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Friendship as a Spiritual Discipline

Remember, no man is a failure
who has friends

With those words (and new wings in tow) the angel Clarence bids George Bailey a wonderful life with Mary, Zuzu and her siblings, and a swarm of benevolent friends singing around them. It’s an iconic moment in cinematic history that hits a soft spot in my heart. The storyline is wonderful and Jimmy Stewart is…well…classic Stewart (he received an Oscar nomination for his role), but the reason most I love the movie is the end where Bailey’s friends come to rescue him in his time of need. It’s a beautiful picture of selflessness, sacrifice, and love. It is no wonder the tale concludes with a poignant line about friendship.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” I would also add friendship gives value to the spiritual. Indeed, I would argue friendships can be a spiritual discipline. If a spiritual discipline is any activity we engage in order to put us in the best place to receive God’s grace of growth then I’d submit godly friendships along with things such as Bible reading, prayer, corporate worship. I know they have been that for me.

In reflection, I would says friendships become spiritual disciplines when:

  1. They care more about your long-term holiness than your short-term happiness. They are those who will give you the last 10% everyone else is thinking but is too afraid to tell you. It’s usually done with an arm around you, in great sobriety, and sometimes in tears. Godly friendships are those individuals who will take the chance of hurting your feelings or angering you in the hopes of getting you to see what they can and you likely can’t. Prov. 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
  2. They embrace you in your ugliness. Everyone will have a meltdown at some point. The journey is long and it’s easy for things like our sanity, composure, and well-being to wear thin. Add the troubles and trials of the world and you have the perfect storm for disillusion, depression, and despair. Good friends give permission for you to be so angry you can’t see straight, so sad you don’t want to get out of bed, and so confused you can’t even spell your name. Godly friends will let you vent, wait for you to finish, then let you vent some more. Prov. 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
  3. They are not afraid to tell you they love you (…bro). Some men live with a false sense of masculinity telling them the only way they can communicate care and affection for each other is to punch each other in the arm and say something sarcastic. But friends who are unafraid to let you know they care for you are relationships God will use to foster a greater sense of community in your heart which, in turn, can help you realize that in those specific friendships, God has given you a deep grace. I’m always taken with the affection shown by the Ephesian elders toward the Apostle Paul knowing they wouldn’t see him again. Acts 20:36-37 reads, “And when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.”

I’m with the newly-winged Clarence; friendship is a big deal. But it can be bigger if you gather those around you who love you enough to continually point you in gospel-directions so you can see in this entire mess called life that Jesus is better, stronger, and exactly who you need right here, right now. Like George Bailey, I need friends who are willing to rescue me. And they do rescue me…back to God’s grace in Christ time and time again. That’s when friendship becomes a spiritual discipline.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

1 thought on “Friendship as a Spiritual Discipline”

  1. “Friendship as a Spiritual Discipline” is a link I shared with John J. Pethel – nice blog.

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