6 Practical Ways to Be a Friend like Jesus

Every person has an inherent need for companionship.

Even in the garden of Eden, a place of paradise and sinless existence, Adam felt the void of loneliness until God formed Eve. The Father understood this need because He Himself enjoys community within His triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this sense, our desire for companionship is a direct reflection of our identity as image-bearers.

Ever since the Fall, however, much of friendship involves walking alongside each other as we experience the effects of sin and disappointment in the world. This task, though overwhelming at times, has the potential to paint a beautiful picture of Jesus’ work to heal and redeem all things.

Read on for 3 common pitfalls to avoid and 3 practices to pursue in being the kind of friend that we all need. 

Pitfalls to Avoid:

Pitfall #1: Downplaying

 Sometimes we minimize the reality of a situation in order to make it appear more manageable. It feels uncomfortable to see someone suffering, so the response is to claim that things are not as dire as they seem.
 We say, “I’m sure it’s not all that bad.” In the same way that Adam and Eve vainly attempted to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, we instinctively do the same thing when faced with the effects of the Fall.

 The problem with this is that it leaves our friends feeling unheard, unseen, and perhaps even condemned for having such a hard time with something that our response infers should be no big deal. 

 Christian therapist Dan Allender explains, “The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.” As a person’s longings and disappointments are given a voice, their power to overwhelm us is lessened.

 We see this principle described in John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Instead of jumping to conclusions and depreciating the reality of our friends’ struggles, approach the conversation with a posture of humility and learning.

 Seek to enter into the suffering of your friends, rather than yank them out before they are ready. 

 It can be helpful to name what you are feeling even as you are in the midst of a conversation. This not only models vulnerability, but also serves as a way of validating the other’s pain. I had a counselor once respond to me with, “Wow, just hearing about this makes me want to cry.” That simple act of joining me in sadness provided a powerful balm to my pain, and primed my heart to receive her insights.

Pitfall #2: Enabling

As you enter into the stories of others, it is tempting to avoid asking a hard question because you don’t want to appear judgmental. It seems unsupportive and cruel to acknowledge the agency that your friend possesses as a sinner.

However, because of the hope we have in Christ as Redeemer, we can look honestly at the sins of ourselves and others without the need to gloss over them. Psalm 32 paints a picture of the misery that arises when we try to downplay the reality of our sin: 

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Psalm 32:3-4

It may feel counterintuitive, but it is only from a place of seeing the reality of our sin that the good news of the Gospel can replace that burden of shame with the joy of forgiveness. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller explains the connection between honesty and safety: 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

In our friendships, we can courageously step into the mess of another’s heart because we know that there is grace available for them. This does not look like condemnation or giving unasked for advice when our friend is not ready to hear it. But it does look like coming alongside our friends as we acknowledge the spiritual battle we are all in.

Gently and humbly—this is key—we encourage vulnerability with hope in the One who forgives and covers us with Jesus’ righteousness. 

Pitfall # 3: Fixing

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus’ compassion move Him toward the suffering.

He seeks the lepers, demon-possessed, blind, and lame, and responds with physical healing and spiritual truth. While we too are moved into action through compassion, we do not possess the same power as Jesus to cast out demons and heal diseases.

If we make it our goal to simply eliminate another person’s issues, our inability to effectively do so will result in a “patch job” that can actually deter the healing process. Instead, God calls us, not to heal or fix our friends, but rather to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). 

While we are not responsible for resolving our friends’ problems, we do have the opportunity to play a vital role in the healing process: companionship in unveiling the truth.

Instead of approaching a conversation with the agenda of teaching and solving, come with curiosity. Don’t focus on crafting the perfect piece of advice, rather ask simple questions that help both you and your friends come to a greater understanding of themselves.

Girded with compassion and the grace of the Gospel, accompany your friend through the process of bringing the truth to light. From there, let God do the fixing. 

So, while avoiding these 3 pitfalls, here are 3 practices to pursue instead:


Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Helena Lopes

Practice #1: Bolster Yourself 

When it comes to relational ministry, you must prepare to be inconvenienced.

Throughout Jesus’ life He constantly lays aside opportunities for rest in order to respond to the needs around Him. In Luke 23:27-31 we see Him caring for others even on His way to the cross. For Christ as well as for us as believers, this kind of endurance comes only through abiding in the extravagant love of God. It is both the reason and the power behind our care.

1 John 4:19 puts it simply, “We love because he first loved us.” Finding rest and refuge in the Lord connects you with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and provides you with the tools necessary to serve out of His limitless strength. Allow His mercy to be the fuel for yours. 

As you enter into the hard places with your friends, it is vital to learn the balance of providing compassionate care without internalizing their issues. During the conversation, pay attention to what is happening to yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Make sure that you also have someone that you can process with if necessary. You may need to ask for permission to talk about it with someone else like your spouse, a counselor, or another friend who is a neutral third party. By fostering your own support system, you can avoid the compassion fatigue that can cause you to become callous and uncaring or too emotionally overwhelmed to provide help. 

Carrying each other’s burdens is not meant to be done single-handedly. This is especially true when walking alongside a friend who is experiencing a trauma of some sort.

One form of care friends may mean helping them recognize the need for professional help through counseling. Encouraging them in this way creates a sustainable framework within which you can continue to have conversations without leading to burnout or forcing you into an advisory role that is outside your wheelhouse. 

Practice #2: Lift Your Gaze 

Another step in growing as a friend is to move your focus away from your own performance. So often our blindness to the opportunities for supporting our friends comes from the fact that we are too distracted by our own appearance.

We are worried about sounding ignorant, so we don’t speak up. We don’t know how to respond to someone who has experienced a loss, so we keep the conversation at surface level.

Or, we are so anxious for the chance to display our own competency that we forget to listen at all. If we’re always navel-gazing, we won’t be tuned in to the needs of those in our paths. 

In Philippians 2:3-8, Paul speaks to the importance of valuing others above oneself and points to Jesus as the ultimate example of humbling oneself for the benefit of another.

Because of the incarnate God who, though deserving honor and praise, for our sake allowed himself to be rejected and mistaken for a criminal, we too can set aside the worries of preserving our reputation in order to focus on caring and listening to those around us.

And gradually, as we lift our gaze and empathize with the experiences of others, we ourselves are transformed into people who reflect the Father’s love. “In sorrow, and in the care of wise guides, stories of brokenness become holy as we taste the tears of God “ (Becky Allender).

Practice #3: Hope in God 

It takes courage to enter into another person’s suffering. As Christians, our confidence comes from living for an audience of One.

While we hope to serve as a help to our friends, ultimately our goal is to remain faithful to God and glorify Him. Whether our conversations feel “successful” or not, we can trust Him with the results.

When we support our friends out of obedience to God, we can remain faithful in our friendship even when it feels like we’re not getting through. Remember that God calls us to turn to Him with our concerns: “...in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6

Be encouraged, take it to God, and trust the work that He is doing. 

Because the work of redemption rests in the Lord’s hands, you can surrender the process of your friends’ healing to Him. Not every conversation that you have should lead to spilling out the depths of your souls.

Sometimes being a good friend means recognizing that they need a night to relax and do something fun. It may mean dropping a care package off on their doorstep without coming in to chat. Consistency over time is a far richer proof of your friendship than one meaningful conversation.

Just keep showing up, time and time again, on the good days and the bad.

In the meantime, lift your friends up in prayer and continue pointing them back to the One who is able to restore what is broken and redeem what is lost. 


Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.

Photo Credit: ©Getty/AntonioGuillem 

Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.

Devotionals

View All