There are three things too wonderful for me,
even four things that I love:
the smell of earth and growing things after the rain;
the song of birds in the morning;
the softness and beauty of my wife;
and friendship.


   Last night I had a dream. I was visiting an old friend, and we were laughing and horsing around. He was a bit tipsy; not typical of him, but not completely astonishing either. Dan has an appreciation for fine wine.

   Dan and I were listening to music. Off by a tree were three indistinct figures, dressed in white (or white jersies?), and playing musical instruments and laughing. The indistinct figures seemed somehow unreal; in memory I wasn't entirely sure they were real, or if real, if they were of this world or another.

   The feeling of this picture was warmth, friendship and celebration. Dan is a good friend. We shared some laughter and some tears, a love for the music of Bruce Cockburn, some great hikes, and a hunger for reality. We also shared a trip on an incredible fall day down a lazy river in a canoe, with the splendor of fall colors all along the banks.

   A few years ago I moved my family a days journey inland, and Dan and I don't see one another anymore. But whenever we do, its as though we talked only the day before. We always connect immediately, honestly, and easily.

   When I awoke reflecting on this dream, the center of the message seemed to me to be friendship. I found myself thinking about this gift in my life, the gift of friends. I can count six close friends over the past twenty years, all of whom I am still in touch with. First Murray, then Dan, then Wes, Owen, and Nick and Stan. These men have enriched my life, given it color and significance. They have believed in me more deeply than I believe in myself. They have been examples of courage, compassion, honesty, and vision.

   When I think of these friends, I am overcome with thankfulness and awe. They are men "of whom the world is not worthy." To have been given such a gift SIX times is astonishing, and I wonder at the Giver and His goodness. Aware of the gift, I can almost believe there is something worthy in me; the love of my friends gives me hope that something in me has a value I cannot personally measure.

As in the lover the loved,
One in the other is so;
This love interfusing the two
Doth in equality go.   
St John of the Cross

   I can describe my friends, but you wouldn't know them by my description. They transcend description because meaning is the fulfilment of truth, as love fulfils promise. Individually they are unique and wonderful guys, but there is something even more wonderful produced when we are together. Togehter we are more intelligent, more funny, more alive. There is a symbiotic quality to friendship. Together we are more than the sum of our parts.

   As I reflected on the significance of these men and their friendship, I found myself thinking again about the men in white. I seemed to be seeing what was not there. Were they real or not? I'm not sure.

   "What is essential is invisible to the eye." St. Exupery

   In our material and visual world its easy to become caught up in the important and urgent things, and miss the things that really matter. In the church its easy to get caught up in healing, and prophecy, and miracles, and to seek these things.

   It's wonderful that God is restoring and releasing His power among His people. We need to be a supernatural people. But in our excitement it's easy to miss the basics, the things that really give meaning to our lives, the soil in which we flourish, the air we breathe.

   The first thing that Jesus did was call people to Himself, and by doing so, call them together to community. We are children of one Father. We are a new family.

   The heart of the Gospel is love, and community. Jesus is a Body. The church is at the center of God's work in the world. Perhaps friendship should be at the center of the church.

   We all search for community, for significance. We all long to belong, to be loved, to feel at home. We long to be valued. We need to know we have something to give, and thus there must be someone who can receive us. Therefore, Paul says, "accept one another." The greatest gift my friends have given me is not insight, but simply their love and acceptance. We need to rediscover friendship. Friendship is at the heart of community, and friendship is often the greatest gift we can offer.

   Consider: there is almost no depression in normal African society, strong bonds of friendship and community ensure that no one feels alone. Eugene Peterson, the well known author on ministry and spirituality, has commented that those who have helped him most along his personal journey toward wholeness in Christ are not those with titles and positions and degrees, those who had some kind of professional obligation, but those who helped without really trying to: his friends

   We are a Body, and even the weakest parts are critical. Its easy to value the public giftings; its less common to value the gifts that build relationship. We need to recover Ephesians 4:16, where the body is built "as each part does its work." As Markus Barth put it, "It is at the point of connection that Jesus is made known." Apart from this mutual ministry individuals will not experience the healing and release that God desires for them. How will we allow others to serve us without admitting our need? And how will we admit our need unless we know we will be loved and accepted?

   It's no small thing that Jesus says, "I have called you my friends." Before we seek His power, He wants us to seek Him for Himself. While we can build a true community around friendship with God, we will only build a club or organization around His power and gifts.

   Every morning the world awakes to song. Think of it! At 3:15 this morning, one week from the longest day of the year, the birds began to celebrate a new day. My window was ajar, and I could smell the freshness of the earth after the rain. My wife was beside me, warm and soft, my closest friend. The love of other friends was fresh in my heart. What a gift the Lord has given in friendship!

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on March 16, 2005