Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Speaking the Truth in Love

Leslie Basham: There are some important distinctives of healthy friendships. Here’s author and speaker Kelly Needham.

Kelly Needham: Friendships are not entirely meant to be just pragmatic. Our joy in Christ is multiplied when it is shared. Shared joys are the best joys. We’re coming together to enjoy all of God’s good gifts, but Him primarily.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Friday, August 30, 2019.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I’m happy to welcome again to the studio today my friend Kelly Needham, who is a friendship expert. Is that what you are?

Kelly: Well, some people jokingly will say that, but I don’t think I am. But I love friendship, and I love fostering good friendships in my life and others.

Nancy: You’re a proponent of friendship; you’re a champion for friendship, and you’ve also issued some warnings that we need to hear in our culture about how friendships can become false gods in our lives. You’re giving some warning signals while also encouraging us to have healthy and godly friendships. 

I’m thankful to have you as a friend at a distance, the relationship the Lord has allowed us to enjoy as we encourage each other, as we have sent emails to each other. You sent me an email. (I don’t know if I ever thanked you for this.) Some months ago you were with us at a True Woman conference, and you said, “Here are some things I’ve been thinking about after the conference, things I saw, and I wonder if . . .” There were things about my role, and it was really helpful, positive, constructive. That’s a friend that will have those kinds of conversations.

Speaking of the True Woman Conference, you’re going to be with us just around the corner at Revive ’19 as part of the speakers, our friends. We’re a friend group—not to be exclusive—but we enjoy each other’s company. We love the same things. We love Christ, we love His Word, and we’re going to be ministering as a group of friends.

So let me just say it’s not too late to sign up or to participate in the livestream of that conference as we talk about seeking Him. Together as friends we’re seeking the Lord.

You’re a wife. Your husband is Jimmy; he’s sitting across the other side of the glass there waving, cheering for us today. You live in Texas. You have three precious little children. You’re going to be at our home for dinner tonight; Robert and I are really excited about that. Someone else is bringing the soup, let me just say that, because we have a long day here at the office. 

But I’m thankful to be able to do some level of life with you. And I’m thankful for this book you’ve written on friendship gone awry. That’s not the title. The title is Friendish. It’s friendship but with some concerns that you’re seeing in the culture, in friendships, even among believers, today. Maybe the subtitle explains that even better; it talks about Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion.

So welcome, and thank you for joining us this week for this conversation. It’s been really helpful.

Kelly: So glad to be here.

Nancy: I want to say that this resource is available, and we’re happy to send it for a donation of any amount to help further this ministry, to anyone who contacts us at ReviveOurHearts.com or at 1–800–569–5959. Call that number, visit our website, make a donation to this ministry, and we’ll send you a copy of Kelly’s book as our way of saying “thank you” for a donation to Revive Our Hearts this week.

We’ve stirred up a little bit of a hornet’s nest—maybe that’s not the right term, but there are questions that are surfacing, even in the studio today. Some of our listeners, I know, are thinking. What about, for example, the friendship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament?

We could do a whole program on this. That friendship has been really mischaracterized.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: Some people would say even today that that was an erotic or homosexual friendship. You actually have a whole section in the book you’ve written about David and Jonathan. People say, “Isn’t that an example of a really committed, covenant, lifetime, loyal friendship?” Is there a problem with that? Are they a good illustration? Give us a just a synopsis of how we should think about David and Jonathan.

Kelly: Sure. I think they’re actually a really great example of a healthy friendship, because you see their friendship form right after the David and Goliath moment in our Bibles. We see David have this great faith and a sense of, “The kingdom of God is so important! Why is no one fighting this giant?” He’s so young, and he has just this passion for the name of God.

You see in Jonathan a sense of him looking and, probably for the first time, seeing someone who shares his passion for the kingdom of God. Jonathan had a moment very similar to that earlier in our Bible.

Nancy: So that’s really what brings them together.

Kelly: Yes. They are united under this desire to see the kingdom of God advance in a day where there was a lot of complacency. So they do cling to each other in the same way that when I find a friend who shares my passion for Christ. I cling; I go, “You get it! You and me, we understand this.”

Nancy: Speaking the same language.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: Resonating with each other.

