Thursday, May 19, 2016

Friends Shape Who We Are Tomorrow

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, a noted motivational speaker, used to say, “Five years from now you’ll be the same except for the people you meet and the books you read.” A wise observation, but I’d add, “and the friends you make.” Because friends profoundly influence our lives, for good or for ill.

Few things compare to experiences enjoyed
through a good friendship.
A quotation I found recently elaborates: “The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends….”

The Bible offers some practical observations as well. For example, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Another passage states, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25).

During my life, for the most part, I’ve found myself among people with strong values and solid character. I don’t take credit for that, because during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s I could have easily been drawn into the growing drug culture. Somehow I avoided making those associations. Not that my collegiate experience was pristine, but I never became part of the “turn on, drop out” mentality popularized by Dr. Timothy Leary and others.

I say “somehow,” but God – even when I didn’t realize it – was leading me away from temptation and delivering me from evil, to paraphrase Jesus’ model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). He has often protected me from myself when necessary, including graciously surrounding me with good friends.

We see examples every day of the impact friendships have. People receiving public honor tell how friends encouraged and challenged them along the way. Others recount how friends’ support and prayers helped them to endure unimaginable hardships. Sadly, in very different ways the nightly news is splashed with reports of individuals who, in the company of unsavory friends, engaged in all manner of illegal activities. Gang warfare across our nation can be attributed in part to people choosing the wrong friends to set standards and expectations for their lives.

Some of my favorite songs deal with the importance of friends and friendship, tunes like James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Michael W. Smith’s “Friends.” And the theme song from the TV sitcom, “Golden Girls” – “Thank You for Being a Friend” – never fails to provoke a smile. There are few things better than a longtime, trusted friend with whom we’ve shared both good times and bad. As Proverbs 17:17 states, “A friend loves for all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Of course, from a spiritual perspective, there can be no friend better than Jesus Christ. I can still hear Tennessee Ernie Ford singing the old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” When He walked the earth, Jesus told His followers, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).

Can you imagine that, Jesus Christ – God incarnate – saying to us, “You are My friends”? If a movie star we admired, a celebrated author, a famous vocalist or musician, or internationally renowned business executive were to say, “You are my friend,” that would be impressive. But for the Son of God to say that to each one of His followers, that is truly – dare I use the word? – AWESOME!

Without the slightest doubt, He is enabling me to become the very best version of myself. I hope you can say that as well.

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