Have you ever analyzed that question? Most of us don’t plan our friends or friendships – they just happen. For me, a number of my friends I’ve had since high school or college. When Susan and I got married we looked for married friends with whom we had something in common. Then kids came along and we drifted toward friends with children. And, of course, we met some of our friends at our church and so we ended up with a mix of friends that reflected our spiritual values, our interests, our stage in life – people like us with whom we felt comfortable.
And that was part of the problem.
We were both spiritually immature back then and we tended to believe and behave like the friends we chose. And, let’s face it – many of us see very few Christians, perhaps our own friends, who are actually living radically transformed lives. They may be average Christians, but may not have grown in their love for God and devotion to others over the years. If not, it’s easy for us to assume, “If they’re saved, why should I deny myself – take up my cross and really follow Jesus? If that level of commitment to Christ is good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”
Obedience, like water, generally seeks its lowest level. We tend to behave like the friends we choose because we all want to fit in – to be accepted. And, above all, we don’t want friends that make us feel guilty. I heard this quote once, “Each of us are spiritually the average of our five best friends.”
So, for better or worse, our faith – how we live, tends to mimic that of the closest friends we have. That can be an incredible blessing, if you have deeply spiritual friends who are cheering you on to godliness. But, the reverse is also true.
It’s scary to think that for better or worse, our friends are learning about God from watching us. Your friends aren’t just people you enjoy hanging out with. Jesus put them in your life to care for and inspire to be lovers of God also. Think about the last time you gathered with them. How did it go? Do you think you made loving God above all else look good to them? It’s been my experience when I lower my standards; everyone around me breathes a sigh of relief, because the bar just got lowered.
I remember sitting in my car decades ago as a brand new Christian, before playing golf and begging God to help me get through the next four hours without saying anything foul or telling a single dirty joke. And I was playing golf with guys I went to church with!
For the first time in my life it made sense to me that if I claimed to love Jesus I had to act that way, in and out of church. It saddens me to think how many Christians I made more comfortable in their sin or people I may have discouraged from loving God by my indifference to my own personal holiness.
“But set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I Timothy 4:12b
Are you the problem or solution?
Are you the spiritual and moral influencer among your group of friends? Do you think the last time you were together with your friends, any of them thought this about you on the drive home; “That John (or Julie) is amazing! I wish I had his love for God, his trust in God, his love for hurting people, his…”? Do you think your life inspires your friends to be better followers of Jesus?
Do your friends inspire you? Are you the one wishing you were more like them?
The worst of all worlds is that no one in your circle of friends, even Christian friends, is seriously inspiring anyone else to follow Jesus more seriously. If that’s the case, it seems to me you have three good options:
If you’ve not yet established a regular, daily, personal time of prayer and Bible study, please make that a priority. I’ve never met a serious follower of Jesus yet who didn’t have daily time with God, and I doubt you’ll be the exception. The School of Jesus chapter in The 10 Second Rule, outlines some basic Bible study ideas, including a challenge to start reading the Book of Luke over the next 30 days. In it, I’ve also recommended some great study guides to help you.
You might need to temporarily distance yourself from your friends if they’re a temptation for you and get a spiritual mentor. The right mentor can help you think through some of these issues and teach you how to be a godly man or woman until you have the wisdom and courage to intentionally be “salt and light” to your friends.
A final recommendation is that you could just step up to the plate, meet with your friends and come clean to them that you’ve not been the follower of Jesus you know you should be, but you want to change that. Invite them to meet together regularly with you, to study the Bible, and grow together. This can be done as couples, but if not start a study with the guys, or women. If none of you are particularly spiritually mature, why not invite someone who is, to meet with you for a few months to get you started?
If you sense God convicting you to do any, or perhaps all of the above, don’t let procrastination rob you of good intentions. Ask your spouse or a good friend, right now, to ask you in a week what your plan is to get more intentional about being a more serious follower of Jesus. That will keep you accountable for making some of these important, first step decisions.
Two questions for you: Are you the spiritual influencer in your group of friends? And if so, how have you done that effectively without being overbearing?