ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THOSE WHO GIVE IT
The Rev. Ralph McCune
“Seizing the Gift of Friendship”
Carpe diem is a marvelous and popular Latin expression. It means, “seize the day.” The truth found in these brief words is immeasurable, for no one can question the wisdom of that person who takes advantage of every meaningful opportunity in life. In my own life as a Christian leader, I, very early in my ministry, discovered that one of those great opportunities to be seized was the gift of friendship.
The Bible has a great deal to say about friendship. In Proverbs 18:24 we are advised to be cautious of those who cloak themselves in the garments of friendship, but not to lose sight that there still remains “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” What kind of a friend is this? In Proverbs 17:17 Solomon gives one of the characteristics of this person when he says, “A friend loves at all times” (NASV). But of course the greatest mark of friendship is found in the words of Jesus himself: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 [NASV]).
The Christian leader cannot afford to overlook the gift of a friend. When failure strikes, when discouragement is unrelenting, the comfort of a dear friend is indeed a special gift. When we go through the tough, hurtful and lonely times that often invade our lives, we may choose to go through those dark valleys by ourselves, falsely thinking that any expression of disappointment or fear is an admission of unbelief. Or we can draw near to that one whom we know likes us, prays for us, supports us and when things get difficult is there to be with us and for us.
I’ll never forget an experience early in my pastoral ministry. I had been serving at this church for only a few months. On one particular Sunday morning, Palm Sunday to be exact, an unforgettable episode took place during the sermon. A young mother with her newborn baby was making no attempt to control her child’s crying. To make things worse she was seated only a few feet from the pulpit. As I tried to concentrate on the delivery of the message, I could not ignore the growing unrest of the congregation. In my heart I was pleading for the help of an usher, or someone who could direct this dear lady to the cry room. No one seemed to know what to do. Finally, after many moments of agonizing distraction, I could preach no more. I paused, looked at the woman, and calling her by name asked if she could take her child to the nursery. It was a moment of great embarrassment for everyone. She rose from her seat with her child in her arms, and with her three other children stormed out of the church.
Too many years have come and gone for me to remember how I finished the sermon. But I do recall three very angry women who approached me after the sermon. In no uncertain terms they “blasted” this new minister, letting him know that “on behalf of the church” they were outraged, embarrassed, and humiliated for the young mother who had been confronted during the sermon. They didn’t seem to care that I too had deep concerns for this person, for whatever words of defense I could utter fell on deaf ears. I was devastated. Had I suddenly lost whatever credibility I had as the spiritual leader of this church? And did their views represent those of the other members of the congregation who had been present? All afternoon I pondered these questions, as Satan “worked me over,” causing me to wallow in my own self-pity and defeat. Finally, I picked up the phone and called one of closest friends in the church. He invited me over to his home, where his available ear and encouraging words helped lift my discouraged spirit.
There have been countless other times that I have sought the love of a friend. Of course, no one can ever take the place of our Lord. He is the greatest friend of all. And we know that we can come before his throne with confidence and boldness when the challenges of ministry sometimes seem to overwhelm us (Heb. 4:16). But that greatest of friends brings others into our lives who also want to be our friends; and we need their understanding, counsel, and support. They are gifts from God, and they too, even like Jesus, can become channels of strength and vehicles of God’s grace.