In Praise of Uncomfortable Friendships

The prophet Nathan didn’t seem like an ideal candidate to be King David’s friend. Friendship between a king and his counselors often meant compromise and corruption. But if we use the term “friendship” to mean intentional relationships that push us toward faithfulness to God, then Nathan fits the bill. 

Nathan risked his life to confront King David about his rebellion against God. David repeatedly abused his power—taking advantage of Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah. A wicked king may have put Nathan to death; thankfully, though, David acknowledged his sin and repented (2 Sam. 12:1–15; cf. Ps. 51). 

While David still suffered consequences for his sin, the kingdom was ultimately better for David’s humble response to Nathan’s rebuke. Indeed, we’re all better for it. God’s people wouldn’t have Psalm 51, and we would’ve missed an opportunity to witness the scandalous love of God for sinful, self-seeking people like ourselves. 

God loved David, but David often loved other things more than God. Thankfully he had people like Nathan around to help him get back on track. We all need people like this. And they don’t have to have a leadership title to do it.

No More ‘Yes Men’

Many of us desire deep, Christian friendship; we long for companionship and encouragement. We recognize that friendship is one way we live out the “one another” commands of the Bible, imitating Christ’s posture toward us (Rom. 15:5–7, 14). But we often dismiss the role truthfulness plays in stirring one another up to love and obey God more fully (Heb. 10:24). 

We don’t need more ‘yes men’—friends who will only ever make us feel good. We need friends who will make our old selves bristle.

Imagine what our churches would be like if we frequently engaged in honest conversation with others about our sins, wounds, weaknesses, and doubts while permitting others to exhort us in ways not always easy to say or hear (Heb. 3:12–14). I suspect healthy Christian friendships would flourish, and the church’s witness would shine.

We should welcome awkward conversations that call us to put off coddled sins and to put on Christ. We don’t need more “yes men”—friends who will only ever make us feel good. We need friends who love us enough to occasionally make our old selves bristle. 

Necessary Discomfort

Paul instructs us to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). When we forget this and begin nursing or protecting sinful habits, the Holy Spirit uses his Word and his people to convict us. Christ-honoring friends make us uncomfortable when their example or words put a finger on sin we refuse to kill. And that’s exactly the discomfort we need. 

Christ-honoring friends make us uncomfortable when their example or words put a finger on sin we refuse to kill. And that’s exactly the discomfort we need.

Maybe a friend confesses how social-media habits contributed to her struggles with comparison, and then she asks about your own habits. Perhaps a caring church member probes into your financial management, inquiring about whether you have a budget. Or a married woman in your small group shares a struggle with lust and asks you how the single life is going. 

You know you’re also having trouble reigning in your passions, but now it looks like God may want to use his people to help you do so. Will you be honest? Will you allow them the opportunity to counsel, exhort, and even rebuke you? 

Such uncomfortable conversations, in a context of gentle love, make for faith-building friendships. They cause our flesh to writhe but our souls to thrive. 

You Might Need an Uncomfortable Friendship If . . .

We tend to avoid the Nathans around us, gravitating toward friends who share our strengths, politics, and life choices. We settle for the cozy to hide what’s really going on in our hearts. We stick to the familiar rather than stretching ourselves into further Christlikeness.

Uncomfortable friendships touch on the hidden parts of our lives we’d rather not talk about—those parts that expose our immaturity (1 Thess. 5:14–15). They provide a loving space for us to address the calloused areas of our hearts. 

You may need an uncomfortable friendship if you identify with one or more of these statements:

  • I have lots of friends at church, but we rarely exhort each other to believe and obey God.
  • I don’t know how to read my Bible.
  • I don’t know how to fight this sin.
  • I avoid Jesus and his Word because he’s begun to make me feel uncomfortable about the way I live.
  • No one knows how I’ve let my finances, love life, delight in food, [fill in the blank] get out of control.
  • I have a desire to grow in the Lord but feel complacent.
  • I only talk about my faith with other believers.
  • I don’t have any non-Christian friends.
  • I think I need a mentor to help me grow in areas I can’t reach alone.

Engage Your Church Family

Think of someone mature in Christ who is faithful where you’re struggling. Invite them out to coffee, spend time with them in their home, or (in these socially distanced times) set up a Zoom call. Perhaps it will lead to more time together, or perhaps you’ll just soak up what you can whenever you have the chance to chat.

Be prepared to be an uncomfortable friend to someone else too (Gal. 6:2). You are not all weakness and failure and need, just like the person you admire isn’t all holiness, maturity, and perfection. We all have our issues, but God has grown fruit in us that he’s eager to extend into the lives of those around us. 

We all have our issues, but God has grown fruit in us that he’s eager to extend into the lives of those around us.

As we gently challenge friends to keep Christ central in all things, and as we model regular confession and repentance ourselves, we help each other persevere to the end. Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).

You never know how your faithfulness in the Lord might be making someone else wonderfully uncomfortable.

In Praise of Uncomfortable Friendships

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