Epic stories stir the soul. The blend of joy and sorrow, heartache and victory, tragedy and glorious deeds awakens a desire within us to strive and fight and seek to do the same. So often epic friendships form a marvelous strand of these epic stories.
Frodo and Sam. Legolas and Gimli. Sherlock and Watson. Merlin and Arthur.
Their friendships inspire us and leave us longing (or grateful) for such friends of our own.
(On a side note, I racked my brain for an example of a great literary friendship between girls, and the only one that I could come up with on the spot, where the two girls weren’t sisters, was Anne Shirley and Diana Barry. Maybe you guys can think of some? But honestly, I wonder if this lack of truly great girl friendships isn’t worthy of a post in and of itself?)
One of my favorite friendship pairs is actually David and Jonathan from the Bible. You see, Jonathan is an unsung hero. Compared to David’s many exploits (slaying Goliath, leading Saul’s army, playing a mad man among the Philistines—tales worthy of a bard!), Jonathan’s own heroic deeds are often forgotten. Ever heard about that time when Jonathan and his armor bearer scaled a cliff to single-handedly fight a whole outpost of Philistine warriors, and how God sent a panic afterwards that put the whole army into rout? (1 Samuel 14)
Pretty awesome, isn’t it?
In his own right, Jonathan was a warrior. By right of blood, he was heir to Saul’s throne. By all customs, the kingdom should have passed to him. But Jonathan was a humble man and faithful enough that he was willing to stand aside and recognize God’s sovereignty over David’s anointing as king in his stead.
He sacrificed everything for his friend, including the love and trust of his own father. Many times, Jonathan stood before Saul and sought to turn his anger away from David. He brought that wrath down upon himself, until Saul in his madness sought to kill his own son with a spear. Even then, Jonathan did not turn against David, resent him, or abandon him. Instead, he journeyed to where David was hiding out from Saul and “helped him find strength in the Lord.” (I Samuel 23:16)
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.
I Samuel 23:17-18 (NIV)
To me, that is the true purpose of friendship. Encouragement and strength in the Lord. I think that too often in the world that we live in, encouragement has come to mean nothing but “feel-good” words that are often empty and ultimately meaningless. But the word courage is found in encouragement. It bears the connotation of rallying, of strengthening, of girding up and supplying confidence and boldness, as if for the fight.
And especially when we encourage our friends in the Lord and help them find strength in Him. I love that picture! This concept where friendship is like standing in the gap of the shield wall, of stepping forward when your friend falls down. Of spurring your friends on to better and braver deeds. Of speaking truth to their souls when the night closes in.
Words are powerful. As readers and writers and lovers of words, we know that. But so often in this digital world of ours, where we can hide behind screens and online personas, people seem to forget. So many of the things that are typed online would not be said face to face. Kindness flies out the window. Courtesy is unknown. And the urge to tear down instead of building up wins the day.
But it isn’t always like that. Recently, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see the fruit of encouragement in my own life. Faithful friends who wrote a letter at just the right time. Readers who took a moment out of their own busy lives to type an email. It’s a simple thing, and yet it means so much to have this reminder that I’m not alone, that there is someone who has my back, who will fight at my side, and will stand in the gap when I can stand no more.
Recognizing the impact that those words have had in my life, I have started to seek out opportunities to do the same. And do you know what? It takes very little effort—in the grand scheme of things—to send an email, pen a note, or text an encouraging word that can embolden someone to stand strong and carry on throughout the day.
And let us not forget the other side of this: strengthening one another in the Lord. How do we do that? By being open and vulnerable with one another. By bearing witness to the awesome things that God has done in our lives and pointing others to view His faithfulness. By standing upon God’s Word and the promises within and helping our friends to do the same.
Let us be brothers and sisters in arms. Let us stand side by side in the shield wall, stepping forward to protect one another and to encourage one another to rise!
Your turn! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments:
- Who are your favorite literary friendships?
- Has someone been this type of friend for you lately, encouraging you and strengthening you in the Lord?
- What are some ways that you can encourage and strengthen others today?