A Friend in Need

JOB 34

The phone rings.  You look down.  It’s her.  Again.  It’s not that you don’t like her or even that you mind talking to her.  After all, she’s one of your closest friends.  It’s just exhausting to talk to her right now.  There’s nothing you can say, nothing you can do.  She’s miserable.  Rightly so, she’s been through a lot, but when will it end?

We’ve all been there.  Maybe it’s not an extended season or a deep hurt, but we’ve all had a friend that’s unhappy and we don’t know how to help.

Job’s friends are my favorite example of this.  They were definitely clueless, exhausted, and exasperated.

These guys started out well.  They did something incredibly supportive,

Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw that his suffering was very intense” (Job 2:13 HCSB).

Can you imagine? I’ve been in some pretty intense moments with people, but I can’t imagine sitting in silence with someone for seven days and seven nights.

How meaningful that must have been for Job!  While he was experiencing unspeakable grief, his friends just sat with him.  Their presence was somehow enough.

But his friends should’ve stopped there.  Can you relate? I can.  Their words completely failed them.  Their initial patience was squelched by their final exasperation.  Instead of continuing to sit and listen to their friend, they started attempted to “fix” his problem.  Their advice was poorly timed, insensitive, and frankly heretical.  Not knowing what to do, how to help, and who God really is caused them to majorly fail as friends.

Of course, there are times to call a friend out.  That’s a huge part of being a friend that is too often neglected, but checking our motives and trusting God’s control are essential as we partner with our hurting friends.

Job 42:7 ESV shows what bothers the LORD about Job’s friends, “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.'”

This passage begs the question: what does my response to hurting friends say about God?

I hope it reveals trust.  I hope it reveals His love.  I hope it reveals His character.  I hope it reveals His grace.  I know it doesn’t always, but I pray I begin to respond better to a friend in need.

Iron Sharpens Iron

IRON SHARPENS

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.  

Quoted often, I fear that I sometimes allow Proverbs 27:17 to become a cliche in my own life.  Instead of clinging to the resounding truth of this Scripture, I let it fly through my head like any other useless thought.

But when I actually take time to meditate on it, isn’t this verse powerful?

Just think about it, iron sharpening iron? There’s a reason I’m not a metal worker.  I don’t even enjoy sharpening kitchen knives.  The process terrifies me.  It involves so much force as one object becomes more like the other.  The process takes a practically useless object and makes it an incredible tool.  Similarly, we are called to sharpen one another.  We spend time with people who challenge us, so we become more like them…so we become more like Jesus, the One who’s image they bear.

Recently, I’ve found that iron-sharpeners don’t just hold me accountable when they call me out.  Somehow their humanness sharpens me too.  It makes me aware of my own humanness.  Friends, even godly friends, say things that offend me sometimes.  It could be them acting sinfully, but I’m realizing that a lot of times it’s just me reacting sinfully.  When I find myself reacting strongly, I have to figure out a way to get past it.  These relationship annoyances force me to stop what I’m doing and examine myself.  If it weren’t for other people in my life, I wouldn’t have to stop and examine myself like that.  People are a huge part of God making me more like Him.

The Hebrew translation of this verse is actually “sharpens the face of another.”  Despite all the pain involved in sharpening, God uses it to change our countenance.  There is such rich beauty that comes from this kind of relationship.

As an introvert, I can spend quite awhile by myself and feel okay, refreshed even.  I can fool myself into thinking I don’t need people.  I’m fine on my own.  Right?

Wrong.  Time alone is good.  Needed.  Time alone with God is essential.  These times should be treasured, prioritized, and protected.  Jesus spent time alone with the Father often, but God designed us to be with other people too…with iron-sharpeners.  Isolation is a great time to let sin creep into our lives.  We’re vulnerable by ourselves.  Kind of like a dull kitchen knife or razor, we may not notice it’s that dull until after it’s sharpened.  We ease into using our second-best.

As a people-pleaser, I can spend time serving and feel like I’m fulfilling my people requirements.  I’ve been with people, so I’m good.  I’m not isolating or withdrawing, so I’m fine.  Right?

