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Growing in Spiritual Friendship

 
     
 
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William Gaultiere, Ph.D.
Director of New Hope at the Crystal Cathedral Psychologist, http://www.christiansoulcare.com/

"I long to visit you so I can share a spiritual blessing with you that will help you grow strong in the Lord. I'm eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other" (Romans 1:11-12, NLT).  Do you feel that way about anyone?  These words from the Apostle Paul represent the heart of "spiritual friendship."

Next to trusting God day-by-day, walking through life with spiritual friends is the most important thing you could do in your life. 

Most important?  Yes!  In a sense, having at least one spiritual friend is even more important than reading the Bible and prayer!  I (Bill) know that sounds blasphemous, but consider the fact of our psychological development that except as we learn to love and be loved in relationships we can't make sense of what we read in the Bible or grasp in faith the presence of the God we pray to!

Every person needs at least one essential friend to share their heart with and to encourage them in their relationship with God and in life.  Some refer to a spiritual friend like this as a soul mate, soul friend, sacred companion, or prayer partner. 

Whatever we call it, what we're talking about is a friend that you feel safe with to share honestly about your struggles and growth, your hurts and your hopes, and to do this as unto Christ.  In this friendship you look to one another as "Christ's Ambassadors" of love.  That doesn't necessarily mean that you talk about God most of the time or even that you go to church together.  It means that you invite and sense God's presence in this friendship and this person draws you closer to God and helps you to become more like Christ.

Isn't a spiritual friendship like that just for pastors and people in ministry?  No!  Every Christian needs a friend like that and Kristi and I want to show you how!

PRAYER

Dear God we give you our praise.  Father thank you for watching over us.  Jesus we ask you to be our teacher in this class.  Holy Spirit we want to be aware of and welcoming of your Spirit as we discuss spiritual friendship. 

Think about someone you'd like to live that verse with.  Perhaps a friend or a family member.  Or someone you'd like to have as a friend.

Now in your own words, ask Jesus, by his Spirit, to teach you and help you during this class to grow this relationship into the spiritual friendship that he desires for you..

In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

WE ALL NEED A SPIRITUAL FRIEND

Two years ago in my Christ's Ambassadors Spiritual Growth Group with five other New Hope Counselors one of the books we read together was Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank Laubach.  He riveted by soul with these words:

"We really seldom do anybody much good excepting as we share the deepest experiences of our souls" (Practicing His Presence, p. 3)

Again and again the Scriptures remind us and show us that we need "deep-spirited friends" (Philippians 2:2b, MSG), even referring to such friends as "saints" and "glorious ones" for us to put all our "delight" in! (Psalm 16:3, NIV).  Imagine how beautiful and loving and profoundly transforming our friendships with one another would become if we delighted in God's saintliness and glory in one another!  As deep-spirited friends we would help one another to live with divine purpose: 

  • We'd inspire one another to worship God, speaking "to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19, NIV). 
  • We'd encourage one another to "grow strong in the Lord" by sharing "a spiritual blessing" (Romans 1:11-12, NIV). 
  • We'd strengthen one another to serve God with "outbursts of love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24, NIV). 

Notice the "One Anothers" here.  Deep-spirited friends share the blessing of God's love with "one another" in very specific ways.  In fact, there are 56 "One Anothers" in the New Testament, NIV version.  (You can find a medley of 22 "One Anothers for Spiritual Friendship" under "Bible Verses" at our website ChristianSoulCare.com.) 

A spiritual friendship is a very special kind of "One Another "relationship that is distinct from other types of companionship. 

"Fellowship," my mentor Ray Ortlund explains, "isn't two people looking at each other; it's two people looking away together at something else - at Christ and His purposes" (Lord Make My Life a Miracle, p. 69). 

"Until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19b, NKJV) - this is the glorious goal of spiritual friendship, as well as of spiritual mentoring (or discipleship as Jesus practiced it) which is similar to spiritual friendship, but more directed and less mutual.  David Benner calls friends like these "Sacred Companions" (this is the title of his helpful book on spiritual friendship and spiritual direction). 

The foundation of deep-spirited friendships is the Trinity.  In God's very nature he is a community!  One Lord in three persons; one God in Father, Son, and Spirit.  Always they have loved and honored one another and always they will.  Every movement in the Trinity is one of love, joy, and peace.

