What’s the best advice you ever gave to your congregation to help them through the New Year?
Dear Phil, I don’t suppose that I can pick the best advice I gave over four decades of New Year’s sermons. However, looking back, one theme surfaced often: Life is tough. We need to huddle up with good friends to handle the coming events of the new year.
God said to Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” If it were not good for Adam, then being alone is not good for us either.
Julie and I got into a discussion with a young waiter who was soon to be married. He was impressed that Julie and I were still married after forty-two years.
“I’ve been asking married people what advice they can give to make a marriage last a long time. How would you answer?” He asked.
“You’ve got to become best friends,” I said. “You’ve got to be sitting in the rocking chairs when you’re 90 years old with your best friend.”
“No one’s ever suggested that,” he said. “I think that’s the best advice that I’ve gotten.”
“That’s why you want to marry your best friend. The real purpose of marriage is to remove our aloneness,” I said.
One of the best things we can do is to surround ourselves with people who can navigate with us both the victories and struggles of life.
How do you create a support system of friends?
First, be like Jesus and recognize that friends are essential.
Jesus chose his men that they should be with him (Mark 3:14). Jesus, too, needed friends.
Jesus needed those to whom he could open his heart and reveal his mind (Matthew 16:16).
Jesus pleaded for their prayers and support as he suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38).
Perhaps, no passage better illustrates his need for friends than when he said to them, “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
Friends are not optional. There is no substitute like a friend to care, listen, feel, comfort, and reprove. Friends are essential, not optional.
Second, be like Jesus and carefully cultivate deepening friendships.
There are three accounts of the choosing of the twelve – Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4; and Luke 3:13-16. As we examine the lists, we discover that there were three organized groups of four disciples each.
Peter led the first group which also included Andrew, James, and John. These were Jesus’ most intimate friends. Philip led the second group which also included Bartholomew (Nathaniel), Thomas, and Matthew. These were obviously close friends.
James the son of Alphaeus led the third group which also included James the Less, Lebbaeus (also known as Thaddaeus or Judas of James), Simon the Zealot, and Judas the traitor. This group seems to be more like acquaintances.
Jesus spent most of his time with the first group; not quite as much with the second group; and even less with the third group. Chuck Swindoll says that friends come in four classifications – not one.
1. Acquaintances are those with whom we have spasmodic contact and superficial interaction, and we don’t ask hard questions.
2. Casual friends share common interests with us. We feel free to ask more specific questions. We might even ask for a personal opinion from a casual friend.
3. Close friends have similar life goals. We feel free to ask hard questions. These are people with whom we play handball and tennis. We might go on a vacation trip with close friends.
4. Intimate friends share regular contact and feel free to criticize, correct, embrace, and encourage because there is a built-in mutual understanding of love and commitment. We feel open to sharing our most intimate emotions, feelings, fears, and joys. We keep few if any secrets from an intimate friend.
Most of us have many acquaintances, a number of casual friendships, some close friends; and very, very few intimate friends. Ideally, if we’re married, one of these is our mate; but sometimes it is not.
The tragedy is that many people have no intimate friends. There is no one with whom they can open up. That’s why life is so tough.
We are very fortunate if we have three or four intimate friends in our lifetime. Many people never have even one.
Third, look for friends where you can find them.
God has provided safety nets against aloneness.
David Ferguson teaches that the first line of defense against aloneness is marriage. Unfortunately, not all marriages work out well. A second safety net is the family. Unfortunately, not all families are functional. As a result, God has provided the church. Unfortunately, not all churches are good ones.
I’ve discovered that the best way to make friends in church is to consistently attend church activities. Eventually, the right doors will open.
Julie and I had more friends than we knew what to do with while pastoring in Tucson, Arizona. We didn’t have any friends when we moved to Dallas. We knew that life would be tough without them. So we went looking.
We were invited to join a small group consisting of pastors and leaders of a large church family. We just didn’t fit.
Then, the door opened to join a group populated by just “normal, ordinary, church people.” We’d never been in a group where I was just a normal person instead of being a pastor. We now have fifteen new friends and the number is growing. I’m glad we didn’t stop looking when the first group didn’t work out.
Fourth, resist the temptation to turn to self-reliance, self-centeredness, and/or self-condemnation to fulfill your needs.
Instead, turn to others.
Solomon knew better.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Our loneliness needs can only be met in the company of others.
Fifth, be proactive in making friends.
Friends don’t come automatically. “A man who has friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24).
Samuel Johnson wrote: “If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life he will soon find himself left alone. One should keep his friendships in constant repair.”
My daughter, Bronwyn went as a 16-year-old exchange student to Hamburg, Germany. She was very alone. It took her 2.5 hours to get to church. But she never missed a Sunday. She needed those friends.
She met a group of friends at the military base, also 2.5 hours away. One evening she unloaded all the pain and suffering that she was enduring with her German family and life in school. When she finished no one said a word. They were shocked into silence. Bronwyn then asked, “Isn’t anyone going to comfort me?” So she taught them how to comfort. She discovered that the military children were just as lonely and afraid as she was.
Sixth, meet people’s needs and they’ll love you forever!
Memorize the following Top Ten Intimacy Needs:
When you’re with people listen carefully and before long you’ll hear one or more of these needs being expressed. Jump on it. Verbally, begin to meet that unmet need. People will love you for it.
Well, Phil, I hope that my answer is helpful to you in the upcoming year.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Alessandro Biascioli
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.