Each of us has contact with people who never look beyond our appearance. I remember a fellow who had a service station in a small town where I pastored. I would pull into his station, talk with him awhile, and purchase a tank of gas. When I left, he’d always say, “See you, Harold.”
One day I said to him, “It doesn’t really matter, but just for the record, the name is Hal.”
“OK,” he said. And when I pulled out of his station that same day, he said, “See ya, Harold.”
Much more seriously, we do meet others who take one look at us, make a snap judgment and file us into a category so they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are, and if we are in constant association with them, we become less.
Then someone enters our life who is different. This person takes the time to get to know us. A friend!
The poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, once described friendship as “a sheltering tree.” What a beautiful description of a friend. A friend is like a leafy tree that provides shade from the sun and protection against the cold blasts of winter’s loneliness. A friend is indeed “a sheltering tree.”
Soon after the great comedian Jack Benny died, George Burns was interviewed on television. “Jack and I had a wonderful friendship for nearly 55 years,” Burns said. “Jack never walked out on me when I sang a song, and I never walked out on him when he played the violin. We laughed together, we played together, we worked together, we ate together. I suppose that for many of those years we talked every single day.”
That’s a good description of a meaningful friendship. Sounds like Burns and Benny were always there for each other.
For a few moments, I want to focus on a few of the characteristics of a friend.
First, a friend moves beyond self-interest! In scripture, we are told that Jonathan loved David-that “his soul was bound to David’s soul” (l Samuel
18:1). Stating this another way, Jonathan’s love for David transcended his own self-interest.
Now, Jonathan took a big chance here. You see, at this point Saul was not only the king and Jonathan’s father, but had determined to be David’s enemy. Yet Jonathan risked his relationship and future and stood up to his father, saying, “Dad, you’re making a terrible mistake about David.” Jonathan moved beyond self-interest and defended his friend.
Second, a friend allows you to be yourself! Sometime back I opened a Twitter account. The reason was and is to put a positive meaningful one sentence message that hopefully will challenge people. One of those messages was this one, “When you are a friend with someone, you don’t have to explain why you do what you do. You just do it.”
A journal once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. The winning definition was this one, “A friend is someone who comes in when everyone else has gone out.”
Third, a friend offers encouragement! A college student was falsely accused of coming into the dorm drunk one night. The more he tried to explain, the more complicated it became. He was getting ready to leave the college over the incident when he found a little note on his desk. It was written by a boy he didn’t know very well. The note simply said, “Harry, I believe in you.” Those few lines of deep human friendship kept the boy in school.
Finally, a friend brings out the best in us! Someone once asked Henry Ford who was his best friend. Ford replied, "A person’s best friend is the one who brings out his or her best.”
That’s precisely what Jonathan did for David in the biblical story. So what kept David from falling apart over Saul’s six attempts on his life? What kept David from striking back at Saul with violence? And what kept David faithfully on the trail of God’s purposes? It was his friendship with Jonathan. In that friendship, Jonathan brought our David’s best.
For sure, close intimate friendships look beyond the surface.