Kelly: It’s like meeting somebody at the well, the fountain of living waters, when everyone around you is looking to other broken cisterns, broken things that cannot hold water, that cannot satisfy. When you meet that one other friend, you do cling to them; and that’s good and healthy. That’s not what we’re addressing in something being

What becomes unhealthy is when those friends become ingrown and look to one another for what only Jesus can provide. That’s not what you see David and Jonathan doing. They did have a friendship that was just the two of them. I think that likely had to do with . . . who else did they have to bond with over their passion for the kingdom and the name of God? You actually see them pushing one another for the benefit of one another not nearer together. They don’t run off together and go, “Let’s leave Saul and this business of Israel behind and go be friends forever over here somewhere.”

Nancy: Right.

Kelly: That’s not their main goal. Their main goal is God’s kingdom. So you actually see Jonathan and David parting from one another.

Nancy: Yes, sending each other away.

Kelly: Sending each other away. There’s a lot of grief in that, and grief of friendships lost and that change is a good thing. But they’re not undone by that. They grieve the loss of that friendship for that season, but it’s actually a really great friendship. It’s sad that people have distorted it. People will use their friendship as biblical grounds for these unhealthy, ingrown, exclusive, dependent, idolatrous friendships.

Nancy: One of the marks of idols in our lives, something meaning more to us or we’re looking to something to fill more of us than it can, is if it tempts us to sin, to get it:

  • to have sinful attitudes
  • to have sinful jealousies
  • to be petty
  • to be mean-spirited
  • to be critical . . .

if they don’t meet our expectations. When we see words or attitudes coming out of ourselves, when our needs or expectations aren’t quite being met, then we can say, “Okay, is there something I’m prizing more than I’m prizing Christ?”

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: Am I treasuring something or someone in this world that is not the ultimate treasure? It can be a time for recalibrating or repentance and saying, “Look, I’ve been looking to the things of this world to satisfy needs that only Christ can meet.” That can be your husband, it can be your children, it can be your parents, it can be your friends, your roommates, whatever.

So we’re saying cherish godly and healthy friendships insofar as you help each other love Jesus more.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: But be careful about friendships that are self-focused, that are obsessive, that are possessive, that are exclusive, that rule others out, that are not inclusive of others. There are some warning signs there.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: As we look at how to cultivate healthy friendships, we long for relationship. We’re made for relationship.

Kelly: Made for it, yes.

Nancy: We have these longings. God put people around us. We’re not saying, “Go live in a convent somewhere with just you and Jesus for the rest of your life.”

Kelly: Right.

Nancy: You need people.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: So how do we redefine friendship and our needs in such a way that those friendships can become life-giving and healthy rather than stealing life?

Kelly: When you meet Jesus, when you go from being spiritually dead to alive, that changes everything about our lives. It totally recalibrates us for what is ultimately good in our lives. That’s true of friendship. 

So for the Christian, for the one who’s gone from death to life, Christ is the main aim of our lives—His kingdom, and He is our greatest good. That changes what we need from friendship. Our friends become people who we’re saying, “I need you, and I need you primarily to keep me tethered to Christ,” because the world is like a current that just pulls us in the opposite direction. It takes all of us to link arms together and move toward Him.

We also know, as Christians, we’re promised that we will suffer. It’s not always sin; it’s sometimes just suffering and hardship that is just heavy on us. We can’t weather that alone. We need the support, sometimes physical support. If you’re suffering physically, you sometimes just can’t even do life alone without the help of friends to come alongside you.

I remember early in our marriage we experienced multiple miscarriages. There was a season when I was on bedrest during one of my pregnancies. Jimmy was on the road. So I actually needed friends who could come over and bring me a meal and could take care of my dog and could do things for me. They were there. That’s a legitimate need that we have for community. It’s right for us to reach out and ask.

I also was grieving a lot then. I remember being in our church’s prayer room at one time, and a friend met me there. I just was sad. She just put her arms around me, and we just cried together. You know, that grief just didn’t feel quite as heavy and daunting when she was there with me in that moment. That’s good. Those are right needs that we have, and they help us in that moment. She’s praying for me that Christ would comfort me. She’s not pulling me away from Christ; those friends aren’t doing that.

Nancy: They’re really becoming a conduit of the comfort of Christ to that friend.

Kelly: Our friends are meant to become the hands and feet of Jesus to us at times. They are the ones who are preaching the gospel to us when we’ve sinned and we need to confess sin to someone. They can remind us the blood of Christ is sufficient for that, and they can retell us the good news we already know but need to hear, and pray for us. So these friendships are absolutely necessary for our lives.

That’s why it’s important for us to be in local churches, because we’re not meant to do life alone. The local church provides a structure for those friends to be there for us when we need them.

