Proverbs 18:24 reminds us, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I’ve found this so true. I’m so thankful for the many Christians God has blessed me to have as acquaintances or friends in general. However, my life and ministry would be fundamentally different if it weren’t for my Proverbs 18:24 friends. One true, good friend is more valuable than a hundred acquaintances.
In both the brightest and darkest hours of my life and ministry, these friends have rejoiced with me, mourned with me, had my back, challenged me, and coached me. I’d like to think I’ve been that kind of friend to them in return. If I had to, I’d trade a thousand acquaintances for one of these true friends. True friends not only add real abundance to life, they allow us to follow God’s calling more faithfully. The reason is simple: The faithfulness of their friendship bolsters courage that might fail if we knew we would be truly alone for doing what God called us to do.
Any leader who cannot endure intense levels of loneliness will either flounder or quit, because call of ministry often points toward places that leave the leader alone. If we cannot handle the feeling of being alone, we will be less effective leaders. I agree with Edwin Friedman, who identifies five essential traits of people leading toward something new. One of those is the willingness (or even desire) to stand alone. In A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick-Fix, he says, “One of the major limitations of imagination’s fruits is the fear of standing out. It is more than the fear of criticism. It is anxiety at being alone, of being in a position where one can rely little on others, a position that puts one’s resources to the test, a position where one will have to take total responsibility for one’s own response. Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position; they must come to love it.” This is true.
Parents who cannot function without their childrens’ affection cannot lead their family effectively. Pastors who fear social isolation by the church because of a decision more than the repercussions of disobedience to God’s call will do what keeps them from suffering such isolation. People who can stand to be laughed at, sneered at, rejected, called names or thought a fool will struggle in leadership.
While every leader should develop the capacity to stand COMPLETELY alone with only God by his or her side, God’s gift to us in times where courage is demanded of us are Proverbs 18:24 friends. Parents who have support from other parents lead their own families better. Pastors who have close friends lead better. They are more healthy emotionally, and should their courage fail or a battle be lost, they don’t find themselves without human resources supplied by God to help bring them back to health.
We all have at least one true friend. His name is Jesus. No matter what, He is there when all others walk out. However, beyond the sufficient gift of Himself is the blessing of Proverbs 18:24 friends. They are those at a human level who allow us to lead more courageously, love more lavishly, and help us become better people through true friendship. They are ambassadors for Christ to His ambassadors.
WHO ARE THESE TRUE FRIENDS?
Who are these types of friends? You can probably identify them, but if you can’t, ask these questions: 1) Who do I want to tell first when something amazing happens in my life? 2) Who I want to call when something really awful happens? 3) Who would still be by my side if I did something that brought significant shame or embarrassment? 4) Among those I’ve listed from questions 1-3, who would be willing to speak difficult truth into my life when I need it—and who would I listen to? There are more questions that I could add to this—but these help identify who you already share life with—if you do. If you have no one in your life with whom you would answer those questions—notice that. Ask yourself whether or not you’ve filled your life with acquaintances or friends. If you don’t have any Proverbs 18:24 friends, let me encourage you to make their cultivation a top priority.
Lastly, let’s remember human beings are no substitute for fellowship with God Himself. He is more than enough to see us through anything He calls us to. I’m just thankful that one way He does that is by sending me some friends that stick closer than a brother.