Jesus came to show us that we can be a part of this community and become a friend to him and his Father and the Spirit.  Jesus said, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. You are my friends" (John 15:9a, 14a, NIV).  Is that amazing or what?  The Creator, our Lord and Master, the King of all kings, wants to be our Friend!  In fact, he prayed specifically for you and I that we might enter into the Trinity's community of love and glory (John 17:21). 

Oh, to be a friend of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit!  Life doesn't get any better than that!  Spiritual friendships help us to grasp in our hearts this wonderful friendship of God and share it with others.  Deep-spirited friends are Christ's Ambassadors to one another (2 Corinthians 5:20).

HOW TO DEVELOP A SOUL MATE: P-R-A-Y

I've (Kristi) learned that to develop spiritual friendships takes time and effort.  You have to work at the relationships - with God!  Most of all you need to P-R-A-Y.  There are four ways that I've found it helpful to rely on God to help me grow soul friendships:

Petition God: Ask God for a "deep-spirited friend."  

Matthew 7:7-8: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

Risk: Initiate by asking to get together, address conflicts graciously, stay committed through inevitable disappointments.

Affiliate: Share spiritual activities, ask about and share on spiritual lives, open your heart, attach

Yield: To God and to one another.  Let the Spirit lead; don't try to control with your agendas.  Tune into God's presence and action while sharing with your friend and respond.

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP EXERCISE (Part 1)

I (Bill) want to share with you an exercise that Kristi and I did on our recent retreat with a group of pastors and Christian leaders in "The Journey" program led by the Leadership Institute.  Chuck Miller did this with us to help us to grow in spiritual friendship.  Here's what you need to do: Get out a blank piece of paper and write the names of anyone who when asked, "Who are your friends?" would identify you as one of their friends.  This is a little different than writing down the names of your friends.  You're answering the question, "Who thinks of you as a friend?"  Write as many names as you can think of.  Do that now.

At the end of these class notes I'll tell you what to do next.  I'm not telling you know to encourage you not to peek!  C'mon, you're probably reading these words before you made your list!  Stop now.  Take a few minutes and write your list.  Later, I'll tell you what to do with it.

SOLITUTDE AND SOUL FRIENDSHIP

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16, NIV).  Withdrawing into solitude might seem to be a movement that conflicts with spiritual friendship.  But Jesus knew that he needed private times alone with his Father also and so he often stopped his ministering to the clamoring crowds of people to get alone with the Father.  This was so important to him that sometimes he'd give up food or sleep in order to pray in private.  The strength he found in solitude strengthened him for ministering to others, as Mark observed and reported in his gospel: "Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere" (Mark 1:45b, NIV).

The saints of God in Scripture and throughout history have had this same custom.  We need times for quiet aloneness and prayerful reflection just as much as we need times for deep heart sharing and soul communion with friends. 

When we spend time alone we may have to pray through restless fidgeting or anxious ruminating in order to get centered and still before God to hear his voice, but then we come to a deep sense of peace.  The words and warmth we receive in private from God we can share with our friends. 

  • "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14, NIV).
  • "Be still. and know. that I am.God. Be still. and know. that I am.  Be still. and know.  Be still.  Be.  Be." (Psalm 46:10, NIV).

And when we converse deeply with one another we may have to work through relational fears and conflicts, but when we establish trust we discover a visible, auditory, tactile opportunity to talk with and listen to God through our friend.  Our friend becomes Christ's Ambassador to us.  The care and comfort we share with our friends strengthens our faith in times that we're walking alone with God in the dark. 

  • "We are therefore Christ's Ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God. Become a friend to God; he's already a friend to you" (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV & MSG).
  • "Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul" (Proverbs 27:9, MSG). 

If we get into a rhythm with solitude and spiritual friendship then we find that each enriches the other. 

It's hard for many people to keep the balance of being with God in aloneness and in community.  Extroverts (like Kristi), of course, are drawn to spend time with people because talking with others energizes them, though they may need encouragement though to work at deepening their relationships and focusing on spiritual aspects.  Introverts, like me (Bill), are on the other end of the spectrum and are more naturally contemplative and drawn to spend time alone with God in solitude and so need to work more on pursuing spiritual friendships. 

