Monday, June 15, 2009

For Jason on His 34th Birthday

What is a friend? It is common for us to define our friends based on how nice they are to us, how much we have in common, the things we do together and how much time we spend doing those things, as well as how trustworthy they are with our most intimate secrets. But our definition of friendship is much different than the Bible’s definition. Joe O’Day, author of The Art of Friendship, writes, “Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.” This simple but profound statement adequately describes my friendship with a dear man named Jason.

I first met Jason twenty-one years ago, in the Fall of 1988. At 13, Jay had an uncanny ability to put 100% of his effort into a friendship. At first, I wanted nothing to do with him. But I soon found I was no match for the irresistible pull of a boy who demonstrated unwavering patience, kindness, compassion, and sacrificial love on a continuous and persistent basis – especially when I did not deserve it. Looking back, I can’t point to a single time in our friendship when I was deserving of his loyalty and trust. But he offered it anyway – unconditionally – simply because he wanted to. I didn’t understand it then, but I now see that Jay was primarily concerned with being my friend.

I, on the other hand, was not as forthcoming with my contributions to the friendship. There were many times I would selfishly evaluate whether or not the relationship would truly benefit me. I spent most of that season of my life in a deep existential depression – a secret I worked hard to keep hidden from Jay – and as a result, I regularly bucked against his expressions of friendship toward me. Because he is not Almighty God, there came a point where Jay simply gave up. Of course, our decision to part ways was far more complex than I am making it sound. Although do I credit most of our problems to my existential crisis, Jay was not without his faults, either. Things disintegrated until we had a blowout argument and simply stopped speaking one day. We each spent the last 18 months of my high school career pretending that the other person did not exist, except for those special occasions when one of us was presented with an irresistible opportunity to hurt the other party. I will confess I hated Jay. I hated him with all my heart. I wished I had never met him. I wanted to forget every memory I had of him. But when I became a Christian, everything changed.

One night in December of 1994, I decided to break my silence. I attended a holiday music concert at my high school when I spotted Jay talking to some students. Craning my neck so that I wouldn't lose sight of him, I made my way over to him. He caught my gaze, and turned his back on me. Nevertheless, I walked up to him and said I had something very important to tell him. I announced that I had become a Christian, and no matter what he thought of me, it would not influence my opinion of him. As far as I was concerned, he was my friend. I made a commitment to him that day – that I would start being a friend to him – and that was not contingent upon whether or not he'd accept my offer.

Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.By God’s grace, I have kept that commitment. Over the next several years I witnessed to him whenever possible, through greeting cards at Christmastime and on his birthday. My attempts to contact him never received any response. Although Jay held me in extreme contempt (and most likely still does), I never stopped praying for him. But at the Lord's prompting, I eventually stopped sending the cards. It was hard to let go of the feeling that I needed to "do" something in an effort to prove that I had kept my word to this person. But I know I don't need to continue demonstrating my word in order to keep it. My ultimate wish is to see my friend saved. And I can still remain faithful by praying for him.

I haven't seen or spoken to Jay in nearly a decade. Most people are surprised to find that I haven't given up by now. We are easily tempted to stop sowing when we don't see fruit. But the Lord reminds us to make our petitions to Him with persistence. Why is Jason my friend? Not because of anything he's done for me, but because I have chosen to be a friend to him. Sure, it's an uncommon choice to make, but I've got the best role model to emulate:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

We love Him, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19).
While we were still His enemies, Christ demonstrated His love for us by initiating friendship toward us first.

Happy Birthday, friend. May you feel this prayer tonight, where ever you are . . .
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Heavenly Father, You alone are mighty to save. I lift up my dear friend Jason to You on this anniversary of his physical birth. For sixteen years I have brought this man before Your throne. My steadfast prayer all these years is that You have planned a spiritual birthday for him. I so look forward to that day, Lord. Will this be the year You are gracious and kind toward my dear friend, and grant him eternal life?

Father, I thank You for Jason. I thank You for giving him a heart of generosity. I thank You for blessing him with so many talents. I pray earnestly that those talents will no longer be wasted on the mere praises of men! Oh dear God may he worship You with his music one day. Lord, show him the glories of Calvary - give him the faith to understand the sacrifice You have made to reconcile him unto You. Father, You said in 1 John 5:14-15 that if we know You've heard our prayers, then we know we have the petitions we've asked of You. I thank You for the evidences of grace You have already demonstrated in Jay's life, as a sign that You have heard my prayers, that You are watching over my friend, and that someday I will have the petitions I've asked of You, and see my friend in glory.

Thank You for the honor of being this man's friend. Thank You for the privilege of having numerous opportunities to share with him directly. Please continue to reach out to him through other faithful Christians who are dedicated to preach the gospel. I thank You that his fate rests in Your hands. Please ensure that he is safe over the next year. Comfort him in times of trouble and grant him peace and strength to endure various trials that he may encounter this year. I pray this for him as well as his family. In Christ's Name, Amen.

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