Friday, June 23, 2006

A Very Great Mercy

In a section of his A Christian Directory addressed to new converts, Richard Baxter beautifully describes the power and value of godly friends to aid us in our spiritual maturing:
If you have a familiar friend that will defend you from error, and help you against temptations, and lovingly reprove your sin, and feelingly speak of God, and the life to come, inditing his discourse from the inward power of faith, and love, and holy experience; the benefit of such a friend may be more to you, than of the learnedest or greatest in the world. How sweetly will their speeches relish of the Spirit, from which they come! How deeply may they pierce a careless heart! How powerfully may they kindle in you a love and zeal to God and his commandments! How seasonably may they discover a temptation, prevent your fall, reprove an error, and recover your souls! How faithfully will they watch over you! How profitably will they provoke, and put you on; and pray with you fervently when you are cold; and mind you of the truth, and duty, and mercy, which you forget! It is a very great mercy to have a judicious, solid, faithful companion in the way to heaven.
I can think of two possible responses to that description. Baxter's words will either elicit a yearning for the kind of friendship he portrays or sincere gratitude for the friend(s) who serve us in the manner he describes. Yesterday I enjoyed the fruits of such a relationship with my good friend Sean. Sean and I have known each other for about 17 years. In that time we've ministered together and shared our fears, joys, anxieties, hopes, temptations, sins, and offbeat sense of humor with each other. We've tried to help each other live in the grace of God and live out our newness in Christ.

Yesterday I told Sean about some weights on my soul and asked him to pray with me which he did readily. He prayed for an extended period of time with remarkable thoroughness. His was not a prayer of vague generalities and well-worn cliches but one of specificity that evidenced both his knowledge of and concern for me. From early on in our friendship Sean's uncanny ability to read people struck me and it continues to do so. His discernment is extremely keen. In the course of his prayer he ministered to me in a number of the ways Baxter depicts, exposing and encouraging my heart with the truth of God's goodness and the full and finished work of Christ on my behalf. He didn't shirk back from praying for change I need to undergo out of fear of possibly hurting my feelings yet there was not the slightest trace of judgment or condemnation in his voice or words. His prayer left me thinking, "God is so much better than I can ever fathom."

While Sean was praying I got a brief glimpse into life as it should be. This was aided by the fact that his toddler son was in the same room of Sean's home, periodically squealing and laughing as he played with one of his toy trucks whose engine and horn sounds are pretty loud. Initially I found this distracting but it didn't take long for me to realize that this is what real Christian spirituality consists of - people who love each other acknowledging God's presence in the course of life's routines. A very great mercy indeed.

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