Jesus is my friend. I struggle to wrap my mind around that thought. It seems so audacious. God is above me. How can we even be friends? Friendship is a free association, and my religious background has always emphasized guilt and obligation, doing things because you should, not because you want to. In John 15:15 Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” Just because the religious part of me struggles to understand this verse, does not mean that I can ignore it. Jesus came to do the will of the Father and make a way for us to have relationship. For me to embrace my friendship with Jesus, I must abandon any sense of obligation and freely choose to be friends with Him.

In different times and seasons I have called many people “friend.” As a middle child with three brothers, I valued friends growing up. In elementary school my best friend was Kathy. What brought us together was not particularly complex. She lived near me. That meant we rode the bus together. It’s no small thing when someone saves you a seat on the bus, especially with the bullies in the back. We served detentions for too much talking in school. Weekends we would ride our bikes to several miles to the Dairy Queen just for an adventure. We slept over at each other’s homes. I loved going to her house because I did not have to fight my brothers over what TV shows we watched (the boys weren’t big on The Brady Bunch) AND as a big bonus, their family seemed to have an unlimited supply Jiffy Pop and Hawaiian Punch to go with our TV viewing. Her mom thought Cokes were junk food and Hawaiian Punch was healthy. I was only too happy to accept that as reality. When the phone rang (on our rotary wall phone) I knew there was a chance it might be Kathy calling for me. That was my concept of friendship as a child—someone you wanted to be around. No one ever told me I had to be friends with Kathy.  In fact, based on those detentions we served, my mom might have preferred that we NOT be friends. Freely and without obligation we chose to be friends.

As an adult, my concept of friendship grew. Once, when my kids were little, and I was a sleep-deprived mom, and we were broke, I did something way out of character for me. I accepted a gesture of friendship from someone I did not know well. My husband knew a couple at work, who had a house in Colorado. They had often offered for us stay there when they were out of town, but I had never considered it. The long drive was a barrier, but so was the idea of obligation. It made me uncomfortable, but at a weak moment, I gave in, and it was WONDERFUL. For the price of gas and groceries we took hikes, long drives and got some rest. My daughter took her first steps in that house that summer. It was a kindness I won’t ever forget.

In the years since then, I have come to consider that couple as friends. Remember how I didn’t want to feel obligated? That was a needless worry. As I got to know them, I discovered that one of their core beliefs, is that all they have is God’s and since it belongs to God, they find great pleasure in sharing what they have.

Twenty years have passed, and we have enjoyed their hospitality on many occasions and never ever once have they asked for anything for themselves. Our relationship is not based on obligation but on shared values. They have on occasion asked if we might help fellow believers they knew, and it has been a joy to pass on their generosity. They have invited Dan on mission trips and have asked for technical support for their missionary friends. In Matthew 10:18 Jesus said, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Having received so much, it was not an obligation but a privilege to pay it forward. Today I freely and without obligation choose to be friends with them.

What can I learn from my experiences that would help me understand friendship with God?

1.Friends want to be together. I think of Kathy saving me a seat on the bus or calling me on a Saturday morning.  No obligation. She didn’t have to. She just wanted to. How often in my day do I think about God? Do I whisper a quick prayer for help when I need His wisdom?  Do I listen to His quiet whispers when He asks me to show kindness to someone—even if it feels awkward or out of place?   1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray without ceasing. I don’t think this means kneeling with your head down, but simply being open to God all day long, reaching out and asking for His help. Friendship with God means wanting to be with Him and be a part of His Purpose.

2.Friends freely give. This is a hard one for me. Not the giving. You can’t out give God. Acts 20:35 quotes Jesus as saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It’s the free part that confuses the dog out of me. Sadly, I understand religious obligation more than I understand God’s love and goodness. Obligation implies that He is not good, that Jesus is somehow a tyrant. Even my friends in Colorado were not tyrants. Why would I think anything less of my Friend Jesus? Do I persist in my childish beliefs or cry out to Him to help me understand something different?  Friendship with Jesus means I freely give and receive leaving any sense of obligation behind.

So, this Christmas season, I freely embrace my good Friend who has been with me all along. He provided companionship for a scared little girl on a school bus and rest for a burned-out young mother. He is with me even now.

I welcome your prayers as I work through this truth in my life and pray for you as you read this post. Feel free to respond. I would love to hear from you.

— Written by Jill