Among Friends

I read the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (originally from “Life Together”) in a compilation of writings titled “Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People”:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. … The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.[1]

Moments after reading that, I read another part of the same Bonhoeffer quote in “Messy Beautiful Friendship” by Christine Hoover (a book I recommend):

The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly… When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure… So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.[2]

I find that to be both convicting and frustrating. As Hoover spells out in her book, we all make assumptions about friendship and fellowship, and more often than not, our assumptions are based on what we want and need for ourselves.

Some of our assumptions may be biblical, but many are not. I sometimes find myself thinking things like “If people were really committed to our church, so many would show up for Bible study that we’d have groups meeting every night of the week” or “If we were pursuing real fellowship, we wouldn’t have so many people who feel alone and isolated” or even “If people really cared about one another, it wouldn’t be so hard to get real conversations going.”

I wrestle with finding a balance somewhere between selfishly expecting too much from people and apathetically expecting nothing from anyone. As I read the Scripture’s “one another” admonitions, I still believe that the modern church ought to raise the bar for what we expect in relationships — love one another, outdo one another in showing honor, live in harmony with one another, welcome one another, instruct one another, comfort one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, be kind to one another, encourage one another, exhort one another, confess your sins to one another, pray for one another, show hospitality to one another, abound in love for one another …

But at the same time, I realize that my needs and desires may differ from others in both type and intensity because we have different types of responsibilities, homes and interests. And if we are building relationships based on our commonalities rather than our differences, it will likely take more intense effort in more condensed periods of time. Tim Keller once said, “In a busy culture like ours, all our other loves will push themselves upon us. Friendship takes incredibly deliberate time.”

It is not always easy to be thankful for what we do have rather than bemoan what we don’t. We also need to consider whether we are expecting from people what only God can give. I completely agree with Hoover that

In our wish-dreams, we tend to make people our gods. We look to them — at least I have — to know us intimately at all times, to meet our every need, to be there when we want them near, and to love us unconditionally and perfectly, when the map points only to God as having these abilities.[3]

I think we probably all have some learning and growing to do in our relationships with one another in the body of Christ.

Gracious Lord Jesus, I need to know You as my friend. It is not for some specific blessing I ask, but for the greatest of all blessings, the one from which all others flow. I dare to ask You for a renewal of the wonderful friendship that makes the conversation called prayer a natural give-and-take divine dialogue… Open my mind so I may see myself and my relationships from Your perspective[4]

By Dawn Rutan

Dawn Rutan serves as Director of Finance for the Advent Christian General Conference.

References

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer et al., Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People (Plough Publishing House, 2016), 95-96.

[2] Christine Hoover, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2017).

[3] Hoover, 37-38

[4] Lloyd John Ogilvie, Praying Through the Tough Times (Harvest House Publishers, 2005), 222.

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