When it comes to having someone come alongside me in life as a valued friend, what are the three most important things I look for in a relationship? I think this is an important question to ask and it’s one I’ve asked myself many times. This is where I keep landing — I need encouragement, exhortation, and empathy based on Biblical principals that keep me pointed back to Christ. Authenticity is right up there too but, because it weaves through these first three, I’ll make it a topic of another week.

For today, I’ll share some examples of three things I value highly in my marriage relationship and the friendships that are most treasured in my life. Perhaps they can serve as an inspiration, challenge or guideline for some of our readers.

ENCOURAGEMENT — I was terribly bullied during middle school and heard a lot of messages that wore away at my confidence in myself and my trust in others. For that reason and others, I grew up craving advocacy, affirmation and affection. The Samaritans were not a well-liked people either. That’s one reason why the Samaritan woman was so shocked when Jesus talked to her at the well. I appreciate friends who value me for who I am, love me unconditionally, and are willing to help care for my deepest needs. In John 4, the woman came to the well thirsty for water. Jesus gave her so much more than that. In fact, He offered her a kind of friendship that poured out and satisfied the needs of many other Samaritans from her town too!

The world’s encouragement is fleating and based on superficial things.

Biblical encouragement means we hold unswervingly together to the hope we profess in our faithful God and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:25).

EXHORTATION — There are some things I don’t like very much about myself so I frequently ask God to purify and re-shape me. But there are also times when I am blind to things that need re-molding in me and it can take a wake-up call from someone I trust and respect who will lovingly correct me. I can hang out with people who will tell me what I want to hear or I can choose friends who want to grow with me and won’t be afraid to rebuke me when necessary (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Together, we can help each other become an ever-increasing reflection of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The world says, “Stay out of each other’s business.”

Biblical friendship stretches us through a faith that asks, “Lord, keep me grace-filled, hungry for, and increasingly wise in handling Your Word which is powerful and effective for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

EMPATHY — Our daughter, Carly, was knocked down at day camp last week while dancing and her two front teeth were severely chipped. I was so thankful she had one of our own PCAs (personal care attendant) with her so she could be quickly comforted by someone she knew. Nobody likes to go through crisis without a friend alongside. Even Jesus brought his friends with him when He was distressed. Mark 14:32-41 describes Jesus’ expectation about how friends should stand together in the face of challenges.

Example of a common response: “You deserve to feel sorry for yourself sometimes.”

Example of a Biblical response: “In your situation, I might feel the same way. Can we pray together about this this right now?”

LORD, please plant me in relationships that are genuinely and courageously characterized by encouragement, exhortation and empathy that reflects Christ. Thank you, Jesus, that friendships like that will bless us and honor you too! AMEN

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