One of my all-time favorite movies comes on each year around the Christmas season. It is called, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart. The movie is about a fellow named George Bailey who, when things are getting so bad, wishes he had never been born. An angel comes and shows him what life would have been like in this world without him. At the end of the movie, as George’s friends are all rallying to save him from a financial crisis, Clarence, the angel, writes him a note. The note says, “Dear George, no man is a failure who has friends.” Clarence was right – to have a good friend is one of the highest delights of life.
We tend to refer to people as friends rather loosely these days. If you ask someone if they have a lot of friends, they might say, O yeah. I have a lot of friends. I have a lot of friends on Facebook. We may talk about acquaintances as friends sometimes. We may have work friends and church friends. Guys refer to their friends as buddies.
But do you have a 3 a.m. friend for when you’re alone in a dark time? Perhaps a crisis has hit, life is closing in on you, and you feel like your world is falling apart. Do you have someone you could call to be with you during those times? At our church we call those 3 a.m. friends – those with whom we have deep soul friendships.
Many people do not have that kind of person in their life, which is not surprising because there is so much loneliness in America today, especially among men. We have many barriers to developing true and lasting friendships.
• Pace of life. Distractions like television, the Internet, and video games.
• Mobility of life. People frequently move from job to job, from area to area.
• Isolation of life. We typically drive to our jobs and then drive home, close the garage door, and sit by ourselves in front of the screen each night.
• Cynicism of life. We distrust others and are reluctant to let our guards down.
• Busyness of life. We are too busy to nurture relationships. It’s hard to love someone when you are in a hurry.
The sad thing is, we are missing out on a deep soul friendship and a richer life. Everyone needs a 3 a.m. friend.
As a Christian, you might be thinking, I have the Lord God in my life. He’s my friend! I am glad you do! Yet, sometimes we need God with skin on.
I remember a story about a young girl who woke up in the middle of the night crying because of a bad dream so her mother went to comfort her. When her mother thought she was calmed down, she headed back to her own bedroom. But then the little girl cried out, “You’re leaving me? Don’t leave me!”
Mother responded, “God is with you.”
The little girl said, “Yes, but I need God with skin on right now.”
It’s true – sometimes we need God with skin on. We need a human touch in our lives.
We have always needed God with skin on, when you think about it. From Adam in the Garden of Eden to whom God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” to King David who surrounded himself with friends through the hard times and the good. Jesus himself valued friendship. He called the twelve disciples to travel with Him in His ministry.
The Apostle Paul experienced the same sort of need in our passage for today. Paul’s time of departure was coming soon. He was on death row in Rome without a get-out-of-jail-free card. He was far from the familiar, far from his homeland. Uncomfortable and chained to soldiers in prison, he was physically cold as well, for winter was coming and he needed his coat. He was also physically and spiritually hungry. Paul mentions he needs his books, which have been left behind in Troas (he wasn’t finished learning from the Word of God).
Mostly, Paul is feeling abandoned and alone. He had experienced the power of the Lord standing by him. He even mentions in our passage today how Jesus strengthened him as he stood trial before his enemies. But right now, Paul needs God with skin on. He needs his friends. We know Paul had many friends by the way he closed his various letters in the New Testament – he sent greetings to various individuals. He understood the value of friendship and support.
Paul needed a friend, then, in this letter to Timothy. But not just any friend; he needed his 3 a.m. friend, which would be Timothy. He is appealing Timothy in this letter: “Do your best to come to me soon.”
This was a big ask on Paul’s part, by the way. It was not very convenient for Timothy and would take some sacrifice. He would be putting himself out there for Paul, even risking his own life and freedom as he identifies with Paul as a friend in Christ.
The cost of time and energy needed to complete the trip were huge. Paul was 1,000 miles away and the trip would require a great amount of resources. Timothy would worry about his congregation, which had been giving him trouble. Would the church fall apart while he is gone?
“Do your best to come to me soon, Timothy,” Paul pleads.
Do you suppose Timothy came as Paul requested? I bet my bottom dollar he did! And here’s why: These two men shared a special bond. It was a deep friendship between an older man as the mentor and a younger man who is learning the ropes. They were soul friends. How did this relationship come about? How does this kind of friendship happen in one’s life? As you look through the entire letter of second Timothy, you find some helpful clues to consider for our own friendship building.
Deep soul friendships require being present or “with-ness” – sharing experiences. In chapter 3, Paul says, “Now you have observed my teaching, my faith, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my suffering, the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them” (II Timothy 3:10-11).
Paul and Timothy were together in good times and in bad. They traveled together on these missionary journeys and had many conversations and opportunities to observe one another as they served Christ together. They spent time composing letters to the various churches. (We see this as we look at Paul’s other letters.) They also stayed in touch when separated. This usually leads to something very profound and special.
