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 the shape of leadership

Friends in Tough Places

The importance of friendship in ministry, Part 2

There’s nothing like having friends in ministry who will love you no matter what trial you face or joy you experience. They stand with you in the good times and the tough times. In my last article, we explored two characteristics of friends in ministry that can really make a difference:

  • Friends help you reach the mountain of success.
  • Friends help you in the valley of hardship.

Both of these truths come from Solomon’s words in the Old Testament: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

In this article, I want to share two more reasons to connect with friends, and explore the difference friends can make in our lives as ministry leaders. Again, these insights come from Solomon and have extraordinary relevance today.

Friends help you in the desert of isolation. Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” People often think this passage has a sexual connotation, but that’s not the case.

This verse is an image derived from travelers crossing the desert. On cold desert nights, travelers would lie close to one another to stay warm. It’s a metaphor that implies the closeness of a friend who provides emotional support when we’re walking through life’s desert-like places.

Deserts are extreme. The highest temperature ever recorded was 134 degrees Fahrenheit in the Mojave Desert region of Death Valley, California. Temperatures in deserts can swing wildly from over 100 in the daytime to 25 at night. That is extreme.

Deserts are like barren wastelands. Little grows in a desert, where the environment is harsh and water is scarce. In fact, Death Valley averages only 2.4 inches of rain per year, and some parts of the Sahara Desert average just 0.03 inches of rain annually. Few things can survive long in such places.

When you have a friend, you find the emotional support you need to navigate the extreme and barren times of your life.

Deserts are places of isolation. The Sahara Desert, which covers most of North Africa, is about 3.5 million square miles, but has a total population of 2.5 million people. That averages less than one person per square mile.

The deserts of leadership can be equally harsh. Ministry deserts are often extreme, barren and isolated. The isolation is especially concerning. After all, most of us can navigate the extreme and barren parts of life, leadership, and ministry if we don’t have to do it alone. It’s the alone part that gets the best of us.

That’s why Solomon’s words in verse 11 are so important. Look at them one more time: Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”

When you have a friend, you find the emotional support you need to navigate the extreme and barren times of your life. Friends help you gain perspective, offer wisdom and provide encouragement. They are with you through the deserts of ministry.

Friends help you win your battles. Ministry is a spiritual endeavor filled with battles. The truth is, the enemy of your soul hates you, and hates everything you do for the kingdom of God. He wants nothing more than to stop you and the ministry God has called you to lead. That’s why it’s so important to have the support of friends in the battles.

I once had a friend tell me, “There will come a time in your ministry when your prayers are simply not enough. You’ll need the prayer support of others to accomplish what God wants accomplished.”

My friend was simply reminding me that ministry is a battle, and it can’t be won alone. Solomon writes, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

You may be facing spiritual, financial, relational, emotional, physical or professional battles, but it was never God’s intent that you wage those battles alone, much less win them alone. Friends don’t abandon you in the battle; they suit up and help you fight so that you can achieve the victory.

Do you have friends like these in your life? If not, what can you begin doing today to move in that direction? Friendships don’t just happen to us. They require us to intentionally cultivate conversations and interactions with others. Out of these experiences, friendships are born.

Do the four characteristics we’ve explored in these articles describe you as a friend? If not, what changes do you need to make to become the kind of friend who helps others reach the mountain of success, navigate the valley of hardship, experience support in the desert of isolation, and win their battles?

Perhaps the first step toward finding a friend like this is to become one. Somebody has to take the first step. Why not you?

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