The Lord has taught me more about friendship in the past year than almost any other concept. Here in Washington, D.C., healthy friendship is modeled all around me and afforded to me. I am part of many intentional, life-giving relationships and have had the honor of watching countless people in my church, community, work, and school environments be in relationship with others in this same way. Through observable examples as well as intangible revelation from the Lord through His word, He has not only revealed His vision for human-to-human relationship — He has also revealed what it means for God to be my friend. Now, finally, as a 24-year-old woman settling into my independent life and faith, I feel equipped, able, and free to behave in the way I believe a good, godly friend should.
So, what does it actually mean to be someone’s friend?
My friends and I often discuss what we believe makes someone a candidate for friendship. As you might expect, there are quite a variety of perspectives. Some believe that a shared context — whether it be shared geography, shared origins, or shared interests — is necessary to form a lasting bond with someone. Some people postulate that mutual commitment and loyalty is the only lasting basis for friendship. Others still believe friendship is rooted in active sacrifice, honesty, or a natural, intangible “connection” (or “vibe” as Gen Z might say).
We all have different perspectives on what binds two people together, what the preeminent ingredient necessary for a solid foundation might be. God, thankfully, in Christ, is the combination and culmination of any and all of these human values we list off. He perfectly displays the one factor that truly matters in the forming of friendships — sacrificial love. John 15 details this display well:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you”John 15:13-15
Jesus as The Model for Friendship
Jesus lays down his life for us, for many reasons, but one we should not exclude is the fact that we are His friends and He loves us. He makes known God’s will to us, invites us in, speaks tenderly to us, and calls us beloved. Jesus, among many other things, is the perfect friend.
As Jesus notes (and displays in His every perfect action), not only is godly friendship sacrificial and based in love, it is vulnerable. It requires depth and honesty, not involving barriers or an imbalance in superiority but a leveling with one another out of desire for intimacy. After all, loving one another is our second highest commandment aside from loving God himself (Matthew 22:39).
Paul would say, and I would agree with him, that loving someone well means we must “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Godly friendship seeks to dignify, empathize, honor, and respect. Paul himself is an expert at this, noting countless times in his epistles that he is continually praising God for the recipients of his letters (Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:9-10). He is incredibly consistent in his intercession, praying every time he remembers his friends. This consistent and compassionate intercession is a practice modeled best by the character and actions of Jesus Himself:
“Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them”Hebrews 7:25
Dane Ortlund speaks to this passage, and the present work of Christ, in a way that I love in his book, Gentle and Lowly:
“We don’t have to speculate [about what He is doing for us now]. The Bible tells us. He is interceding for us.”
“His interceding for us reflects his heart – the same heart that carried him through life and down into death on behalf of his people is the heart that now manifests itself in constant pleading with and reminding and prevailing upon his Father to always welcome us”
“Christ does not intercede for us because the Father’s heart is tepid toward us but because the Son’s heart is so full toward us. The Father’s own deepest delight is to say yes to the Son’s pleading on our behalf”
“Christ continues to intercede on our behalf in heaven because we continue to fail here on earth. He does not forgive us through his work on the cross and then hope we make it the rest of the way….He never lets go….He carries us all the way.”
Prayer as Intercession
Jesus, our dearest companion, is always praying for us. He lives to consistently intercede for us. His constancy is something that never fails to give me pause. When I dare to doubt if God is present or doing anything, I remember His loyalty, His constancy. His work on our behalf is active, heavenly, constant, and beyond sufficient — a reflection and overflow of His sacrifice for us. If we think back to John 15:13-15, we see the deep care and regard Jesus has for us. He engages in the hard and holy work of constant intercession out of an overflow of love for us, his friends.
Have you ever noticed how when you pray for someone, your heart becomes more tender towards them? I dare you to pray for an adversary or hard-to-love person in your life. It will be hard to resent them for very long. In this way, Jesus intercedes for us to soften our hearts.
In this same way, as we pray for people out of reaction, based on requests or after interactions with them, our care for and intimacy with our friends should spur us to pray for them proactively as well — not out of passive reflex, but active intercession. After all, this active love is the hallmark of the Christian — when we love one another radically, the world will, and does, take notice (John 13:34).
Not only can we intercede on behalf of our friends, but we can pray with them (Matthew 18:20). Prayer walks have been one of my favorite parts about my time living in D.C. While a fair number of these walks are by myself, many of the most fruitful and memorable ventures have been with 3 girls I met in my small group. Not only has this dedicated time of intercession been incredibly fun, but we have all seen the Lord move in the craziest, most specific of ways in response to our prayers. Our commitment to care for each other through collective prayer has been one of the most influential parts of my spiritual development over this past year.
It’s important to note that loving people well and interceding for them is not always easy or conflict-free. But perhaps that is why the world takes notice, why God gets the glory when we radically love. Because when the going gets tough, when tragedy strikes and sin creeps in, godly relationships persist out of shared devotion to Christ and desire to see one another sanctified. Not only should we love one another enough to encourage, honor, and champion each other. But we must also love each other enough to be honest, to admit when we are hurt and to repent for causing hurt, and to point out areas where sin dwells and Satan crouches, waiting to devour. Let’s be honest — sometimes, it is much easier to be silent and let distance grow in a friendship than to cause friction. But oftentimes, this friction we avoid is not just trivial — it is the very dragging of darkness into the light. In a spiritual sense, prayer does the same thing. After all — our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Prayer is our fiercest weapon on behalf of those we love in this otherworldly fight.
Prayer: Love in Action
When considering how to love my friends, I find it helpful to reflect on Paul’s words on love from 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
We were not made for isolation, but rather, for community — with God, and with one another. It’s essential to know God as our friend, first and foremost, and to pursue deep relationships with people around us. There is quite simply no better medium to foster intimacy and pursue sanctification in relationship (with God and with man) than the active work of praying with and for the people we love — communing and surrendering out of a mutual desire for holiness.
May we strive to lay our lives down for our friends, modeling Christ’s actions through continual intercession.