CAUTION!

Briefly Bill and I (Kristi) want to mention a few things you want to avoid when you're offering spiritual care to a friend.

  1. Don't judge!  Always be gracious. Matthew 7:1-2" "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
  2. Don't give spiritual advice ("The Bible says you should ______.")  Let the "Spirit of Truth" teach and guide.  Instead ask questions that invite your friend to seek God's wisdom.
  3. Don't become too dependent. A Sacred Companion should help you to rely more and more on God. This has been an issue that I've (Kristi) had to work on with Bill.  I've learned to sometimes not go to Bill, but to pray and journal first.  And I've learned to look to Jesus in Bill. 
  4. Don't worry about what your friend thinks about you; don't try to manage your image and reputation; Live for the audience of One.
  5. Don't give spiritual reassurance.  ("Don't feel _______.  God will take care of you.").  Accept your friend's struggle.  Be patient.  Offer God's comfort through the spiritual hospitality of listening with your heart and prayers.
  6. Don't create God in your friend's image.  See your friend as an "Ambassador for Christ" and a "Sacred Companion" who shares God's grace with you and encourages you to follow Jesus as your apprentice for all of life.

SOUL MATES IN BIBLE TIMES AND TODAY

David & Jonathan should've been rivals, but became soul mates

"After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.  From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house.  And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt."I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women" (1 Samuel 18:1-4; 2 Samuel 1:26; both NIV).

Ruth had a spiritual friendship with her mother-in-law Naomi

"But Ruth said, 'Don't force me to leave you; don't make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I'll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I'll die, and that's where I'll be buried, so help me GOD - not even death itself is going to come between us!'" (Ruth 1:16-17, MSG).

Barnabas ("Son of Encouragement") was a friend to Paul

"When [Saul, later renamed Paul,] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:26-27, NIV).

The early Christians gathered for spiritual friendship continually

"[The apostles] all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1:14, NIV).

Us - today!

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25, NIV).

HOW BILL HAS PRACTICED SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

Steve, my (Bill's) best friend from childhood, who is a pastor in Cleveland today, affirmed me on a birthday card when I turned 40, "Your friendship and focus has been such an inspiration to me.  Thanks for blowing on the sparks in my life."  Those words mean a lot to me because that's what spiritual friends do for each other; they focus together on matters of faith and inflame each other's souls for God.  Even though we live 2,000 miles apart now and may see each other just once in a given year he's a true Jonathan in my life because when we're together it's like no time has passed - we just pick up right where we left off and resume encouraging one another with spiritual blessings!  I still remember the first time he asked me a probing question about my relationship with God.  It riveted my soul.  He was inviting me to go deep with God with him.  I learned to join him and so over the years we've often asked one another questions like:

  •  "What are you learning in your quiet times with the Lord?" 
  • "How's it going in your prayer life?"
  • "What's God been speaking to you lately?" 

How do you develop a friend like this?  Be a friend like that!  Offer spiritual friendship to someone else, maybe even a friend who is already in your life.  Try becoming more intentional about spiritual things in a current friendship; move deeper into the realm of the soul by discussing your relationship with Jesus - your struggles and your joys in your faith journey - and asking open spiritual questions (like those above) to invite your friend to share.  What you want to get to is prayer - inviting God into the conversation is what spiritual friendship is really all about.  When two people pray for one another it connects their spirits with God and one another.

Often the easiest way to start a spiritual friendship is simply by sharing a spiritual experience together that may naturally lead to conversation about relationship God and prayer.  For instance, Kristi and I (Bill) like to read Christian devotional books and discuss them and have done this with such classics as, "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren, "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers, "Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, and "Devotional Classics," by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith.  We also enjoy sharing spiritual movies, hikes, conferences, and retreats at a local monastery.  But the most important thing we do is to pray together everyday.  Dr.'s Dave and Jan Stoop, our mentors, encouraged us to do this years ago for our marriage and faith and we've found that even just a few minutes together in prayer is a wonderful way to conclude our evening soul talk and settle into sleep!

