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What If My Closest Friends Are Not Christians?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

At the moment, I find forming friendships in church quite challenging. Moving to a new city, as well as health issues, is probably part of the reason. I also have trouble connecting deeply with people at church, even though I join small groups, volunteer for service, and participate in church events.

My old friends, however, are still like family to me. Most of them are former teaching colleagues, and a few I know from my former church. Our friendships span a period of 16 years. Though our bonds have been tested through many seasons—job changes, marriage, sickness and death—we remain dear friends. When it is time to rejoice, we dance; in times of sorrow, we hold to each other and cry. We have grown up together.

None of my friends attend my current church. Most of my friends aren’t even Christians: in fact, some of them are atheists. One of them has even embraced the goth lifestyle.

Does that make it okay then, that l am closer to them than people l know in church?

 

Who Did Jesus Befriend?

Some well-meaning Christians have suggested that I give up these friendships. While I certainly put time and effort into making friends at church, I definitely do not think it is necessary to give up my friends outside of church. After all, Jesus was diverse in his interactions with people as well. He not only spent time discipling the Twelve, but He associated Himself with children, tax collectors, lepers, as well as others considered socially inferior. He sought to draw them to the kingdom of God. Why then, should we limit ourselves to being involved only with people from church?

Just like Jesus tried to draw people from various backgrounds into His kingdom, so too, we can try to bring our friends into the church family. After all, the Great Commission commands that we share the gospel with our fellow man (Matthew 28:16-20).

For example, I invite my friends to church, and they enjoy themselves when they are there. l use discernment to determine the right moment to broach Christian-related subjects. It means stepping into unfamiliar territory for all of us and exploring deep-rooted issues, but l love how open-minded my friends are. More often than not, my friends talk about God of their own accord. I’ve also discovered that I can sometimes be a more effective ambassador for Christ through the way l live my life as a Christian, rather than through using my voice.

 

God Loved Us First

I cherish my friends. Our relationships have a realness to them—the kind of grit and spit that has survived the ugliness of hardship and seen the beauty in each other when we were at our weakest. We share a love which selflessly gives, genuinely wanting to contribute to the happiness of the other. We share a love that deepens through shared experiences and the revelation of life’s lessons. It is a love that does not leave anyone behind.

Our love for each other reminds me of God’s love for us—in His unconditional love, He gave up the life of His precious son Jesus to pay the bond price for our sins on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16). This is the love that breaks chains and sets people free.

I get to love my friends—though they are not all Christian—with the love that God has showered on me. I pray for them and hope that one day, they get to know God’s love for themselves as well.

 

Friendships in Church

While I am incredibly thankful for these friendships God has blessed me with, I am also aware of how important it is to have strong friendships within the church. The depth of my relationship with my closest friends encourages me to reach out and work to build meaningful relationships at church.

Instead of simply trying to get to know everybody, however, I am now focusing on getting to know a few specific people better. I try to keep in mind that we are all imperfect and ask God to help us understand each other.

There are a few women at church with whom I share a mutual sympathy, and we have a similar perspective on faith as well. We now stay in regular contact. We pray for each other and try to get to know each other over coffee. It’s taking time, but our efforts are bearing fruit, and we are opening up more to each other.

In a letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul lists his dearest friends: Jews, Gentiles, cellmates, a physician, and even a slave (Colossians 4:7-18). This extensive list encourages and inspires me to nurture Kingdom friendships with people from all walks of life, so that we might work together towards the glory of God, both within and outside the church.

 

Perhaps you have close friends outside of church as well? I thank God for the deep love you share with them. Do you pray for them? Have you ever considered inviting them to church or small group?  May you keep loving them the way God loves you and me.

When A Friend Leaves the Faith

When a close friend of mine shared with me through a text that she was no longer a Christian, I foolishly replied with three insensitive words: “Are you legit?”

She was someone I had grown up with in church, and we had served together in various ministries. Although younger than me, she spoke with much wisdom; I always saw her as someone who was more spiritually mature than me.

Naturally, her declaration that she was no longer a Christian came as a shock to me. I re-read the same text again and again, hoping that I had misunderstood her message. There was no ambiguity in her text. What was I to say now? Surely she wouldn’t want me to share with her the gospel that she no longer believed in?

As an introvert, I tend to stay within my tight-knit circle of friends in church, and not step out to minister to others. Because of my fear of rejection, I always assumed that the responsibility to reach out to those who leave the faith lies with those who were more extroverted and spiritually mature.

But when my friend made that declaration to me, I knew I could not sit back and do nothing. As her friend, I had to act. But while it was clear as day to me that I had to do my part to reach out to her, I wasn’t clear about how or where to begin.

As I struggled to connect with my friend, these are five things that I wish someone had told me.

 

1. He/she is still your friend

After my friend’s sudden declaration, I struggled to view her as my same old friend that I could spend hours talking to. I couldn’t engage in the same conversations about the books and the silliest happenings in our lives without the nagging thought that our relationship was no longer the same. That said, she was probably having the same difficulty as well, wondering if her Christian friends would treat her any different now that she no longer believed in God, and would leave her because of her decision.

When our friends leave the faith, it can be a crushing blow to us. To me, it even felt a little like betrayal. But I do believe that God wants us to continue to be the same friend to them, treating them as we did before. God wants us to view them as His children and fellow sinners who need God’s love and care—like we all do (Romans 5:8).

Friends who leave the faith are not “new projects” for us to take on, they are still our friends with the same needs, desires, and hobbies.

 

2. Take the time to listen to them

What my friend needed at that moment was not someone persuading her to come back to Christianity. She didn’t need another comprehensive or engaging presentation of the gospel. What she needed was a friend to hear her out.

Spending time to understand why our friends leave the faith as well as the process leading up to that decision is important. We need to remember that many of them have thought through the painful process and would appreciate someone patient enough to listen, instead of someone eager to re-share the gospel with them as if they’ve not heard it before. This also shows respect for our friend, recognizing that they did not make the decision lightly, and that they are probably going through quite a bit emotionally.

When we seek first to understand them, we demonstrate God’s love, care, and concern for them. The act of listening also reassures them that the friendship is a safe space for them to share, and opens up more opportunities for them to be honest with their struggles.

 

3. Know the faith you proclaim

I’m ashamed to admit that this was my biggest struggle. I don’t think it’s about knowing how to answer every difficult apologetics question thrown at us, but at the very least, we must be clear about why we are Christians.

When my friend asked me over dinner one day why I’m a Christian, my mind went blank. I realized I hadn’t thought it through carefully or prepared an answer. In the end, I stammered through a lengthy and lame reply that even I myself wasn’t convinced of.

The reason for our conviction is a common question from non-Christians, and the Bible exhorts us to “always be ready to explain” the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15, NLT). When we are ill-equipped to share with confidence, we are losing a precious opportunity from God to share our personal testimony with others and what our faith means to us on a personal level. By not thinking through our own reasons, we also lose the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the person on a topic close to both our hearts.

 

4. Reflect on how we might have influenced the decision

Though the decision to leave the faith ultimately rests with the individual and each one of us is accountable for our own actions before God, there could have been a string of contributing factors that finally tipped the balance.

In my friend’s case, I—along with other friends—had wrongly assumed that just because she was actively serving, her relationship with God was in a good state, so we neglected ministering to her. We spent a much larger proportion of our time with others who reluctantly came to church or didn’t feel connected to the church, forgetting that the one next to us needed the same kind of attention.

Perhaps, it might have been the little things that caused them to feel far away from God. We may not have ignored or excluded them in church, refusing to be the community we are called to be; but could we have been slow to listen to their struggles, or had focused on loving and spending time with others?

What did we do (or not do) that caused them to feel distant and doubt God? Are there things that we could have done better to point them to God? What practical steps could we have taken to improve the way we behave? In other words, how could we have been better friends? How could we have been more sensitive to their needs?

Recognizing hard truths help us to be better friends and better testimonies of Christ to those around us.

 

5. Recognize that God’s heart breaks more than ours.

If our friends are precious to us, what more to their Creator? If we, as sinners, can love our friends, how much more the perfect God?

If we want our friends to be reconciled with God, what more God, who sent His only Son to do that (John 3:16)? We can be assured that God’s personal heart is for all sinners to come back to Him in repentance (Ezekiel 18:23). Just as God is patient and will never give up on His children (2 Peter 3:9), may we learn to never give up praying and interceding for our friends.

Let us learn to trust in God, not doubting His faithfulness and His goodness, and cling onto His promises in the Bible that God will finish the good work that He has begun in every single one of us (Philippians 1:6).

 

I hope that my friend will come back to Christ one day. And till then, I will keep praying that God will turn her heart back to Him, trusting and submitting to His sovereign will.

Making Friends in College: 3 Misconceptions

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

In a culture obsessed with romantic relationships, the value of genuine friendship often goes unrecognized. However, God created us not just for romantic relationships, but also to have fulfilling friendships. There are many examples in the Bible of great friendships—such as between Jonathan and David, and Jesus and the disciples—that show friendship is important to our Creator.

Yet as we grow older, friendships don’t seem to come as easy as they did when we were children. Making new friends can be a daunting task, especially when entering a new situation, such as a college or working environment. For example, last summer, as my freshman year of college was approaching, I began to feel increasingly anxious about making new friends.

At the small, public high school I attended, my core group of friends were non-believers. Please don’t get me wrong, they are great people, and I love them dearly. Throughout our years together, they taught me much about what it means to love people who think and act differently from myself, and to this day I am thankful for my continued friendships with some of them. As college approached, however, it was my desire to find friends who could encourage me spiritually and walk alongside me in Christ.

Transitioning to college was probably the hardest thing I had done so far in my 19 years of life. Moving to a different state where I didn’t know anyone and would be hours away from my family was a frightening thought—making my desire to find good friendships even stronger. It was definitely challenging at the beginning; there were many days filled with loneliness, and several moments of tears and anguish.

I started a new job to fill some of the empty hours, and I tried to avoid being alone as much as possible. Those moments of feeling alone and missing my family also drove me to be intentional about meeting people and making new friends. I realized that I couldn’t let the difficulties of the transition to college overwhelm me, and that I needed to actively pursue those friendships that I so desired.

However, the friendships I ended up with turned out to be much different than I expected. Sure, God did provide me with good friendships. But looking back on my freshman year, I realize that I had gone to school with several misconceptions about what making friends in college would be like.

 

Misconception #1: I won’t make any friends in college.

This was my biggest worry as I prepared to leave for college, and probably the worry most frequently discussed at freshman orientation. Like many of my fellow freshmen, I was fearful of either not making friends, or of not finding like-minded friends that I could share my struggles with.

I am here to say, however, that you will make friends in college. The process will take time, and some friends may come and go, but ultimately you will find friends who will walk alongside you during this phase of your life. Some may even become lifelong companions.

 

Misconception #2: l will only make friends with people who have the same interests as me.

In my first semester of college, I chose to take a science class revolving around dune research to satisfy a core science requirement. Through this class, I met three of my closest college friends. Ironically, none of us were geography or geology majors, but through trekking up and down the dunes each week, we formed a close friendship. I also met another of my closest college friends in a Latin class that I took as an elective. Though we all shared the same faith, we all had different majors, and even different interests. But God in his infinite wisdom brought us together using circumstances we wouldn’t have thought would lead to friendship.

Of course, I did make friends within my major and areas of interest, but what I learned through these experiences is that friendship can come from any situation. The key is being willing to join new communities and try new things.

Misconception #3: My college friendships will look exactly as I imagine them.

Your college friendships probably will not look exactly as you imagined they would. You might not be best friends with your roommate, or you might find friendship in unexpected places, such as a dune research class.

You might not even find your closest friendships in the college setting. While in college, your close friends might come from an off-campus job, or a local church in your area. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that there is no cookie-cutter for the college experience.

 

The college phase of life is a time of self-discovery and possibility. Instead of being a source of anxiety, making new friends can be a great opportunity. When I reflect on my first year of college, the friends I made and the adventures we had together are the sweetest and most treasured of all my memories. Though transitioning to college was difficult, in the end, it was a rewarding experience precisely because of what I was initially so worried about—making friends.

When My Best Friend Told Me Off

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

I remember the day vividly. I was sitting in my brother’s room, cooling off after an argument with my best friend. I’ll never forget what my best friend said to me. She certainly hadn’t spared my feelings: the gist of her words had to do with me acting like a spoilt, selfish brat.

I was smarting badly and my first thought was to exact revenge in some way, or to just ignore what she had just said. But, like in several other times in the past, I took deep breaths to calm down, evaluated what she said, and reminded myself of this Bible verse: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. And the wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:5-6).

Even though I was upset with the way my friend had delivered her opinion, I knew her words had some truth in them. So I swallowed my pride and took the initiative to greet her when she walked past my brother’s bedroom to the adjacent room we shared. You see, my best friend was—and still is—my sister.

My attempt at reconciliation stopped my sister mid-stride. She redirected her steps and walked towards me. What she said next struck me—till this day. She said: “I admire you for one great quality you have. No matter what and how someone points out something wrong about you, and no matter how you act in the heat of the moment, you always listen, sift through the words and accept correction. You are also always willing and often the first to make peace and reconcile after a fight. Those are godly character traits you should never lose.”

She may not know how much those words impacted me that day, but what she said to me then always comes to mind whenever I find myself in a situation where a friend or even an enemy rebukes or criticizes me. Whenever someone finds fault with my behavior, I will retreat to a quiet place and ask for the Holy Spirit’s counsel, comfort, and advice.

Sometimes, verses will spring to mind, pointing to the fact that I do indeed need to accept correction. Other times, it becomes clear that the rebuke or criticism—though well intentioned—was unfounded. For instance, Job’s friends believed they were giving righteous criticism of their friend Job, only to be rebuked by God in Job 42:7-17. Therefore, I will always go to God to check if the rebuke is indeed from Him.

As a leader, writer, but most importantly, as a Christian, I have grown to embrace rebuke and criticism. Constructive criticism—and sometimes, not so constructive criticism from true friends—helps us grow and keeps us on the right track. I also believe it is essential if we want to become better individuals in all areas of our lives. After all, the Bible states in Psalm 141:5: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it”.

True friends will call us out; they won’t always be our cheerleaders. A person who really loves us and wants the best for us will let us know when we are taking the wrong path, because they want what’s best for us.

In my walk as a Christian, I have been blessed to have instances where I have been rebuked by genuine friends, whom the Bible describes as those who stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Ultimately, I believe that rebuke from God—whether it is through His word or others, such as our friends—should be welcomed and celebrated. In Revelation 3:19, the Bible states that “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.

Will we be willing to be pruned so that we bear the best fruit?