As kids, choosing a friend was as simple as looking across the sandbox. Playdates were arranged by parents and as long as we agreed upon who played with which toy, things never required much thought or got too complicated. But later in life, the story changes. Choosing who we allow into our lives is every bit as important as how we choose to live it.
An early model of quality friendship is represented in the book of Mark, as we see Jesus with his chosen disciples. These twelve men were handpicked by Jesus, “...that they might be with him…” (Mark 3:14). What must that have been like, to be chosen to be so close to him? Did they automatically know what it would mean to be his friend? Perhaps taking a closer look at the characteristics of the men Jesus chose to have in his circle can guide us in deciding who should be in ours.
There’s no secret about it, Jesus was not universally loved and embraced by everyone. There were plenty of individuals and groups that wanted to shame him, humiliate him, and do him harm. But the disciples were there, watching his back and shielding him from attack.
We need friends looking out for us also, seeing what’s in our blindspots, and warning us of what we can’t see. Maybe there’s not a physical attack coming our way, but perhaps there is harmful gossip, backstabbing, or manipulation. Reliable friends have our best interest at heart and will warn us of impending danger.
While Jesus was ministering here on earth, he never wavered from his mission. And he surrounded himself with disciples who understood and supported his efforts. They didn’t always get things quite right, but there’s a good lesson there for all of us. Our friends should be helping us advance our mission and shouldn’t be distracting us from our purpose. They should be the first to celebrate the good times, catch our tears during the rough times, and help steer us back when we get off course.
But, for the disciples to have understood and supported the mission, Jesus had to be able to trust them enough to share his heart. Sharing can leave us feeling vulnerable and bare, but good friends provide a safe space. We weren’t meant to walk through this life alone. Reaching out to others to agree in prayer, for accountability, or just to listen, lightens the load and helps us feel connected.
As Jesus interacted with others, the disciples were fiercely loyal, despite the intense opposition to the gospel. It was impossible for them to fully understand all that he was, but they believed and respected him, as well as his convictions. We must surround ourselves with people who will show us that same kind of respect.
Walking a walk of faith isn’t always popular. There are times we must say no when yes would be so much easier. There are times we must offer explanations for things that would be easier left unsaid. Having friends who show respect for our walk, whether or not they fully understand, can sometimes be the difference between honor and compromise.
So how do you decide? As you look around evaluating your squad, who should go? Who should stay? Who’s missing? Are they bringing value to your life or only taking from you with selfish intent?
There is wisdom in checking your circle. Life comes in seasons and just because someone is meant to walk with us in one season doesn’t mean they are meant to stay for the next.
What’s important to keep in mind is that disagreement and/or conflict are not automatic grounds for removal. And unlike Jesus, we aren’t perfect. Healthy friendships challenge and stretch us to expand our way of thinking, to grow, and to make positive change.
Seek the Lord regarding specific relationships that may be in question, and to fill the gaps in your support system, where others are needed. Ask him for guidance on how to walk away with love, and how to embrace the new with faith.
Jesus is an ever-present friend like no other. No one can compare to his level of love, but he does place us in community for a reason. He gives us what we need through those around us. So as we assess the friends who should walk alongside us, let’s ask God to help us choose wisely.