It may seem intimidating to you dive into spiritual conversations with a friend!  Many people feel that way.  I have.  In the mid 1990's I found myself lonely for a male spiritual friend to meet with regularly.  The friend I had been meeting with moved away and, as I just said, Steve was in Cleveland.  So I began to pray that God would help me to find another Christian man who I respected and felt safe with, someone that I could meet with regularly for sharing our hearts and our relationships with God and praying together.  I had prayed for this steadily for a year and still didn't know where to turn.  Then finally I met Bucky, the Family Ministries Pastor at Mariners Church, and, knowing that he liked to jog, I got up my courage to ask him if he'd like to get together to jog, talk, and pray together sometime and maybe do this regularly if we both decided we wanted that.  It felt like when I was a kid and I call on a friend and say, "Do you want to play with me?"  We've been doing this semi-weekly ever since!

Like I did you'll probably have to take a hold of courage to deepen a friendship or start a new one.  One woman in a spiritual growth group told me, "People tell me I'm too spiritual when I ask spiritual questions so I hold back."  I and the others in our group rallied around her to affirm her precious spirit and her eagerness to grow closer to the Lord.  She needed to see that friends who were judgmental or quick to give advice were not good candidates for spiritual friendship!  Instead she needed to bring her spiritual needs to gracious people who are good listeners and share her interest in spiritual growth.  In our group she learned what this was like.  She disclosed her spiritual struggles, longings, and intimacies and was affirmed.  And she also discovered the joy of being a blessing to others!  This gave her an experiential reference point for developing spiritual friendships in her life.  Today she's part of a group of people that meet regularly to pray for one another and to develop programs to share the gospel with young people.

HOW KRISTI HAS PRACTICED SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

My (Kristi's) mother modeled spiritual friendship to me.  For years I watched her get together with close friends for prayer and for Bible Study.  Sometimes when they met in our house and I was around I'd listen to them praying and hear them share with concerns for me!  I admired the closeness they shared with one another and the Lord.

Sometimes a particular spiritual friendship is just for a season in your life because your life contexts change.  Jennifer became a spiritual friend when I was in college at Christian university.  She prayed with me and encouraged me when I met Bill.  Our friendship diminished when we were dating!

When I was married and in graduate school I became very lonely for a female spiritual friend.  I met a woman named Sue and for two years we got together to pray and encourage one another.

Then the Lord led Bill and I into a couples small group at church and I met a woman named Debbie.  The first year in that group I worked at developing a relationship with a woman named Debbie and we became prayer partners.  We walked and talked and prayed for one another and our young children.  Often we did so as we pushed our kids in strollers around the lake near our house.  We encouraged one another in our relationship with the Lord.  That relationship lasted ten years and then she moved away.

Recently, Bill and I joined a group of pastors and Christian leaders in a retreat-based program of spiritual formation.  It's called "The Journey" and we're developing spiritual friendships with people there as we worship, learn, practice spiritual disciplines, converse and pray. 

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP EXERCISE (Part 2)

Did you think I forgot?  Get out your list of names of everyone you could think of who would say that you are a friend to him or her.

Concerning one or two of the people on this maybe you'd like to pray that your relationship would blossom in spiritual friendship along the lines of what we've discussed here.  Then consider sharing with that friend about what you've read here.  Perhaps you'd like to ask your friend to practice having a spiritual conversation with you?  If so you can use my (Bill's) article "How do I Have a Spiritual Conversation?" as a guide.

Now here's the main point of this exercise.  Do you have your list of names?  Is Jesus' name on that list?  Probably not.  And yet, right before I asked you to make your list I talked to you about how each of us could become a friend to the Father, Son, and Spirit and I read to you Jesus saying, "You are my friends" (John 15:14a). 

If Jesus wasn't on your list don't feel bad.  I didn't think to put him on my list when I did this exercise either - almost no one does!  You can learn to appreciate that Jesus thinks particularly of you as his friend and he does the same for me.

William Gaultiere, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the New Hope Crisis Counseling Center at the Crystal Cathedral and a Clinical Psychologist and Spiritual Director with ChristianSoulCare.com.  Kristi Gaultiere,  Psy.D is a Marriage and Family Therapist with ChristianSoulCare.com.  On their website you can sign up for a free, bi-monthly devotional e-mail.

 
     
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