One of the things that is most helpful to me is hearing different perspectives from friends and acquaintances. We are constantly opining about the world around us and it is in a multitude of counselors that we find victory (Proverbs 24:5). With that in mind, here are six categories of friends where I think we can all find help.
Someone with a Prodigal
There is a unique pain associated with having a prodigal child. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, be thankful! But find a friend who has experienced this or is experiencing the difficulty of living with, (or apart from), their child who has departed from the faith they were taught as a youth.
Parents of prodigals often have gained discernment through reviewing the downward slide of their loved one. They are not able to see warning signs they missed, and are usually full of ideas for how they would have behaved differently themselves. This advice will be invaluable to a parent of young ones. Additionally, the godliness required to actually be a good friend will do your sanctification much good. We always should grow in compassion while maintaining a focus on truth, and your friendship with a parent of a prodigal child will challenge you in both those areas.
An Adoptive or Foster Parent
Adoption and foster parenting come with their own set of opportunities to be sanctified by the Lord’s grace. Many parents who adopt or foster are thrust rather quickly into being abuse counselors due to the prevalence of abuse of children in our society. Simply loving a child as a parent and giving to them from your heart is a noble activity, but many people do this while the child openly pines to be with their real mom or dad. Walking alongside your friend while they face self-doubt about the good they are doing and providing the necessary encouragement will be satisfying to your own soul.
Adoptive parents and foster parents, by virtue of being thrown right into the deep end, may help others learn to swim rough waters. If they’ve endured, they have certainly gained insight as they have sought the wisdom of the Lord which they may be able to pass on to you! And whether you have the gift of generosity or not, many people who are foster or adoptive parents could really use your financial help but are not going to ask. It’s not that they are prideful about it, for many they just feel like they keep asking and they don’t want to bother people. Surprise them with a gift and the Lord will repay you.
Regardless of how you feel about police, government, laws, etc, having a friend who is active in law enforcement is an eye-opening friendship! Police and prosecutors, probation officers and clerks of courts alike all encounter the worst that our society has to offer. Many of us live in a (nice) bubble where we don’t regularly interact with criminals. But your friend in law enforcement has seen people stoop as low as they can go. Let them tell you stories and remind you of the truth of God’s Word—that man is totally depraved and, apart from Christ, capable of unspeakable evil.
One thing I’ve learned from my LEO friends is that sometimes there are well-respected citizens who, behind closed doors, are really pernicious evildoers. Men who stand up and fight for a moral agenda are sometimes the ones who are caught with prostitutes, but it never goes public. Hearing these stories shouldn’t make us assume everyone is always doing all the evil they can all the time, but it should remind us that things aren’t always as they seem.
Finally, the church has the unique ability to counsel men and women who work in law enforcement with the pure milk of God’s Word. These dear people see so much evil, many of them cannot take it. Suicide rates are higher than average for people in these positions, and you can imagine how witnessing evil and hardened conscience day in and day out could make someone jaded. Being a friend to talk to for someone in one of these positions is good Christian service.
A Pastor Who Is Not Your Own
We should all seek to be friends with our own pastors/elders, but often your own pastor will be unable to really open to up to you about things he’s dealing with. There may be a confidential issue in your own church where it would be gossip for him to talk to you about it. Additionally, pastors face unique challenges and stress that the rest of us don’t face. When the shepherd fights off an attacker, not every sheep even notices. The same is true in the church. Your pastor is dealing with a lot and needs your support (but that’s for another post).
So make friends with a man who is not your pastor in an effort to be an encouragement to him. Pastors need trusted advisors to call when dealing with situations and often they need a more objective ear than they’d find in their own church. Fill this gap for someone! Additionally, they may provide you insight for your own church life. They can give you a perspective you might not be able to see on your own when something happens in your own church that doesn’t go your way. As protestants, we don’t elevate the position of pastor above what it should be, so we must remember that our pastors are men just like we are, and subject to the same temptations and challenges we face. Be a good friend to one today!
An Evangelist/Street Preacher
Like the law enforcement officer, evangelists and street preachers see elements of our culture that we don’t always see in our day to day life. They can provide insight to us as to how the latest fad you’ve been debating on Twitter is actually affecting the way people think in the world. It may be academic to you, but when someone is evangelizing on a college campus and God haters are saying the same thing as the latest woke Christians on Twitter the reality that doctrine is important, even potentially fatal hits you right smack in the face. Having a friend who spends a lot of time ministering to the lost should provide you with opportunities to pray, so lend material support, and to listen to true stories of how sinners actually respond to various methods of evangelism.
You know your friend who you suppose is probably a Christian but just not living for the Lord right now? Your street preacher friend saw him drunk Saturday night and had a burrito thrown at him by the guy. That nice lady at church who never seems willing to talk about the Lord? Your evangelist friend was berated by her while she was walking to a concert because “you don’t win people by simply confronting them.” (self-awareness level: downgraded) Make friends with an evangelist or street preacher today and see how you can serve them and allow the reality of what they’ve seen be shared with you that you may gain understanding.
Someone Near to Oppression
We can all learn from someone who has been oppressed or is somehow close to those who have (like someone who is a child or a grandchild of an oppressed person). In our current culture of everyone is offended by everything, it’s actually really hard to get folks to recognize true injustice. That is, if everything is injustice, then nothing is. And that is not good because we live in a world with a lot of injustice. And to be frank, there is something to be said about being friends with people who differ from you based on culture. For me, I’m as white as you get. When I meet new white friends, I notice a certain shared experience that just isn’t there when I make new friends who are black, for example.
Racism still exists today. It is one of the greatest tools of Satan that he has used the ingenuine accusations of racism everywhere to make many think there must be no such thing. No, racism still exists, but it functions freely behind the counterfeits because no one can recognize it. Have you ever watched one of those videos of the KKK burning a cross in someone’s yard? For me it’s “history,” but for many of my black friends, that’s a reality their father or even they experienced. Listening to the stories of people who feel those things deeply is helpful in growing your own compassion, and an opportunity to give grace as you respond (Eph 4:29).
My point is that we have much to learn from each other, and we should be ready to hear from those who have been hurt by various forms of injustice, whether it’s racism, Christian persecution, sexual abuse or slavery, or those in abusive relationships in the home. Their perspectives are important, informational, and worth hearing—even though evildoers have hijacked their causes for their own ends (let the reader understand).
A Final Word
I’m sure you have thought of some other folks whose perspective we could all learn from. Please leave a comment with your thoughts about this post or add your own ideas about a friend we all need.