This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ...
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. — John 15: 12, 15
Friendship is a very valuable commodity in living life. Not a commodity that comes from material possessions or things that can be accumulated, counted, harvested, or banked for the future. True friendships, like water, can't be control but they prove to be the greatest of resources with untold power for life.
I have been mulling around in my head this issue of friendship and its necessity in my life and the life of any who follow Jesus. I'm trying to move those thoughts into the more transformative place of my heart through some chosen disciplines. I want to communicate these thoughts and experiences I've been having. I submit these to you as a friend.
When Jesus makes this declaration to the disciples he does so toward the end of his life. He has lived life with these men for some three years. He has taught them and shared with them his life of love for the Father, how he listens for and follows the Father's voice, and how they can do the same. They have become his friend because they have shared life together. That's how friendships begin.
Think about the friends you have. How did they come about, how did they begin and develop? Many will look back to high school or college days, classes, team members, clubs, youth groups, fraternities/sororities, camps, mission trips, neighbors, whatever the common experience where life was lived together. These are the seedbeds for our friendships. When life's circumstances erupt around us, friends who have shared previous experiences are willing to jump in and continue to experience life together. And that's not always easy as we get older with personal responsibilities and obligations. To do so becomes a choice to be a friend. That's when friendship moves from the head to the heart.
Several years ago I began a friendship with a pastor from Nigeria named Bitrus. He was here in the States participating in on-going training at the time. He has a wide influence in his country as a church planter, evangelist, pastor, and educator. A couple of years ago he invited me to come to Nigeria to teach a seminary course and help lead a retreat for many of his pastor friends and acquaintances. International travel can be challenging wherever you go, and Nigeria's challenge was compounded due to the persecutions from the Islamic group Boko Haram. But what an adventure as Bitrus and I witnessed God's inbreaking upon many in both the classroom and retreat setting. The adventure brought a closer friendship between Bitrus and me. That's how friendships develop, experiencing life side by side.
Bitrus invited me to help him again. This time it was to help in a retreat for pastors that was in excess of 100 participants, which is no small number for such a difficult place to travel about. Some of these pastors are serving in the geography and within churches where severe persecution is occurring and international headlines are being made. These pastors have great needs for themselves personally: encouragement, further training, emotional support and prayer. How could I not come and help my friend help his friends?
I said 'yes' in spite of my own life circumstances. That was my choice and it has become one of the ways I am letting my theory on friendship move into my heart and allowing God to transform me. There will be further opportunities to be a friend, both in going to Nigeria when the Lord makes it possible and for Bitrus to come to the States. I certainly have not planned on such a friendship, but God has seen to it that these bonds were established. But my friendship with Bitrus and Nigeria is a directly related to my friendships and work here in this part of the globe. It is as if I am pulling my friends here into an ever widening sphere of influence themselves. Your financial and prayer support has helps create the dance between Rhythm of Grace and Nigeria. I'll keep you posted on this unfolding friendship and opportunities.