Recently, my friend shared that he doubted if he would still be a Christian if it weren’t for the friends who were there for him in 2018.
That was the year he had lost a very dear cousin to sickness. And then, barely two months later, the rest of his cousin’s family members died in a tragic road accident. In just that short span of time, an entire family had been annihilated: Father, mother, son and daughter.
My friend was devastated, and struggled to understand why God allowed for it to happen.
Providentially, when these tragedies took place, we were part of a small group fellowship together with two other friends. When we heard that his cousin had died, we all dropped everything we were doing and rushed to his side, and took turns staying with him so he wouldn’t be left alone.
When the second tragedy hit, some of us were in different countries at the time, but we changed our flights immediately so we could head home to be with him. Together, we cried, grieved, encouraged, laughed, and rebuked one another (especially when we found ourselves entrapped in self-pity). He knew that he could count on us to be there whenever he needed us.
2018 served to shake and deepen his faith in God all at the same time. Looking back, my friend is eternally grateful that God had used that critical time in his life to show him the importance of friends and relationships.
C. S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me, it is the chief happiness of life.” If we want to experience this happiness that Lewis described, we need to pursue deep friendships—just like my friend experienced when we came together to help him in his time of need.
Such friendships do not grow overnight, but I believe the pointers below will help us go beyond our surface-level friendships to cultivate deeper ones:
1. Be intentional in asking deep questions
As we spend time with those we love, plunge your conversations below the shallows and into the deeper waters of life. Some of the questions that I have found helpful are: “How is your faith and heart?”, “What can we be praying for over your life in this season?”, “Is there something in your life we can give thanks to God for?”
Initially, your friend’s response to these questions might not be as detailed as you hoped. But as you grow closer, and start becoming more comfortable in opening up to each other, you could even ask questions like: “What sin are you most struggling with right now?” or “What are the practical ways I can love on you?”
Over time, you’ll start to get a glimpse of what’s within their hearts.
2. Be present for them
One of the best ways to love someone is by being present. Rightly spoken words encourage our friends, but more than that, our mere presence assures them that they are not alone.
Jesus Christ had the presence of his three closest disciples with Him on most occasions. Yes, they slept when Jesus needed them to pray for him (Matthew 26:36-40). Yes, they deserted him at his hour of need; however, these examples are learning points for us all, reminding us to not only be physically present, but emotionally and spiritually present with our friends as well.
I believe my friend, who lost his relatives, was grateful that we were present with him in all ways humanly possible: physically, emotionally (listening and sometimes when words would fail us, we would be silent and cry with him), and spiritually (constantly reading the Bible and praying with him).
When we make time for our friends in this way, we are giving them a gift that is priceless.
3. Be a good listener
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak…”
We live in a time where deep and genuine friendships are hard to cultivate. We are in some ways, blinded by “digital illusions” of being more connected than ever, when we’re in fact more disconnected from our peers. We may have a long list of friends and followers on our social media account, but these friendships are often shallow as a pan.
A while back, a friend of mine and I were discussing how we felt unimportant, invisible, and uncared for when we were opening our hearts to our friends, only to see them scrolling on their phones.
We then made a resolution to always keep our phones away (and on silent) and to actively listen to one another when we meet up. Being a good listener could look like not interrupting our friends as they share, asking follow-up questions, and making a point to check in on them regularly.
4. Be an encourager
One of the best ways to deepen your friendships is to find ways to encourage your friends regardless of what they’re going through. If they’re going through struggles, remind them of their identity in Christ; if they’re struggling with depression, remind them of God’s goodness; and if they’re feeling uncertain and lost, remind them of God’s faithfulness.
The author of Hebrews calls us to “exhort one another every day” (Hebrews 3:13) and to “encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). For me, I have learnt the importance of celebrating my friends’ progress, no matter how small. Recently, a friend’s business was struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared how hopeless she felt, and how she regretted leaving her job to pursue her passion. We ended our time together by praying for one another and encouraging each other to take it a day at a time.
Two months later, God graciously sent two clients her way. When we next met, I was quick to remind her how far she has progressed in those two short months! I also affirmed her by telling her I’m proud of her perseverance and hard work. By the time we were both going home, we both felt rejuvenated, vibrant, and happier.
5. Be willing to work through conflict
Every friendship is bound to go through difficult times. It could be a misunderstanding, a disagreement, or differences in perception or priorities as we go through different seasons of life.
If you find you and your friend confronted with a misunderstanding, talk through it with them with graciousness and patience, constantly forgiving one another as we have been forgiven in Christ (Colossians 3:13).
Friendships grow stronger through difficult times. This has been true in all my friendships, including my marriage. While I often avoid conflicts, I have friends who do not shy away from it. They have consistently made us work through our misunderstandings, find a resolution, forgive one another—all while reminding me that they love me despite my shortcomings.
Their willingness to work through conflict has created a safe space where we can share our struggles and sins, where we feel loved and confident of our friendship, knowing that we will never give up on each other—but will continually help each other grow in Christlikeness.
6. Bear each other’s burdens
We all need friends who frequently meet our needs either through presenting us to the Lord in prayer, and/or meeting our physical needs.
It is an encouragement to know that I’m not alone and have friends who pray for me, especially when I’m struggling to do so for myself. My friends’ prayers have strengthened me in my Christian journey and I hope my prayers do the same for them.
Be the friend who is quick to pray for the needs of your friends, and if you can go beyond praying, then do so! One of the most helpful strategies I apply to ensure I pray for my friends consistently includes praying when we’re together, praying over the phone as we talk, and writing their prayer requests down in my journal. This way, I neither forget their prayer requests nor my promise to pray for them.
These are just some of the ways God has used to deepen my friendships. If this list seems daunting to you and you have no idea where to start, here’s an idea: choose just one or two ideas from the list to focus on, and exercise it with someone you’re hoping to deepen your friendship with.
My prayer is that God will grace us with wisdom and intentionality as we seek to become better friends and, in so doing, glorify God in our friendships.
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