“Stop spiraling.” “God will work this situation out for good.” “Don’t give up. I’m trusting God for you.” “Did you really, seriously pray?” These are the words of a few friends and relatives spoken to me over the past week. On a Monday morning, I received a short text message with news that will significantly alter my life. It is a situation that is outside of my control and causes great anxiety, stress, fear, and anger. After the shock wore off, I went into fix it mode with cautions from several friends to make sure I pray through these steps. I prayed. They prayed. I stepped. Things looked good, and then bad. Tears flowed and emotions boiled. My friends continued to encourage me not to get discouraged but to continue looking to God. My faith was renewed and my emotions managed until the next time I received discouraging news.
This cycle has been repeated several times during the past few days and the end of this is not in sight. I have hope and want to accept what happens no matter what the outcome. Despite that, there’s a clear outcome that I would prefer and I want to make happen. Each time the unacceptable outcome appears inevitable, my faith wavers, and my fears grow along with the renewed impulse to do things my way. It is at these times that my friends enter the picture again with another word of encouragement and course correction. Whatever happens, I am learning to see the significance of my friends who continue to point me to the Lord, especially when my flesh wants to handle things on my terms.
Fanning The Flame
One of the most encouraging friendships in the Bible is that of Paul and Timothy as evidenced by the letters to Timothy. In Second Timothy, we are privileged to see just how deep their friendship goes. Paul starts Chapter One by noting that he prays for Timothy constantly. (verse 3) Paul not only knows Timothy’s mother and grandmother, he knows of their faith. Paul knew that those ladies had sincere faith and firmly believed that same gift was within Timothy. (2 Timothy 1:5) Paul and Timothy had mutual friends, and Paul provided updates on those persons. (2 Timothy 1:15-19; 2 Timothy 4:9-13). Several times Paul even asks Timothy to bring him certain personal items the next time they see each other. (2 Timothy 4:9) It is so clear that Paul and Timothy had a long history and that they were friends. Often in the Church, Paul and Timothy's relationship is seen as a model of discipleship, but I firmly believe that it's just as much a portrait of friendship. Certainly, Paul is the more mature believer (in spiritual walk and age). He even called Timothy his “beloved child” in Chapter 1, verse 2. But maturity aside, they bonded as brothers in Christ.
Their friendship and respect opened the door for Paul to give a hard word of encouragement to “fan into flame the gift of God” in Chapter 1, verse 6. This word hints at Paul’s concerns for Timothy as Paul reminds Timothy that he does not have the spirit of fear and encourages him not to be “ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” or of Paul’s imprisonment as others are. (verses 7-8) Whatever Timothy faced, Paul detected a diminishing flame in his friend, and he did so from afar. Consider that level of friendship. In our culture, many will point out the errors of another’s way, but few are willing to invest the time to develop a serious connection filled with deep concern that endures distance and time. I believe this is a place of deficiency- a weak spot amongst the followers of Christ. Paul’s correction to Timothy is not a hard rebuke similar to his public confrontation of Peter for refusing to eat with the Gentiles. (Galatians 2:11-13) Here, Paul’s corrective encouragement stems from the fact the he “sees” and knows Timothy. He prays for his friend and wants him to stay firm on the path of following Jesus. He understands Timothy’s struggles and recognizes how difficult it is to hold firm to your faith in the face of such struggles.
Friendship And Our Faltering Faith
This relationship shows there are times when our faith on it's own is not enough. I saw it firsthand this past week when my faith and trust were undermined by doubts and fears. We are meant to live in community with others and to lean on them when our faith grows weak. There will be days or situations where our faith wanes and the flame diminishes. In these times, friends are vital. Friends who see our struggle, who care and pray for us, and know enough about what God has put into us to give us an attitude adjustment that points us to God. These friends are precious blessings from God and another one of His mercies. God knows when our faith alone is not enough and we are veering away. So, we have people around us whose faith can help fill in the gaps and lead us back to God. May you and I each be blessed to have such friends. More importantly, may we be such friends.