We had a really good men’s retreat this past weekend! The theme for our retreat was friendship: what are the characteristics of a good friend and how can we grow into taking on more of these characteristics in our own lives and relationships. Doug Wahl led one session and I led the other. In the session that I led I used a handout to facilitate dialogue and help us more understand the characteristics of being a trusted friend. The handout that I used was taken from an excellent book on male friendship that I have recently read, The Accountable Man, by Tom Eisenman (a former Covenant pastor and current spiritual director working with a number of Covenant pastors, including myself). I think there is some excellent material here on friendships worth sharing with you. So I am including the handout below along with some explanatory revisions. I hope you will read it prayerfully asking God to help grow you as a friend to others and to bring even greater health to the quality of your relationships.
Yours in Christ,
The Character Qualities of a Trusted Friend
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend. (Proverbs 22:11)
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
(Eisenman talks about the 7 things that God finds detestable, found in Proverbs 6, and how these are characteristics that will hold us back from having quality friendships.)
7 Detestable things to God (Proverbs 6:16-19):
• Haughty Eyes (prideful, describes the person who thinks they have arrived and have it all together, Proverbs 16:18)
• Lying Tongue
• Hands That Shed Innocent Blood (the violation of the weak by the strong, people who take advantage of others for their own advancement or to satisfy their own ambition and lusts)
• Devise Wicked Schemes (describes the person who is consumed with selfish ambition)
• Feet That Are Quick to Rush Into Evil (describes people whose lives are consumed with things that are not of God)
• False Witness (someone given to gossip or slander)
• Person Who Stirs Up Dissension (dissension in the Body of Christ kills relationships and fellowship, all the previous six detestable things can easily lead to dissension and fractured fellowship)
People of godly wisdom will predominately display character qualities that are the opposite of these seven traits that God hates. These are the kind of people we should want to spend time with, because they pick us up and build us up, teach us and train us, mentor us, disciple us, hold us accountable, encourage and strengthen us, pray for us, stand by us, walk with us, through thick and thin. Their godly character traits, attitudes and actions rub off on us. We all need friends like them.
Instead of these 7 qualities, the people we want as trusted friends will show:
1. True Humility/Teachable Spirit - This kind of person delights in encouraging and serving others. A person of humility will show the qualities of Christ in everyday life. These character traits of humility are what James described as having wisdom from above (James 3:17-18).
2. Truthful in Speech - We should look for friends and accountability partners who will encourage us to be truthful in speech so our lives will demonstrate consistency between what we say and how we believe. We should look for friends who are willing to risk wounding us, if need be, when they see us taking the first steps toward a slide into ruin. 'Wounds from a friend can be trusted' (Proverbs 27:6).
3. Compassionate Heart - Instead of entering into relationships with men who can be cruel and insensitive, we should look for those who have a compassionate heart. We should look for those who are advocates of the hurting or powerless, who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the kingdom.
4. Authentic - The King James translation of the Bible describes some men as having "no guile" (John 1:47). The word guile comes from a Greek term that means "a decoy." A person with no guile is not a decoy, not someone living a pretend life- just looking like the authentic article on the outside. A person with no guile has made genuine progress with God in the power of the Spirit against selfish motivations. He is humble and grateful to God. He is not a control freak, plotting things behind the scenes. A person with no guile finds it easy to work in submission to authority. We should look for people like this.
5. Moral Character - We also want to surround ourselves with people who care about morality. If we find a person who is so pure-hearted that just being around them sensitizes our conscience, we should try to get more time with that person. As we cultivate relationships with people of integrity, their integrity will rub off on us.
6. Can be Trusted with Confidences - Instead of loose-tempered people who spread any gossip anywhere, we want close friends who will never break confidentiality. We want people around us to whom we can bare our soul, knowing that what we say will be kept in confidence. Without this confidence, our growth will stagnate. We will never reach deep levels of self-awareness and core character development unless who share our real likes with friends like these.
7. Work Out Disagreements in an Atmosphere of Openness and Love - Even good friends will have disagreements. But disagreements are healthy in good relationships, offering opportunities for growth. If both parties are walking in the Spirit of the Lord, they will work out even intense disagreements in an atmosphere of openness and love. That's why we should surround ourselves with people who show a willingness to submit to the Holy Spirit.