Nancy: That’s a really important reminder, because church is not intended just to be where we go and park our bodies for an hour on Sunday morning.

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: We’re supposed to be cultivating relationships. I think, for me, one of the most important aspects of Robert’s and my relationship in our local church is what we call “aisle ministry.” That’s a-i-s-l-e, and it’s, “Who has God put in the aisle that we see before the service or after the service that may be needy?”

This past Sunday, it was an array of people with different kinds of needs that God just had us . . . He was talking to some; I was talking to others. There’s an older woman who’s going through some really hard physical issues. There’s another woman who just had triplets, and she needs nine hands or something to carry all these babies and stuff! So encouraging people, praying with them. 

Years ago I had a pastor who used to say the average church is like a bag of marbles, just clanging up against each other but not really connecting with each other’s lives. He said we’re supposed to be like a bag of grapes. We’re smushed into each other’s lives; we’re doing life together; we’re growing together; we’re weeping together; we’re rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Out of that comes not an obsession with each other, but the fruit, the juice, the sweetness, the life of Christ flows through us more freely as we do life together.

Kelly: Yes. I think that’s a great point, and even just to remind us, friendships are not entirely meant to be just pragmatic. “Oh, I need help today; I should call a friend.” Our joy in Christ is multiplied when it is shared. 

Nancy: Yes.

Kelly: Shared joys are the best joys. Think about it in terms of anything. When you see a great movie, what do you do? You want to bring your friends! “Come with me and watch this movie.” You go to a great restaurant and have an awesome meal. It’s not as much fun when you’re by yourself.

You bring your friends, because it just multiplies the joy. So I think God has built that into our lives, to enjoy things most fully together. In a really basic sense, that’s what we’re doing as Christians. We’re coming together enjoy all of God’s good gifts, but Him primarily. That joy is made most full in community. So some of why we need our friends is just for joy’s sake!

It’s just a good gift, meant to be enjoyed and meant to multiply the joy that we have in Jesus.

Nancy: I’ve often thought that a lot—not all, but a lot—of depression, anxiety, fear, maybe even, at times, emotional or mental illness or struggles, some of that would look really different if we had healthy, godly friendships.

Kelly: I agree.

Nancy: There’s a need for counselors, for wisdom that other people can bring into our lives. There may be a need at points for medications, for other treatments; but I think so much of the inner emotional, relational angst that people feel today . . . It’s amazing. We have so many people, so much social media, but we’re so lonely. We’re disconnected. You can’t be friends with everybody! You can’t have 10,000 friends that you have on Instagram.

Kelly: That’s the Facebook lie.

Nancy: The Facebook lie, right. We were just comparing notes about how Instagram was down recently. All of us thought it was just us, but we’re frustrated because we can’t connect.

Well, those aren’t our real friends, by and large. We need flesh and blood.

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: People that we can look in each other’s eyes, we can talk to, we can invest in each other’s lives, encourage one another. 

Here’s another aspect of friendship that you talk about that I think is really important. Sometimes when you have a good friendship, you have to say the hard things. What does Proverbs talk about? “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Kelly: Yes, wounds.

Nancy: Talk about that for a minute, because that doesn’t sound like something we’re eager to have, necessarily.

Kelly: That’s the part of friendship that no one really wants, because it’s never fun.

My friend Jessica is a super sweet friend. There was a time we went to eat, and we just were catching up. Then we had this awkward transition. She went to the bathroom and came back and sat down and essentially said, “I need to talk to you about something.” Her whole demeanor had changed, and I just knew . . .

Nancy: Something’s coming.

Kelly: “Oh no!” Bracing myself internally for this conversation, I had no idea that anything was wrong. Essentially, she had shared with me that she had had her feelings hurt by some recent conversations we’d had. She’d been in a hard season. She had shared a few things with me, and it was in a realm of study that I was currently studying the Scriptures and learning and I was excited to write about it. I’m a very verbal processor.

So here she had shared something going on in her life, and I essentially just gave her a mini-sermon at the time. I wasn’t thinking about it, because she’s such a good friend. So I’m just talking, and it really shut her off. That happened more than once, and she was starting to not look forward to our times together, which is how she knew, “I need to say something.”

You know, my conscience hadn’t been awakened yet, because I just was blind to that. I couldn’t see it. She had the courage and the gentleness to speak.

Nancy: It took courage.

Kelly: Yes, it did. Well, I found out she went to the bathroom to get the courage. She was so nervous.

