Before I read, I pray. Lord, at the end of a very full day, I stop. I stop to acknowledge you as the God of my life. I stop to confess my sins and shortcomings, offering a confession that is not for you—you saw the whole thing—but a confession for me, to unburden myself once again of the weight of sin. I stop to give thanks, to praise your name for the abundant blessings in my life. Every good gift is from you. The gas in my car. The breath in my lungs. The clothes on my back and the food in my fridge. I stop to intercede for others—friends who are sick, whose children are sick, who are unemployed, whose marriages are in trouble. (I learned of another one tonight, Lord—another Christian couple who are neck-deep in the mire of adultery. Have mercy, oh Lord. Have mercy.) I stop to just—be—before you, with you, and in you. You hem me in, before and behind. You are the light to my path and my rear guard. In you all things hold together and have their being. In you, I hold together and have my being. I glorify you. I praise you. You are holy. You. Are. Holy.
I’m reading Mark 6:7-13 tonight: “Jesus Sends Out the Apostles.” Have you read this before? I have, many times. But tonight I want to read it with fresh eyes. Several times, slowly, so the words can be new to me. I circled words and phrases tonight for the first time. What words or phrases jumped out at you?
He called the twelve and sent them two by two. God knows we can’t do this thing on our own. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto! We were created for community—in the image of God, who is community, Father, Son and Spirit in perfect unity, complementing one another, never competing; glorifying one another in each of their different roles. What a mystery.
Something that occurs to me as I’m reading this is that the times I have been spiritually at my weakest have been the times when I was going about my spiritual life alone. It was not until I began cultivating deep and meaningful relationships with people where Christ was not just a shared interest but part of our actual relationship that I began to experience real spiritual growth. And the times I have been most vulnerable to sin have been the times when I have not had other Christians “all up in my business.”
We need friends for the journey. Friends who share the same set of values and priorities. Friends who will pray with us and challenge us and remind us who we are when we act like someone we’re not. We need friends to encourage us and remind us why we are doing what we’re doing when the going gets tough. Friendship is part of the very fabric of the Christian life.
On Sunday night, my friend and I went out for appetizers and drinks. Both of us are devout Christians and we love to get together and talk. Sometimes we talk about life in general—challenges we’re facing at work, vacations we’re planning to take, ways we’re trying to find “balance” in our lives. But usually, at some point in the evening, we talk about God and how best to follow God and serve God and be a good witness for God. There are a couple of particular topics that we’re both wrestling through right now, so we bounce around ideas together. We discuss the Bible, specifically how it is instructive for us today, nearly two thousand years after the last books were written. And even when we come at a particular topic from different perspectives, drawing different conclusions from the very same scriptures, we are friends. We respect each other, pray for one another, and show each other grace. I always leave our talks sharpened, as iron sharpens iron.
There is something incredibly powerful when two or more people move through life intentionally together. The unified prayers of two or three (or more!) are powerful and effective. I am so grateful for the friends I have, but I also know how easily I can take them for granted. I forget to pray for them unless something “major” is happening. I neglect to call or write them unless I have a specific reason. I fail to communicate to them how special they are, and how their presence in my life is part of how God is shaping and molding me.
Yep, God called the first disciples to go out “two by two,” and I believe that was an example we are to follow as well. Maybe we’re not going door to door witnessing, or town to town preaching the good news. But wherever we are, we will do better if we are with friends.
Do you have close friends who share your love for God and your commitment to faithfulness? If so, pray for them right now. Maybe even write them a letter of blessing, thanking them for the role they play in your life. And if you don’t have any close friends in Christ, pray now that God will bring you someone—or even a few people. Look around you and consider who in your church or extended friend network might be open to a more meaningful friendship, where you might pray together, share burdens, confess your sins, etc. Friendship does not just happen—it takes initiative, effort, and vulnerability. But I find that friendship comes most easily to people who are the kind of friend they want to have. Be intentional about being a great friend to others. Watch how the Lord will move in your relationships—and how God will minister to others through you.