs and hopes for your church life? How are you contributing to the achievement of these needs and hopes? Is being in a small group or in a spiritual friendship an expression of being "in church?"

What is being said about a person who talks about the church apart from themselves? (e.g., "I sure wish someone at the church would minister to my needs.")

What are your spiritual gifts? What is your spiritual passion? (e.g. If you knew you couldn't fail, what would you like to do for/with God?) If you hear God say, in eternity, "Well done, you have been a good and faithful servant; enter now into the joy of the Lord," what do you think will be the good and faithful service He will be referring to in your life? Or what do you feel you must do in order to hear your Lord say that to you?

 

Your Future Journey

 

What do you dream about doing or being in the future? Can you share these dreams? How can others help you to achieve this spiritual goal? How important will it be for your spiritual friends to pray with and for you to the achievement of your goals/dreams? Have you shared your dreams with your friends so they can pray?

 

Several of the above questions are from Roberta Hesteness and those found in Francis Vanderwall, Spiritual Direction (Paulist Press, 1991), p. 74.

 


Consider the following re: your spiritual friendships:

 

  • The importance of praying for and with your spiritual friend
  • Use of a brief passage of Scripture as a means of "centering" your time together
  • The toleration of silence if it includes responsiveness to each other and the Spirit of God in your midst
  • The possibility of brief "assignments" for study, reading or reflection before the next meeting. (Roberta Hestenes 10/86)

     


Menninger Foundation
A Do-It-Yourself Mental Health Checkup for Men

  1. What are my goals in life, and how realistic are they?

     

  2. Is my use of time and energy helping me to reach these goals?

     

  3. Do I have a proper sense of responsibility, or do I try to do too much and fail to acknowledge my limitations?

     

  4. How do I react to disappointments and losses?

     

  5. How am I coping with stress and anxiety?

     

  6. What is the consistency and quality of my personal relationships?

     

  7. Are my contacts with others superficial, meager, and unrewarding?

     

  8. From whom do I receive and to whom do I give emotional support? Do I avoid getting support from others for fear of appearing weak?

     

  9. What is the role of love in my life? How much time do I give to listen and care for others?

     

As you answer each question, you should be able to provide a response that is constructive and you feel comfortable with. The only important grade on this checkup is that you feel good about your answer to each of the eight questions. Pay particular attention to questions 6, 7 and 8. Answers to these questions alone should give you some idea about the quality of interpersonal relationships you have with others. Most men do not score very well, especially on the last three questions.

 


Bibliography

Conway, Jim, Friendship, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1989).

Goldberg, Herb, Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege (New York, NY: New American Library, 1977).

Hybels, Bill, Honest to God (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1992).

Levinson, Daniel, Seasons of a Man's Life (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978).

Powell, John, "Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?" (Niles, IL, Argus Communications, 1969).

Sciacca, Fran and Jill, Burger, Fries and a Friend to Go, (Nav. Press, developed by World Wide Pub., Minneapolis, MN, 1988).

Smith, David, W., Men Without Friends, (Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson, 1990).

Stevens, Paul, "Developing Spiritual Friendship," (Regent College cassette 2001E, Part one).

Swindoll, Charles R., Living on the Ragged Edge, (Waco, TX, Word Books, 1985).

White, Jerry and Mary, Friends and Friendship: The Secrets of Drawing Closer, (Colorado Springs, CO, Navigators, 1982).

Wright, Norman, Before You Say I Do, (Eugene, OR, Harvest House, 1978).