I had a special friend like this. The former speaker for this radio ministry, Homer Larsen, and I traveled a lot together. He was my best friend. We traveled to preaching and evangelism conferences together. We spent a lot of time traveling together, and I am so much richer to have known him and shared life with him in this way. Even to this day, I feel the loss of him not being around.
I also have other individuals whom I would call my 3 a.m. friends. There is Rob whom I call on a weekly basis and talk to or text back and forth. There’s Dave. We socialize as well as serve together. We have a certain bond. If you want a deep soul friendship, you need to commit time and presence with someone.
Deep soul friendships involve self-disclosure. Paul and Timothy were transparent with each other. They knew each other’s personal history as well. Paul knew about Timothy’s mom (Eunice) and grandma (Lois). He knew what kind of father Timothy had. Timothy knew of Paul’s sordid past. Nothing was hidden from one another.
As we read Paul’s entire letter to Timothy, we find he openly shared his heart, his soul, and his affections. Paul doesn’t hide anything. He says, “I have run the race. (I’m dying.) The end of my race has come, and I need you here with me.”
As Paul encourages Timothy throughout this personal letter, it is apparent that Timothy has shared some of his own fears and weaknesses as a fellow minister. Paul knows his strengths and weaknesses, and he addresses those concerns in this letter. Deep soul friendships require a willingness to share your vulnerabilities with each other.
Deep soul friends share expressions of affection. Paul expressed tenderness, love, and care in this letter.
• I’m praying for you, Timothy.
• I’m grateful to God whenever I remember you in my prayers.
• I’m constantly praying for you night and day.
• I long to see you, because you fill me with joy.
• I recall your tears. Perhaps Paul is referring to Acts 20 where he met with the Ephesian elders. Paul wept and they embraced one another as they said their goodbyes. Was Timothy in that group?
• My beloved child. Paul refers to Timothy at various times with terms of endearment such as my son, my beloved.
Timothy knew Paul loved him and cared for him deeply.
Deep soul friendships have encouragement, affirmation. Paul spent a lot of time encouraging and affirming Timothy.
• I believe in you.
• Let me remind you – you are called by God.
• You have a gift for preaching.
• God has great plans for you.
• I laid my hands on you at your ordination.
• I poured myself into you, entrusting to you the precious good news of Jesus, and now I’m asking you to guard the Good News and stick with it. You can, I believe, because you have the Holy Spirit living in you.
How is that for encouragement and affirmation?
Their deep soul friendship had trust. These kinds of friendships grow with trustworthiness. Paul described Timothy as one whom he trusted fully. In other letters he would say, “(There is) no one like Timothy who has a genuine care for your congregation” (Phil. 2:20). Timothy didn’t run when the chips were down on those travels with Paul. He stayed with him. They could rely on each other. “I am entrusting the Gospel ministry to you, all I have begun.” Paul said to him (I Tim. 1:18).
Deep soul friendships are grounded firmly in the Gospel, the promises of Jesus Christ. Jesus was their strength, their consolation, their common ground, their counsel to one another as they went through the ups and downs of life. They had an eternal friendship with Jesus at the center.
I came across a statement that says Jesus is the only totally reliable friend for sinners. He is the only flawless friend, and therefore the only friend who can make other friendships eternal. As much as you might love your earthly friends and family, they cannot rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into the heavenly kingdom. Only one friend can do that – Jesus Christ! He loves you! See what He did for you at the cross.
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, Paul and Timothy would say to one another. A person truly is rich (and not a failure) with a friend or two like that in their life.
Two personal questions for you today:
1. Do you have a 3 a.m. friend, someone you can turn to, you can lean on, a 3 a.m. deep soul friendship?
2. Wouldn’t you like to be a 3 a.m. friend to someone? God wants that for you. Keep your eyes open to find friendship possibilities. God has provided them.
Jesus never intended for the enjoyment of His presence to replace the enjoyment of the presence of other Christians. He didn’t die on a cross to create isolated worshiping individuals. Instead, He died to create Christ-exalting friendships.
Where can you find those kinds of friendships? Where do I find a Paul? Where do I find a Timothy, or a Paula, or a Tamara to do life? In the church! The church is a good place to start. Get plugged in to the church in worship and in service with other Christians. In our congregation we have a small group Bible study ministry, which has been helping people make friends like this for the last thirty years. I am amazed at what is done in relationships in my own life as I’ve participated in these.
Not long ago, my wife and I drove five hours to witness an adoption. When we arrived, many of our church people were also present. I didn’t know they were coming and was surprised to see them. When I asked why they came, they said, “We were in a small group with this couple. We love them, and we’ve been praying for them the past year and a half as they have gone through this procedure. We wanted to see it happen now.”
Recently, I was doing a funeral, and some people came whom I didn’t expect to see. When I asked about their connection, they replied, “We are in a small group with this family. It has been a real blessing!”As they encouraged the family and shared their joy, they rejoiced with those who rejoice and wept with those who weep.
This is what God longs for you to have. It is what everyone needs – a deep soul friendship. May you have just that in your life. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer