Wednesday, January 16

Life-giving Friends or Soul-Sucking Vampires?

How do your friends influence your spiritual life? Do they encourage you to walk more closely with Jesus? Do they feed your soul? Or do they distract you? Are they like vampires - always sucking the life out of you?

One of Aesop's fables tells the story of a great stag, mighty and majestic, who had become sick and had staggered off to a corner of the meadow where he could rest and recover in peace. He chose a lush, green corner with plenty of grass and plant life that would help him recover his strength and provide the solace he needed. Each day, though, deer he knew would come to his resting place - large numbers of his companions. They came to see how he was doing and to encourage him. But while they were there, each one would notice the delicious grass and plants and help themselves so that in short order, they finished every bit! Before long, the stag died. His death was not from sickness, but from hunger and weakness.

Read: Proverbs 22:24-25, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, 25 or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.

33 Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The Bible encourages us to have relationships with all kinds of people. We are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are supposed to love the unlovable and proclaim the good news of Jesus to those who do not know him.

But sometimes we forget how important our friendships can be to our spiritual life. Sometimes we minimize our need for like-minded people to encourage us and walk with us. Sometimes we think our unbelieving friends are actually more loving and kind than our church or Christian friends. And sometimes relationships - even with brothers and sisters in the Lord - are messy.

The passage in Proverbs and Paul's words in 1 Corinthians make it clear, the people we associate with will have an influence on us. This doesn't mean we shouldn't spend time with people who think differently, but it does mean we need to be careful to balance that with time spent in community with people who will remind us of truth and call us to account when we lose our way.

We often think of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 as a wedding passage, but the image is one of two soldiers in the field of battle. If a soldier is alone, who will help when he/she falls into a pit or turns an ankle? What will the soldier do when all alone and it's cold out? Who will have the soldier's back when attacked if there isn't a committed companion along for the journey?

Like-minded friends, companions in the journey of faith, are crucial to helping us discern God's presence and the Spirit's leading; for correcting us when we are veering off course or believing Satan's lies; in believing the best in us when we have doubts or falter along the way...We need people with whom we can be brutally honest about our struggles and our failings as well as our successes and triumphs and will love us and accept us in spite of it all.

And because these friends are followers of Jesus, there is someone else in the relationship. Ecclesiastes talks of a three-stranded cord. When we walk with like-minded, believing friends, we have the Holy Spirit's presence walking with us as well. As we build trust with our friend and walk in the power of the Spirit, we truly have a relationship that becomes strong enough to withstand anything.

The stag needed friends whose love went beyond nice words and carried over into actions. He needed friends who were more concerned with his well-being than their own. But they were more concerned with satisfying their own hunger than for their sick companion. In caring for themselves, they robbed life from one who desperately needed it.

If we aren't careful about who we spend time with, our friends can do the same. They can suck the spiritual life right out of us!

Take time to prayerfully consider the people you spend time with...are there any who encourage you to walk more closely with Jesus? Are there enough?

If you find your spiritual friends lacking, what might you do to build those friendships? Where will you look for them?

Ask God where/with whom you can find the community and encouragement you need.

Ask God what you can do to be that kind of friend to others!

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