Ouch. We live in a culture where we’re always friending and yet have crappy friendships.
What can we do about it? Here are five practices (in two parts) for developing deep friendships.
1. Invite God into your friendships.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor who led his community to resist the Nazis even at the cost of his own life, knew firsthand the importance of deep community. But in his classic book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer also cautions against the temptation to take God out of the picture and make deep community simply a human construction.
True community, Bonhoeffer says, is only made possible by God’s power, through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s ongoing transformative work in our lives. In other words, we don’t just “build community”; rather, we receive the community that God has established through Jesus.
Think about it this way: if making deep friendships was merely based on human effort (how nice, kind, fun, loving, etc., we are), we would inevitably be disappointed. Because let’s face it: we can be those things for a little while, but at the end of the day we are all broken, selfish, sinful people.
The kind of friendships that Bonhoeffer imagined are ones that start with the love of God and then flow through Jesus into us. Jesus put it this way, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. . . . Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:9-10, 12).
Did you catch that? The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, we remain in Jesus’ love, and then we love one another. In light of this amazing vision, how silly would we be to make our friendships just a product of human effort?
The first step to inviting God into our friendships, however, is admitting that we need God in the first place. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with your community. Ask your friends and mentors to pray for you and with you. Then make some space for God this week to pray, journal, or reflect on John 15:1-17. As a community, explore what the Bible has to say about God-centered friendship.
2. Make time for your friends.
Friendships aren’t Hot Pockets. As much as we would love to pop ’em in the microwave and have them be wonderfully delicious in two minutes, meaningful friendships take a lot of time and hard work.
Jesus valued friendship. In some of his last words before his crucifixion, Jesus declared that his disciples were no longer just servants but also his friends. He even went so far as to say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends, Rich Lamb uses a single word to break down Jesus’ strategy for prioritizing his friendships: time. Jesus spent quality time, intentional time, even sacrificial time with his disciples.
Most of our time is already jam-packed with work, school, Netflix, Facebook, church, volunteering, and various leadership roles. Now, don’t get me wrong—all these things are great. But how the heck are we supposed to lay down our lives for our friends when we can’t even grab a few minutes with them?!
Here was one attempt I made. A few years ago I joined a weekly bowling league. This was significant because (1) I don’t bowl and (2) I am rarely free the same night every week.
But nearly every Thursday in a three-month stretch, I made time for bowling. And not surprisingly, some really deep friendships formed. Even though I had known some of the guys for years, making weekly time for them allowed for a new depth that had previously not been possible in our busy, scattered schedules.
One of the simplest and yet hardest ways to pursue meaningful friendships is to make time for them. So let’s start right now. Set aside an evening each week or a weekend for friendship—no studying, working, or serving. Join a bowling league! Don’t let time with people be the first thing that drops from your schedule when you’re busy. Make time for your friends as Jesus did.
3. Focus on a few.
Most of us have hundreds (if not thousands) of “friends.” We have access to people through our churches, workplaces, campuses, fellowships, and even on social media, but too often our friendships tend to run a mile wide and an inch deep.
Jesus forged deep friendships because he focused on a few.
Even though he was regularly around massive crowds who demanded his attention as well as his twelve disciples, he reserved special time for three: Peter, James, and John. They alone witnessed the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter. They alone got to experience the transfiguration.
I, on the other hand, don’t focus on a few because I have a serious case of F.O.M.O.: the fear of missing out. Every time I see pictures on Facebook of friends checking out a new restaurant or hanging out together, I wish I could have been there. And my fear of missing out on new opportunities causes me to tolerate shallow friendships so that I can always be available for the next fun, cool outing.
So for me, focusing on the “few” means having the wisdom to know the specific individuals God has placed in my life for this season, prioritizing them, and not stressing out over every potential new friendship or experience I might be able to entertain in the future.
Which “few” in your life might God want you to focus on? And how might you invest in them so that they can make an impact for God’s kingdom?
Read about two more practices for deeper friendships in part two.