“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another”-John 15:12-17.
There are few blessings in life greater than the gift of true friends. It’s hurtful to discover that those who we thought were “friends” were actually acquaintances — people who we know, but who we can’t depend on. As unfortunate as those painful experiences are, they make the blessing of those who truly are our friends even clearer.
Authentic friends are people who consistently celebrate with us in our joys and pray with us regarding our concerns. They give us honest and wise counsel when we make self-destructive choices. They cheer us on when we are discouraged. They support us as we endeavor to accomplish God’s plans and purposes for our lives.
When vacations or work responsibilities take us away from our homes, we often call upon our friends to look after our property during our absence. My dear friend and mentor, the late Verl Ahdunko, often described God as “the best friend I’ve ever had” — referring to Him as “my neighbor who lives upstairs.” “God is always close by,” he said. “God is a constant source of comfort and strength, giving me guidance and wisdom whenever I need it.” When we think about it, that’s a marvelous attitude, isn’t it?
When we think of God as our friend and neighbor — indeed, the best friend and neighbor we possibly could have — He becomes personal and real to us. We find it easier to turn to God and seek divine counsel and direction whenever we need it. In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to those who followed him about that exact kind of friendship: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
Isn’t that remarkable, dear friends? We often see ourselves as God’s servants — and, of course, we want to serve Him consistently and faithfully in all that we think, say and do. But we are more than just servants of God, as Jesus points out; we are His friends. What an amazing truth for us to consider and ponder! Because God is our friend, we can rely on Him to understand whatever challenges we face. We can trust Him to support us in achieving those dreams and hopes that He has inspired in our hearts, minds and souls. Whatever comes to us in life, our “upstairs neighbor” stands with us. God is always ready to hear our prayers and provide the solutions to our needs.
It’s important to recognize, however, that — like any authentic and genuine friend — God will not force the divine self upon us. He waits to be invited into our lives as a comforting, supportive, warm friend who offers joy in life’s successes and solace in life’s hardships. However, once we welcome our caring “upstairs neighbor” into our lives, we will discover that we have made the best friend that we ever could possibly have. God is not a friend who will let us down, and God is not a neighbor who will take something and not return it. We can count on it!