I called myself a Christian for seventeen years before I discovered I could have a truly personal relationship with God. Prior to this, I certainly knew Him as God and I definitely knew Him as my Savior. I didn’t, however, really know Him as my Father, and walking with Him as a friend wasn’t even in the field of view. Satan and his team, with lots of help from religion, have painted God as a very distant, non-relational being. If thought of at all, our Creator is primarily considered the Judge or, in times of crisis, a possible but unlikely means of help. Our adversary is nothing if not a very skilled deceiver.
The thought of friendship with God is more than simply intriguing to me. It messes with me! It tugs at my heart and calls out to me. Like the natal homing of a sea turtle experiencing the invisible but irresistible pull to the place of its birth, it woos me. Somehow I know in the deepest part of my nature that it is my destination, my home. His desire for friendship was the place in His heart where we were conceived. Our quest and destiny should be to find it again.
A few years ago I was elk hunting in the mountains of Colorado when I saw a monument to friendship. High on a mountain, near the edge, where one of the most majestic views imaginable could be seen, was a plaque attached to a rock. Tears came to my eyes as I read the words carved into the plaque.
“In memory of my friend and hunting partner, [name], with whom I roamed these mountains from 1963-2003. He loved these mountains, streams, snow-packed peaks and beautiful valleys. I miss him. [Name] 1930-2003″
It may sound overly dramatic, but I removed my hat and stood in silence, saluting the friendship enjoyed by these men. I tried to imagine the joys and memories created, as well as the pain of the loss he must have felt as the old, surviving warrior climbed this hill, memorial in hand, to honor the memory of a true friend. One can only imagine the hours they shared together. The only way to truly understand the camaraderie that develops when friends share the wonder and awe of creation together is to experience it. I thought of this as I stood looking over the vastness of the Rocky Mountains. Then I thought how much greater is the awesomeness of sharing moments such as these with the Creator Himself.
A friendship implies closeness and takes time to develop. It is comprised of trust, compatibility, affection, and, of course, a high level of interpersonal knowledge. I have many acquaintances but very few people I call my friends. The few I classify as such are those I enjoy spending time with, sharing life’s experiences together. We’re vulnerable with one another, freely communicating our hopes and dreams. I celebrate my victories with them and am comforted by them when I’m hurting, and vice versa. We keep it real. My walls are down when we’re together; I am unguarded and transparent, unafraid to let them see the real me – the unpolished version. I know they will always “be there” for me and I for them. Many more defining characteristics of friendship could be stated, but this much is clear: Friendship defines the highest level of relationship. Even higher than family.
I’m sometimes amused when I hear the average Christian reference God as his or her “friend.” There was a popular chorus a few years back about being God’s friend. I liked the song, but as I listened to crowds singing it, I couldn’t help but think how untrue it was for most of them. I suppose it’s good to sing it as a reminder of God’s offer to us, just as my parents used to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” These songs may be reality for those who wrote them, but for the average person singing them, they simply aren’t true. Most Christians have no true intimacy with God, spend very little time with Him, and have a very limited knowledge of His heart and ways. “A casual acquaintance” would best define their relationship with Him. We mustn’t cheapen friendship by lowering the standard.
I want to quickly point out, however, that friendship with God is possible for every believer and is His desire for us. Abraham’s walk with God was an example of this level of relationship. Three times in Scripture God called him His friend – and it’s what He desires with each one of us. This is not only a part of our destiny, it’s part of God’s dream.
In exposing our shallow understanding of friendship with God and the fact that so few experience it, I don’t mean to impugn our intentions and motives. The fact is, we are much like Abraham at the beginning of his journey with the Lord. Most of us begin our walk with God just as he did – wanting the benefits He offers. We aren’t terribly interested in His dreams; we probably aren’t even consciously aware He has any. But we are aware that He can help us with our dreams, so we cut deals with Him, talk to Him primarily on the basis of our needs, and remind Him that He is our Father, meaning our source of provision.1
In a sermon called “The Disciple’s Prayer,” Haddon Robinson tells the following story, which pictures the unenlightening and inappropriate beginning of our relationship with God. When our children were small, we played a game. I’d take some coins in my fist. They’d sit on my lap and work to get my fingers open. According to the international rules of finger opening, once the finger was open it couldn’t be closed again. They would work at it, until they got to the pennies in my hand. They would jump down and run away, filled with glee and delight. Just kids. Just a game.
Sometimes when we come to God, we come for the pennies in His hand.
“Lord, I need a passing grade. Help me remember this material.”
“Lord, I need a job.”
“Lord, I need a car.”
We reach for the pennies. Then we walk away.2
Sadly, we’re all so human. We see God primarily as our Provider. Do we really know Him as a friend? No, not at the beginning of our journey. God understands this, however, and in His love and humility is willing to meet us where we are. “He first loved us,” the Scripture tells us (1 John 4:19), not the other way around. His love embraces us and makes us His child. And just as a natural child doesn’t begin its relationship on a friendship level with Mom and Dad, our heavenly Father knows we won’t with Him, either. It’s all about us.
Most of us, when younger and in our parents’ home, trusted them to provide for us. Appropriately so. But for most of us the day arrived when we wanted to be more than just well-cared-for children. I know I did – I wanted to be my parents’ friend. At that point I cared more about their happiness, well-being, and dreams than I did their money. I wanted to give them more than I wanted to take from them. We no longer talked only about my happiness; we discussed things that interested them, as well. Over the years their faith had been transferred to me, and we dreamed together about making a difference for God. Our relationship had matured into a friendship.
The same is true of Abraham. He started his journey with God looking for lands, blessings, and greatness. He embraced the promise of a biological son through whom he would produce a great nation. But thankfully, the relationship grew. There were even some rough spots along the way. When God didn’t provide the son He promised Abraham and Sarah in the way they expected, they demonstrated their lack of trust by choosing to have a son through Hagar, Sarah’s maid.
Still, though Abraham demonstrated humanness, in the end he proved his trust in God had grown to a level few people ever attain. He was even willing to sacrifice Isaac, his long-awaited son, believing if he did so, God would raise Isaac from the dead. What a trust!
Yahweh so cherished his friendship with Abraham that, when Abraham died, He saw to it Abraham was buried at Hebron, which actually means “friendship.” I can’t help but believe that, like the hunting friends mountain top plaque, this was God’s tribute to their friendship. Upon Abraham’s arrival in heaven, I like to think Yahweh stood, got everyone’s attention, and honored the old patriarch: “This is Abraham, my friend. We dreamed together and enjoyed the pleasure of one another’s company.”
When God is looking for someone He can be vulnerable with, a friend with whom He can share His hopes, dreams, and yes, even His disappointments, I hope He feels He can look to me. And when my earthly life is over and my body laid to rest, if it can be said that He and I were friends, I will have been a success.
Pray with me:
We are grateful, Father, that friendship with You is Your desire for us. Thank You, Jesus, for restoring the potential for friendship with God to every believer, fulfilling our destiny and the dream of God’s heart.
Thank You for lovingly receiving our child-like interactions as genuine offerings, though they come at times from immature hearts. Your love is so great that You meet us there and woo us tenderly toward the place of deep intimacy and trust. May the quest of our lives be to find this place of true friendship and walk with You.
God, when You are looking for someone in Your family You can be vulnerable with, a friend with whom You can share Your hopes, dreams, and yes, even Your disappointments, we want You to feel You can look to us. We want to enjoy the pleasure of Your company, and we want You to enjoy the pleasure of our company.
In Your name we pray, Amen.