A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Last week I enjoyed a reunion of sorts. My two best friends from Mankato met me in Grand Forks. We found a Culver’s and established ourselves in a back corner out of the way. For the next hour and a half, we caught up on one another’s lives.
When I first arrived in Mankato as a solo pastor, I knew that I would not be able to do the work alone. I prayed and asked God to give me a couple of men who would walk with me. God answered that prayer. At the beginning of my ministry, I had a Board meeting every Tuesday evening. Gregg and Vic agreed to meet with me for dinner on Tuesdays, in part to help me prepare for the meeting ahead. For twelve years we met together every week. Gregg, in particular, became my Barnabas. We were able to share life at a deeper level, to encourage and to challenge one another. Then Gregg responded to God’s call and was launched on a journey that eventually took him to Germany.
I struggled for a while to fill the void left by Gregg’s absence. Then Mark stepped into the picture. I invited Mark to have breakfast and consider meeting with me on a regular basis. That resulted in a fifteen-year journey of meeting every Thursday morning for breakfast. That journey continued until I retired and God called me to North Dakota. Mark too had become my Barnabas. He and I weathered several significant ministry storms together. We also came along side of each other as we faced our own personal battles.
These two men have played a significant role in my life and ministry. I am deeply indebted to them for the investment that they have made in my life. But I have to say that neither of them is my closest friend.
Today, as I was doing my devotions, I was struck with the reality that I have been meeting with another friend every morning for well over 30 years. Although that friend is not physically present with me, he is nevertheless a real presence in my life. That friend is Jesus.
Many years ago, I made a commitment to spend the first hour or so in my office every morning in devotional study. As a pastor, this is a privilege that I have that many others do not. I do not take that privilege lightly or for granted. It is an amazing gift from God. It has become an essential part of my spiritual journey. Just as I felt the loss when Gregg or Mark were unable to meet with me, so I have felt the very real loss when I have failed to meet with Jesus. The course of my day is definitely altered by the lack of time with my friend.
What struck me powerfully this morning is that I have not realized the connection between meeting with my Barnabas’ and meeting with Jesus. When I began my daily routine of prayer, Bible study, and devotional reading, I did it more out of duty than out of delight. I saw it as a necessary spiritual exercise, like going to the gym. I have come to consider my time each morning as a delight and not a duty.
In both cases, when I first began meeting with Gregg and Mark, our times together were awkward, guarded, and a little sterile. But over time they became rich and meaningful. It was not so much the content of our time together as it was the genuine sharing of life together. The same was true when I began my daily routine. At first it was awkward and sterile. But the longer I persisted the richer it became. Not every morning is profound, yet very morning is enriching in its own way.
I have struggle with seeing Jesus as my friend. Somehow that didn’t seem right. Lord, Master, Savior; these all seemed appropriate. But friend seemed presumptuous. It seemed too superficial in some way. But today I realized that I was wrong, very wrong. Although Jesus is my Lord, Master, and Savior, He is also my friend, my closest friend.
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure, He told them that they were more than just disciples, they were His friends.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12-15
I have experienced genuine, human friendship personified in Gregg and Mark. I have also experienced genuine, spiritual friendship in the person of Jesus. I have not always recognized this or appreciated it, but Jesus has been for me “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”