I am a mess of unfinished business. I feel pangs of “in process-ness” every single day. Not that I have attained or been made perfect, Paul said. But if there is anything true, lovely or admirable about me, odds are it was shaped by my friends.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be me without my friends.
God Grows Us Through Our Friends
But spiritually, as physically, we can’t usually see growth happen. Discouraged, we ask: God, how are you working in me?
If you’ve ever wondered about how exactly God does work in you, here’s a great answer.
…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways […] But above all, He works on us through each other…
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 7
God works in us through our friends.
Our Friends, God’s Grace
God uses their hugs to love and heal us, their words to convict and encourage us. God transforms us through our friends. Christian friendships are a means of grace.
If the phrase “means of grace” is new to you, it refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us more like Christ. We can think of them as “channels through which God’s love and power flow” to his people. Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments are means of grace.
But Christian friendship is too. Friends are a massive means of God’s grace to us—his transforming, often uncomfortable, grace.
Smoothing And Honing
A few months ago, a friend asked me if I saw any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But if she could do it, I could too. So I asked her the same. What she said is another post and I’m not suggesting that you ask.
But I do hope that you have friends close enough to smooth your rough spots and to hone your dull edges. Because we all have those.
Good friends shape us as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and as sandpaper rubs wood (“walking with the wise,” Proverbs 13:20). The second process is more gradual and gentle. It throws fewer sparks.
But both are needful. The sanding that comes naturally from walking together is as necessary for our spiritual growth as trusted wounds from a friend (Proverbs 27:5-6).
What Friends Sharpen You?
Author and blogger Tim Challies couldn’t be more clear about why we need iron-sharpens-iron friends.
You need spiritual friendships for the sake of your soul; a sinful person who can hold tight to your depravity. You are a weak-eyed person who often cannot see yourself as you are; a selfish person who sometimes struggles to live for anyone or anything apart from yourself. And you need friends who will help you, serve you, strengthen you, equip you. You need friends to temper your weakness, to challenge your sinfulness, to comfort your sorrows, to speak truth into your tragedies.“Foster Your Friendships“
I am a weak-eyed person who cannot see myself as I am. I need friends. You needs friends.
So who sharpens you? Who is sharpened by you?
What Friends Rub Off On You?
While iron sharpening iron implies a focus and directness that might hurt, sandpaper relationships need not rub us wrong. I think of these type of friendships as those that shape us in less direct, edge-of-blade sort of ways.
Here’s a short list of some sandpapery friends. Not that they’ve never been iron-sharpening friends, but they come to mind now less for their words and more for their rub-off influence.
They are soft-spoken friends like Traci and Brooke who help me to speak more gently and huge-hearted friends like Julia and Chrissy who make me want to give. They are self-controlled friends like Hannah and Mary who help me skip second dessert and hospitable friends like Christin and Jen who make me open to host. Ginny and Donna’s prayers spur me to be faithful in prayer, Sarah and Sandra’s pure hearts show me dirt in mine, and Shari and Myrt’s art help me see beauty. Then there’s my good friend mom.
This list could go on and on. God must give me so many good friends because there are so many prickly sides of me.
We all have those sides. So what friends are rubbing off your rough sides and rubbing off of you?
The Best Friendship In The World
Michael Haykin’s Iron Sharpens Iron is a short book about great friendships. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. (Any friends out there who’d like to read it with me? 😄 ) My gratitude to Tim Challies for his book review.
never met with one minute’s interruption by any one unkind word or thought, of which I have any knowledge. I never had a friend who was so willing to stand by me, even in such services as most others would wish to decline; yet I never had a friend who would more faithfully, freely, and affectionately give me warning or reproof, if ever it appeared necessary; or whom I could more readily and freely, and without the least apprehension of giving offence, tell of any fault which I imagined I could see in him. And this I think is the best friendship in the world.
For no man is faultless; and true friendship will not be blind to the failings of those we love best; but will rather show itself in an anxious concern to prevent the least appearance of evil in them, or whatever might occasion their good intentions to be misrepresented. […]This most faithful and judicious friend is taken from me, and never will my loss be repaired upon earth!
I’ve been reflecting on that description all week.
It is exquisite because it tells how iron and sandpaper meld. Fuller was a friend who both stood by and warned. He faithfully and affectionately warned, Ryland said, and was so willing to stand by me.
And this I think is the best friendship in the world.
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.