“Every time I have experienced spiritual burnout there have been people ready with their assessment, judgement or even criticism. Some have meant well, others have meant harm, but none of them mattered nearly as much as those who pointed me to God.”
-Russ Ewell, When God Isn’t Attractive
I will never forget the summer going into my sophomore year. Attending conditioning workouts with the basketball team, I was eager to impress the coaches to earn a spot on the roster. It was no walk in the park; you had to earn the respect from the returning players and coaches. I remember feeling intimidated by the seniors as they jumped higher, shot better, and ran faster than me. But this didn’t stop me. I loved basketball and was determined to give every drill and exercise my best effort. During one practice, I was done. My body couldn’t handle running another lap, I began to fold, and my body language on the court reeked with quitting. At that moment, one of the seniors aggressively yelled at me from across the court to not give up and to keep going. I worked hard that summer and the very seniors I was intimidated by eventually became like older brothers to me. They sharpened me, pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and trusted me during games. I ended up making the team, becoming captain in my first year playing for junior varsity. I’m grateful for this experience because my friends on the team looked out for me and helped shape me to become who I am today. God calls us to develop these kinds of strong relationships. The Bible equates strong relationships with spiritual friendships. What makes a spiritual friend? Let’s see what the Bible says.
A truly good friend will openly correct you. You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies…Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.
Proverbs 27:5-6, 17 CEV
The Bible calls all of our relationships to be rooted in love. When we obey and live this way, we become friends that are willing to sharpen one another, even if it hurts. It is better to openly correct someone than to fill them up with flattery. Someone who comes into mind is Draymond Green from the Golden State Warriors, who was willing to confront and go off on Kevin Durant in order to make him a better player. God wants us to experience real, genuine friendships that will make us better. Do you sharpen your friends? Or do you flatter your friends? You may think you’re making them feel better, but you actually make them worse by avoiding telling the truth they should be hearing. Which friend are you? Is it evident in your actions?
Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished, he said to Peter, “Now row out to deep water to cast your nets and you will have a great catch.” “Master,” Peter replied, “we’ve just come back from fishing all night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you insist, we’ll go out again and let down our nets because of your word.”
Luke 5:4-5 TPT
Just like my teammates from high school, a spiritual friend will push you beyond your comfort zone to be your best. We learn from this passage that Jesus did this with Peter. In order to push someone beyond their comfort zone, it calls us to have faith for our friends when they don’t have faith themselves. Do you push your friends to be their best? Are you afraid of what they think about you? Or do you let love drive you to become the best friend you can be?
Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Matthew 16:17-19 NIV
One thing we must understand about Jesus was the Kingdom of God was precious to him. He valued it with his all and he entrusted something that was dear to his heart to Peter. Do you entrust things that are near and dear to your own heart to others? Are you vulnerable where you allow your friends in on your heart and the good, the bad, and the ugly that come with it? Jesus was. In order to develop spiritual relationships, we must be willing to entrust our hearts to the people around us.
To learn more on becoming a spiritual friend, read chapter 3, “When People Become God,” in Russ Ewell’s book, When God Isn’t Attractive.