By Justin Whitmel Earley, Crosswalk.com
In June 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report on the American epidemic of loneliness. The results are clear: Americans are now dying younger, primarily because we have forgotten how essential relationships are to health. But as it turns out, deep friendship is not just necessary to our health; it is essential to our walk with God, too!
The 19th-century pastor J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Friends double our joys and halve our sorrows.” And it’s true. Everything is better with a friend. But most importantly, the Bible shows us over and over that to live the life we were created to live, we need deep friendships alongside us.
Here are seven biblical ways to take relationships that you have and go deeper:
1. Get More Vulnerable
Real friendships require real vulnerability. The Latin root of vulnerability means to be “capable of being wounded.” Being vulnerable with friends means they know everything about us, even when that is risky. Why is this important? Because our closest friends are the ones who know us fully and love us anyway. They see all our flaws and know our secrets, but they stick around anyway. This is when friends become a reflection of Jesus, who is the ultimate friend who truly knows us and truly loves us. Think about that: Jesus was willing to become vulnerable to the point of going to the cross. This is why in John 15, he calls us “friends.” So pick someone you trust, and have that kind of conversation.
2. Set a Rhythm
Deep friendships don’t have to take a lot of time, but a consistent rhythm really helps. Think about this: anything else in life that’s necessary for physical survival and spiritual thriving takes a lot of time. You sleep, eat, and work a ton of hours. Hopefully, you’re spending daily time in prayer and the Word. But when it comes to friendship, just one hour a week will completely change your life! Try setting a weekly rhythm, like a Wednesday morning coffee with a friend or a recurring Friday evening firepit. My friends and I do a bi-weekly Tuesday porch night, and while we often miss or get off schedule, for years it’s kept us in a meaningful rhythm of relationship.
3. Start a Prayer Text Chain
I have lots of text chains with my friends. We laugh a lot, we debate a lot, and we send plenty of ridiculous memes. But there is no text chain that is more important than our prayer text chain. It’s all of the same people on that chain, but it’s dedicated to the prayer requests, the difficult news, the key life updates, etc. It’s hard to interrupt a chain of jokes and family pictures with tough news about your parent’s cancer, but when you have a text chain dedicated to important things, you can always find a place to share that. My favorite part is that my friend’s responses are not “I will pray for you,” it is always: “I just prayed for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to “pray without ceasing,” and I always feel this text chain help with that.
4. Be Honest
Proverbs 27:6 says that the wounds of a friend are faithful. In other words, friends can be honest. I believe friends should think of each other like houses under renovation. We’re created in the image of God, but we’re fallen. We aren’t going to tear the house down, but it needs serious renovation. This means that we should be honestly encouraging our friends in their good areas and honestly pushing or rebuking them in the areas they need growth. This may be a little uncomfortable, but anything that is good for you is. If anyone should be able to tell you something that hurts but that you need to hear–a friend should! We need our friends to hurt our feelings in the right way, so we can grow and become more like Jesus! Try practicing being more honest with your friends, but first, I recommend asking them to be honest with you, too. It goes both ways!
5. Invite Others In
No friendship thrives on exclusivity. In fact, when we’re exclusive, we always ruin things for ourselves and for others. Think of friendship like water; when it’s flowing outward, it’s healthy, like a spring of running water giving life abundantly. But when it’s closed, it’s like a stagnant puddle; no life grows there. Relationships are the same. The most painful thing in the world is to be kept out of relationship, and the most God-honoring friendships don’t keep people out, they invite people in! Think about the Trinity. The wonderful thing about Christ’s friendship to us is that we’re invited into the fellowship of the Trinity by becoming united with Christ (Ephesians 1:11). Think about one way you could invite someone on the outside into a relationship you have. It will bless them and you too!
6. Name the Relationship
There is a God-given power to naming. Think about it: this was the first task Adam and Eve were given in the garden in Genesis 2. God asked them to name the world, and it was a sign of their creative power. In relationships, naming has power too. I don’t mean giving a friend group a nickname, really I mean just saying the unspoken things out loud. Some of the most meaningful times I’ve had with people is where they have said out loud what the friendship means to them. Sometimes this is as simple as “I so appreciate our relationship.” Or, “We should do this more often; our conversations mean so much to me.” Either way, simply naming the goodness of our relationship is powerful. A few nights ago, a friend asked me over because he was in a bad place and needed to talk to someone quickly. At the end of the conversation, I said, “I’m honored that I was the one you called when you needed help.” I could tell that just naming the moment was a meaningful thing for both of us.
7. Practice Forgiving
Friendship is wonderful, but in the end, it is made of two ingredients: a sinner and another sinner. It is a given we’re going to hurt each other in friendships. But Christians should see this as a gift. Iron sharpens iron by friction, heat, and a lot of clashing (Proverbs 27:17). When we can forgive, that means that conflict and frustration are no longer the end of relationships. It is now the beginning of deeper relationship. This is what makes Christian friendship distinct from anything else. We know the gift of forgiveness from Jesus. We know that the mark of a Christian is that we forgive much because we have been forgiven much. Without forgiveness, we couldn’t do friendship. But with it, friendships can grow and thrive, even where there is pain and conflict. Ask God to give you strength to do the work of forgiveness you need to do. It is how we become more like him.
Read more from Justin Whitmel Earley: 5 Habits to Help Make Discipline Easier
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/The Good Brigade
Justin Whitmel Earley is a writer, speaker, and lawyer. He is the author of the award-winning books Made for People, Habits of the Household, and The Common Rule, though he spends most days running his business law practice. Through his writing and speaking, Justin empowers God’s people to thrive through life-giving habits that form them in the love of God and neighbor. His latest book, Made for People, delves deep into the profound impact of friendship and offers transformative strategies to combat loneliness. He lives with his wife and four boys in Richmond, Virginia, and spends a lot of time around fires and porches with friends. Follow him at https://www.justinwhitmelearley.com/.
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