I have never been great at giving gifts. Even as a kid, a birthday party invitation would set off tiny sirens of anxiety in my mind at the pressure of picking out a present that would likely be opened in front of a crowd of spectators. This dilemma followed me into adulthood.
As a friend’s birthday looms, the wheels start turning in my head. What kind of perfume does she like again? Does she already have that board game? He already has more than enough ties, shirts and watches. Ugh!
Nine times out of ten I’ll end up going with a gift card and being done with it- not personal but passable. I am still the person who wants you to wait until I am gone before you open the gift, so I do not have to see the disappointment just in case you do not like it.
My best friend on the other hand is the gift master, guaranteed to get you the thing you did not know you wanted, but now you are thrilled to have it. I cannot count the number of awesome things she has gotten me over the years. Still, when I think of the best things about our friendship, the gifts are not even in the top ten. As great as they are, gifts cannot sustain any relationship.
I appreciate my friends not because of any material things they have given me but because of who they are. Throughout the gospels, we see the character of Jesus laid out in vivid detail. We read about the compassion that led Him to heal the sick and raise the dead, the loving kindness displayed as He called little children to spend time with Him, the patience with His disciples when they were slow to understand the important truths He tried to teach them. It is easy to see that He was Someone who really lived a life of love in action, embodying the qualities of a true friend.
In John chapter 6, we find a multitude trailing after Jesus because they were in awe of the miracles He worked. He feeds over 5000 hungry people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. In their excitement, they intend to make Him their king, but Jesus escapes and goes to Capernaum. The next day, the crowds seek Him out, and He is quick to tell them, “You want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26).
Then, after all the wonders they had seen Jesus do and all the lives that had been touched, the people said, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (verses 30-31).
I found myself rolling my eyes as I read this passage. How could they only seek Jesus for temporary things when the God of the universe stood before them in the flesh? How could they disregard every miracle they had seen and still not believe, still demand more?
Then reality set in.
How often do I seek God only for what He can do for me, instead of for who He is? I have fallen to my knees many times for a good grade on an exam, a breakthrough in my career, resolution of a conflict with a loved one, or whatever the crisis of the moment was. How often have I come before my Father just because I love Him and want to know Him better?
To have true friendship is to be deeply known and still fully loved. God offers love without conditions. He really sees us and does not shrink away from the ugly parts. He has been a friend to mankind from the very beginning.
“Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.” Genesis 5:24 (NLT)
“…Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” Genesis 6:9 (NLT)
“But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend..” Isaiah 41:8 (NLT)
“Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend…” Exodus 33:11 (NLT)
Jesus said of His love for us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (NLT).
He is still seeking to walk in close friendship with us today. It is a wondrous truth that God wants to hear about our day and to be trusted with our thoughts and feelings. He wants to reveal more of Himself to us and to spend uninterrupted time with us, just enjoying one another’s presence.
Today my prayer is, “Father, help me to seek Your heart more than I seek Your hand. May I find joy in You that has nothing to do with the gifts You give so freely and everything to do with who You are. May I experience Your friendship. In Jesus’ name, amen.”