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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual friendship’

There’s something about the Christmas season, isn’t there, that makes us want to catch up with friends over coffee or a meal. In some cases, it’s about finding out how each other has travelled during the past year. At other times, I find it’s more about letting that person know I value their friendship and am grateful for their presence in my life.

Recently I thought about this a lot as I prepared for my final speaking engagement of the year. In keeping with the theme of my new non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, I decided to look at the Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy. And all over again, I discovered how many good reminders there are in 2 Timothy 1 alone about what is involved in a strong mentoring relationship or spiritual friendship.

Firstly, it’s obvious how much sincere love and concern Paul has for Timothy. Straight up, he calls him his ‘dear son’ and goes on to declare: Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy (1:4). There needs to be love and mutual respect in any good friendship, don’t you agree?

Secondly, Paul prays for Timothy with all his heart. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers (1:3). What a gift to give to someone else—to pray for him or her constantly, night and day!

Thirdly, Paul obviously believes in Timothy and affirms him for the strengths he sees in him. He affirms his sincere faith and the gift of God at work in his young friend (1:5-6), urging him to keep fanning these into flame and not let the good that has been deposited in his life be wasted. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you …  (1:13) In my own life, I know how important it has been to hear positive affirmation at times, particularly in my writing journey. It still is.

Fourthly, Paul is not backward in challenging Timothy to hang in there till the end, as he himself is doing. He urges him on, at times perhaps sounding as if he is telling him what to do. Yet it is coming from a heart full of love for Timothy, a heart that knows God will enable and will strengthen him to finish the race.

Finally, Paul writes all this to Timothy with complete honesty and integrity. There is no pretence—his conscience is clear before God and men (1:3).  In 1 Cor 4:16-17, Paul is bold enough to write to them: Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. With Paul, there is no discord between what he says and how he lives—and that’s how I want to live too.

So as you catch up with friends and family this Christmas, remember to show them you value them and to thank God for their input into your life. After all, it could mean the difference between someone achieving all God has for them to achieve or letting those sparks and embers die out altogether.

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This week it was brought home to me again how much our lives can impact others. As a writer, I always hope my books will spread far and wide and encourage those who read them in some way. To me it is a wonderful privilege to be given this opportunity. But what about our more personal, one on one relationships? Often these can have a much deeper and far reaching impact than we realise or could ever imagine.

This past Sunday, we held the launch of my non-fiction book Soul Friend here in Sydney. Soul Friend is the story of my journey with my mentor or spiritual friend Joy, now in her eighties, and the close relationship that developed between us during our fifteen years of meeting together. I believe God brought Joy into my life just at the right time when I needed someone to walk closely with me as I returned to study, then headed into local church ministry and from there into writing. At the launch, I was able to interview Joy briefly and highlight how her input into my life has strengthened me to do what I believe God wants me to do. Joy has passed on to me so many beautiful insights from God through a variety of means—and I am grateful for them all.

But at my launch, I also interviewed a younger woman whom I myself have mentored for around fifteen years. She is based overseas, and I find it a great privilege that she still welcomes me to be part of her life in such a role. In the process of that interview, we talked briefly about how she herself mentors others in the country where she serves God and how that can be a difficult task at times in a place that is by and large hostile to the gospel.

As I went to move on with our book launch program, this same friend was suddenly impacted with an insight, I believe from God, about our respective mentoring roles and shared it with us all. She drew our attention to the fact that while Joy had walked with me and helped me grow in my faith, so I had then functioned in the same way with my friend. She in turn has now done the same with one new believer in particular where she is based, journeying with her through many struggles and helping her draw closer to Jesus. Now this same believer is learning to be a true spiritual friend with even younger believers herself, modelling what it means to be a woman of God to them, just as my friend has done for her.

And so it goes on, stretching not only across the world but also across the generations. It is a special ‘chain of grace’ I feel so privileged to be part of. How great is our God that, as we invest ourselves in others’ lives and share the wisdom and insights we have been given, our small acts of obedience are multiplied in this way?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20-21

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We all know how powerful stories are. Many of us spend hours glued to TV screens as we watch plots unfold, mysteries solved, the ‘baddies’ brought to justice, the ‘goodies’ almost mess things up but then win through in the end. But there is nothing like hearing a real life story told from the heart. And when God is involved, there is even more power in those words we hear or read.

This past Sunday at our church, the usual sermon took the form of interviews with four different people. Three of these interviews had been filmed previously and interwoven at different points as the stories unfolded, while a fourth happened live in the service. All illustrated a journey through a very difficult situation in the lives of those involved and God’s eventual deliverance. One story involved business difficulties and financial loss; another, the struggle to conceive a child. A third dealt with loss of a partner’s faith in the context of ministry, while the fourth grappled with holding onto God in the midst of enormous physical pain and suffering. I had never been in any of these situations, but my heart was touched and my faith in God strengthened as I saw the pain of those who shared but also their faith in a loving God remain firm, even in the most desperate of situations when there seemed to be no miracles or easy answers.

Afterwards, our minister reminded us of Paul’s story in 2 Corinthians 1 about the hardships he and Timothy suffered as they journeyed through Asia:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

Paul shares his story honestly with us, here and elsewhere in Scripture, so that his words still encourage and inspire us today.

But Jesus himself clearly believed in the power of story too. Many times in the Gospels we see how he used parables to get his message across in simple, powerful ways. In the middle of Luke’s Gospel, for example, we have parable after parable recorded that Jesus told—the Good Samaritan (10), the rich fool (12), the great banquet (14), the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (15), the shrewd manager (16), the persistent widow; the Pharisee and the tax collector (18), to name a few. Yes, Jesus’ culture was different from ours today, but the power of story does not change. Surely in endeavouring to share the good news about Jesus today, we would be foolish to ignore the power of story?

Which brings me to the second reason I was so encouraged by hearing these stories of difficulty and deliverance. I write stories. That’s what I do. Even the work of non-fiction I have just completed is a story of my own experience of a beautiful, spiritual mentoring relationship. So how encouraging it was to be reminded of the power of story to minister to others and to convict!

But what about you? Do you have a story to tell of God’s grace in your life? It may not seem earth-shattering to you, but God can use it, whether written or spoken. So keep looking for those opportunities to share it. And keep telling it truthfully and with love.

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