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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was browsing through the obituary section when I saw his name. It couldn’t be. But it was.  A dear school friend had died.

The memories came flooding back – the sports, the music, the girl friends....  As I cast my mind back to the good times we shared together I couldn’t help thinking about how precious friendships are – and how easily we take them for granted.         
How do we live wisely in our friendships? What are some building blocks we can forge in our relationships?    

When Proverbs speaks of friends, loyalty seems to be the strongest feature emphasized. “A friend is always loyal (Proverbs 17:17 NLT) and “A real friend will be more loyal than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24  NCV). A true friend is reliable. A true friend is there for you in good times and bad. A true friend will not let you go to ruin. Are you that kind of friend? Do you have a friend like that? If so, cherish that friend.  But how can we do that?

No better gift

Recently I read the life story of C.S. Lewis. I discovered that he considered friends to be amongst the greatest joys and blessings of his life. His strong friendship with J R R Tolkien was legendary. But this strong friendship didn’t just happen. It was deepened, forged and nurtured by time spent together.  Lewis called those special times “the golden sessions.” That was when “four or five of us after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life—natural life—has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”1

If it hadn’t been for the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, the world would likely never have seen The ‘Narnia Chronicles’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’ and much else.

Don’t underestimate the value of spending time with friends. Solomon wrote “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). When iron blades are rubbed together, each becomes sharper and thus more effective. When we spend time with our friends relaxing, laughing, listening and encouraging one another we sharpen one another. Through his close friendship with Tolkien, Lewis became a Christian. Lewis in turn provided a matchless gift that Tolkien later described: “The unpayable debt that I owe him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more, I should never have brought ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to a conclusion.”2 Interestingly, a powerful theme in the book is the beauty of friendship. 

Bringing out the best

But time with friends can be more than laughing, encouraging and sharing a meal together. It’s also about being vulnerable, transparent and challenging one another. A good friend is not someone who necessarily agrees with everything you do and say - it’s somebody who lovingly challenges you and brings out the best of you. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted”. We all need a friend who is not afraid to give us positive criticism - even if it hurts  When we respond correctly to the criticisms, they will ultimately build us up, making us better equipped to handle anything life throws at us. Of course, criticise in the right way at the right time and make sure you are a true friend too (Proverbs 27:9).  

“Tolkien needed a ‘critical friend’, a mentor who would encourage and criticise, affirm and improve, his writing – above all, someone who would force him to bring it to completion.... Tolkien was a niggling perfectionist.... Someone had to help him conquer his perfectionism. And what Tolkien needed he found in Lewis.... Lewis would become the chief midwife to one of the great works of twentieth-century literature – Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.”3 Making friends and keeping friendships alive takes time. Make time.

Do you have strong friendships? If so nurture them.  If you don’t have good friends, perhaps the reason is you are not being a good friend. If you don’t have a true friend ask God for one. Lewis wrote: “In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting - any of these chances might have kept us apart.

But for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” 4

As Lewis saw it, friendship was as close to heaven as we can get in this world. Forging and nurturing friendships is not only important – it is more spiritual than we may realise!

1 C.S.Lewis, The Four Loves
2 C.S.Lewis, The Four Loves
3 C.S. Lewis, A Life
4 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves: Alister McGrath


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