Not long ago, a student of mine asked me how I view my relationship with Jesus. Do I see Him as a king, a healer, a prophet, or one of many other names that we often attribute to Him?
My prompt response at the time was that I see Jesus as a friend, and we’re sitting at the corner of a pub, both sipping pints of Guinness and discussing what’s going on in my life at the time. The insights He’s offering are allowing me to discover myself, and discover Him in me, and when He’s finished, we clink our glasses and take a sip.
I don’t think I’ll ever abandon that view of Jesus in my life (a pint with your best friend should never be abandoned), but as I reflected on my answer more, it caused me to consider it a bit more closely. Particularly, the phenomenon of friendship came to mind.
C.S. Lewis talked about friendship in his The Four Loves as those relationships that, while unnecessary, provide context and value in our lives. Friendship is the salt that flavors what could otherwise be a very bland life. Recognizing another person who shares a passion for the same things in life and being able to connect with them on such a deep level is largely what makes life worth living.
And of course, one very important of aspect, as anyone with friends knows, is that your friends will come to your aid in times of need, and you will go to theirs. It is a common bond and a pledge of loyalty to call someone a friend. Friendship is a gift that one gives, and once it has been received, it is to be defended vigorously.
Thinking more about that, I realized that there are people in the world, and certainly in my life, who relegate themselves solely to that aspect of certain friendships and usually stay on the receiving end of the help. We can call them Takers, and their friends Givers. Follow me here: there are Takers who will go months without speaking to a Giver, and will finally make contact only when there is something that Giver can do for them. Perhaps it is a job reference, a ride to the airport, or a recent breakup that needs talking through. While the relationship itself has atrophied from inattention, there will often still be a sense of loyalty the Giver feels, and so will capitulate to the request.
It should be clear that no one wants to find themselves as the Taker in a relationship, though I suspect we all play that role with certain people at certain times. I would be lying if I said I never did that with anyone, and some of my friends would likely be the first to agree. If we’re honest with ourselves, everyone is likely to find that to be true of themselves to some degree.
Now I relate that to my answer to my student’s question: my impulse is to see Jesus as a friend of mine, and an intimately close friend at that. But how often do I consider that it is often a one-sided friendship?
When I subconsciously assess that my life is going smoothly, I will sometimes begin to slack in my prayer, and prayer is the primary form of communication with Christ. There’s nothing I seem to need from Him at that moment, so I’m tempted to cut off the line of communication for a while. And then as soon as my life starts to feel unsteady and out of control, I immediately pick up the proverbial phone and dial Jesus’ number, throwing up a prayer and hoping that He’ll solve my issues for me. He hasn’t failed me yet, but Jesus is fully human as well fully God, and I don’t know any humans who would say that’s the optimal way a friendship should work.
Here’s the point: if we’re to be true friends with Jesus, the relationship has to be a give-and-take on both sides. Jesus will give away His radical love, grace, and healing forgiveness ad infinitum, but don’t be fooled; He asks of us fidelity, compassion, and service. We are loved in so far as we express love, and that includes the love we express to Christ Himself. If it’s been a while since you’ve prayed outside of a state of distress, maybe get on your knees tonight and start to talk to Jesus. Let Him know what’s happening in your life, where you’ve succeeded, what your hopes are, etc. And thank Him for His continued support throughout the good times of life, as well as the bad. Being a real friend means making your appreciation known, and Jesus would love to hear it from you directly.
Lastly, think of those Givers in your life, and give them a call too. They deserve to know that love, and you have the privilege to express it.