Our trusted friends should be a few close friends who have humble souls, honest words and lives, serving hands, pure hearts, listening ears, and reconciling spirits. Paying attention to these character qualities will help us examine the relationships in our lives. We can use the above mentioned negative and positive qualities as a guide for seeking God's wisdom in identifying someone who has the potential to develop a mature friendship with us.
We are not looking for a perfect person. No person will fit that bill, including us! But when we see good character qualities exhibited with some level of consistency and balance in another's life, the potential is there for a relationship that will work.
How do you find a quality person to have as a friend? First of all, you have to be the kind of person whom others would want as a trusted friend. Then finding good friends might be easier than you think. Ask yourself this question: Would another person find in me many of these important qualities necessary for a good friendship?
When another person shares something private with you and you never spread it around, you begin to be known in your circle of acquaintances as a person who can be trusted. Others will seek you out as a person with whom they can share the deeper life. If you keep your promises, others who care about honesty in relationships will find you. If you're a good listener with a nonjudgmental spirit, people will seek you out for help and guidance. If you are someone who doesn't take himself too seriously you will attract friends who are serious about their faith but who are also able to enjoy their relationships with others. If you are someone who is quick to take the concerns of others to the Father in prayer, you will be sought out by others who are devoted to prayer. In short, if you are a good candidate yourself for an honest, open relationship as a Christian friend, then you will be sought after by others eager to be in relationship with you.
(Eisenman talks about ground rules that should characterize close friendships. These are important aspects that help grow the quality of our friendships.)
Ground rules for trusted friends:
1. Vulnerability - Vulnerability is the doorway to a more intimate sharing of our lives with others. Vulnerability describes a willingness to open one's life up to another. This is an area of struggle for many. If we are at all insecure about ourselves, we will be tempted to project an image that isn't accurate or honest. We will be tempted to cover up the truth or color our life situation to make ourselves look better.
The cure to cover-up, of course, is knowing that we are already accepted and approved by God. In Christ I do not have to perform perfectly to be loved. Forgiveness is active in my life, therefore I can admit openly that I often fail. This vulnerability is the foundation on which accountability rests. We are all in the same place in Christ. We are all forgiven sinners in need of a lot of grace and help. What would be the point saying we are interested in growing in Christ and then covering up areas where the growth most needs to take place? A mature man recognizes his need to grow and learn. A free man exhibits vulnerability by admitting his needs and accepting the help, advice and support of others.
2. Teachability - If you are teachable, you are open to counsel from others and are quick to hear and respond to reproof. Learning how to give and receive loving counsel is essential for a person who wants to become mature in Christ and help others grow. Remember, 'as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another' and 'wounds from a friend can be trusted' (Proverbs 27: 17, 6). Of course, we are talking here about constructive criticism. This is correction, advice and counsel coming to you from men who have already demonstrated their love for you, men you know you can trust.
3. Honesty - A trusted friend is committed to telling the truth regardless of how much it hurts. This is speaking the truth in love to a friend when words of truth need to be spoken into their lives. It also takes tremendous courage to admit our struggles to others, especially when they are difficult or humiliating.
4. Accessibility - There is no way you can have a deep and meaningful relationship with a friend if you are not willing to give them the necessary time to develop that relationship.
5. Trustworthiness - The rule is, nothing shared inside the relationship gets shared outside the relationship unless permission has been given. Even small things that seem of no consequence must be held in confidence. That's because real, open, and honest life sharing cannot take place unless you can be trusted to keep this personal information private.
6. Empathy - The best trusted friendships are made with those who have experienced real life and are not shocked by the deeper struggles their partners choose to reveal. You will be a better trusted friend to another if you understand what it is like to be weakened and feel defeated. Personal experiences of pain and struggle will deepen your compassion for a struggling friend. And because you have experienced real life difficulties and pain, you understand how God works to bring His comfort and strength in times of deep distress.
Which of the qualities do you believe you possess in good measure? How do you know this?
What kind of changes do you need to make in your own life to become the kind of person others would seek out for a friend?
Do you believe you are the kind of person who can listen to an honest confession of a spiritually wounded friend and respond with love, compassion and hope?
How might God be leading you to grow in becoming this kind of friend?
How does receiving the unconditional acceptance of God free you to be more open and vulnerable about your struggles? How does/should this play out in your life?
Eisenman states that the most significant things that we’ve learned and retained in life have most likely come through a trusted relationship. How true is this for your life?