Wrong.  Serving is good.  God expects us to serve.  Why waste the gifts He’s given us? But serving isn’t a replacement for iron-sharpeners.  It may be a good place to find other iron-sharpeners.  It may be something God uses to bring growth, but chances are it’s not really where iron-sharpening happens.  It’s more like the place where the knife gets used, rather than sharpened.

Finding iron-sharpeners is difficult.  It usually means increasing vulnerability and admitting weakness, two things that go against our human pride.  I am quite possibly the slowest iron-finder around.  It’s taken me a year and a half to even really invite iron-sharpeners into my life since I moved to New Orleans.  Despite a lot of time surviving on a dull or only slightly sharpened blade, I am so grateful for the people the Lord’s placed in my life and how He sharpens me through them (whether I want to be sharpened or not).  Please do not stop actively seeking out others to do the same for you.

Fear of Men

A loving “no” is not only avoided due to the fear of humility and the fear of the unknown, it is avoided due to the fear of men.

As much as I fear humility and the unknown, I fear men more.  Apart from the grace of the Lord, I am a hopeless people-pleaser, bound by the never ending desire to please each and every person I encounter.

The Bible is pretty clear that people-pleasing is not okay.  Galatians 1:10 is a verse the Lord impressed on my heart during one of my (many) battles with people-pleasing.  It says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (ESV)  When I really mediated on this verse for the first time, the last phrase hit me like a ton of bricks: If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Unfortunately, that means that many seasons of my life (even as a Christian) I have not been a servant of Christ.  Instead, I’ve chosen to try to please man.

If I’m honest, being a servant is not my favorite role.  Servanthood includes exhaustion and limitations.  I often associate it with feeling trapped.  It means putting me below others.  So why do I choose to try to serve people? I will never succeed in pleasing everyone.  Ever.  That means I will always feel trapped when I choose to live my life pleasing people.  Instead, I could choose to be a servant of Christ.  True, this still includes occasional exhaustion, limitations, and trials.  But ultimately serving Christ means freedom.  True freedom.

The past few blog posts, I’ve harped on the importance of a loving “no.” I’ve gone into great detail why these different fears impede the Church’s ability to say a loving “no.” Each of these different fears work together to prevent us from lovingly setting boundaries we need to set.  This truly is one of the reasons the broken and needy aren’t well-served by our churches.  We have to seek to serve the Lord and follow His direction about loving and serving people well, not just please people that the Lord loves.  We’re called to love people, not please them.  Sometimes the two work together, sometimes they don’t.

The results of us not setting boundaries often means letting the “needy” walk all over us.  This often snowballs into us having a bad attitude because we’ve let ourselves get worn down.  Whether or not that bad attitude is expressed, it’s seen.  No wonder no one ever wants to express a genuine need in church…we know how the needy are perceived

A Loving “No”

One of my classes this semester is Chemical Dependency.  It’s been an interesting class . . . to say the least.  We were required to attend two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in addition to giving up some sort of “addiction” for two weeks as part of our coursework (I gave up dessert…needless to say, it was a rough two weeks).  Although there’s still a lot of required reading and writing, this class is different than a lot of the classes I’ve taken.  Recently, my professor astutely observed one of the main reasons that the church is inhibited from reaching addicts:

“As a church we know how to say ‘yes’ lovingly, but we don’t know how to say ‘no’ lovingly.”

In other words, we’re pretty mean when we finally say “no.”  Of course we are! We’re burnt out by that point!  But whose fault is that?

It’s rare that a statement a professor makes resounds with me as much as that statement has.  I cannot get it out of my head.  I’ve observed this behavior so much in myself since I heard him say that.  I desperately want to say “no” lovingly.  I’ve been so convicted that I’m the one causing the broken to hate the church, not someone else.  I’m as guilty as hypocrisy as anyone when I smile and say “yes,” but I really should say “no.”

That hypocrisy is spurred by fear: fear of humility, fear of the unknown, and fear of men.