Nancy: But how much easier would it be in a situation like that to just disconnect, ignore it, move off, say, “Look, we’re not going to be friends.”

Kelly: That’s what most people do, honestly.

Nancy: But she pressed into it.

Kelly: She pressed in, because she valued me and valued our friendship. And she communicated that. She essentially said, “This friendship is important to me.” And she shared it with me very gently. I mean, she was aware that would be hurtful. She gave me specific examples, and as soon as she did, I could see it. I knew what moments she was talking about.

That has produced so much fruit in my life and has just given me a better category for . . . sometimes the best thing my friends need is a listening ear. As somebody who likes to teach what I’m learning, it was a good thing for me to be wounded in that way.

Nancy: Lead with compassion.

Kelly: Yes. I think about it a lot when I’m with somebody new, and they might be sharing a struggle they’re in, and I’m thinking, Oh, I’ve been studying that! I want to tell them. I have a check in my spirit from our conversation, to just pray and say, “God, is that what this person needs today? Is for me to teach them all the things I know about that topic in the Bible?” Maybe not; maybe I just need to listen and go, “Let’s go grab coffee and do something fun.” Maybe we just need something lighthearted. 

Now, I trust our friendship even more, because I know I don’t have to guess with her. I know if something’s wrong, she’ll tell me. It built trust in our friendship. I grew. She helped me become a better friend to her and to other people. That’s a faithful wound from a friend. We all are going to face moments where we’re the ones needing to receive that or we’re the ones who might need to say that to foster unity in our communities and in our friendships.

Nancy: That’s what Paul talks about in Ephesians chapter 4, where he’s talking about unity in the body. As part of that he says, “Don’t lie to one another.” I’m thinking, Well, I don’t lie. Well, how often do we really lie in friendships by harboring something. We’re nursing some hurt or wound in our hearts, or we see something in that person’s life that we know is making them less effective.

I had a friend who’s now with the Lord who used to say, “The last guy to know he has a rip in his jacket is the guy who has it on.”

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: We call them blind spots. What does Paul say in Ephesians 4? “Don’t lie to one another; instead, speak the truth in love.”

Kelly: That’s right. That’s part of the function of our communities. We all have those blind spots, so we all need one another. That should actually make us feel safer. You know, if I have spinach in my teeth, my good friends are going to tell me! I feel more comfortable with them. I hope that I would have the courage to do the same.

When we’re hurt, the same thing. Maybe it’s not a blind spot; maybe it’s actual sin, willful sin against one another. May we have the courage to speak up about that and say, “That really hurt my feelings. I want to talk to you about it, because I value our friendship.” That’s how you value friendship, is you go there.

You fight for reconciliation, and Jesus is for reconciliation in the body and for unity. But part of how unity gets there is through these moments.

In fact, I think conflict I often feel like is the immune system of the body of Christ, that when sin creeps up in our lives and in our hearts or in our relationships, these moments of speaking the truth in love, of going to the tension, of having these moments where we’re faithfully wounding one another, it’s getting the infection. It’s dealing with the sin and creating a more healthy body of Christ.

Nancy: And not just in our own relationship with that person, but it may be affecting their relationship with others. This brings up Galatians 6:1. “If you see someone caught in a transgression . . .” They may know they’re there, they may not know they’re there, but you see this. “. . . you who are spiritual should restore him.” That’s the goal. We’re not trying to knock that person out or down or get rid of them. We’re trying to restore them, to set a bone that’s been broken, is the concept there. “Restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: And this warning: “Keep watch on yourselves, lest you too be tempted.” Because the very things we’re so quick to see in other people’s lives often are the very things that we’re blind to in our own lives.

So what’s He say? “First get the log out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to help get the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We need each other. That’s the hard part of friendship, but really, really important.

Kelly: Really necessary, really important. Somebody might be listening and going, “Well, there’s a conversation that I know I need to have.” We have just made it unavoidable for you, because we’re talking about it. Take courage and take heart that that’s true love for somebody when you are willing to do that, because you’re sacrificing your own comfort to love somebody else in a way that in the moment. They’re probably not going to be happy with you. It’s hard for any of us to hear that. So you’re really sacrificially loving somebody else.

That’s helped me to enter into those moments, to go, “I want to be a sacrificial, loving person like Christ was for me, so I will sacrifice my comfort. Jesus, help me in that moment.” It puts us on our knees when we have to go into that, which again, like you said, is such a blessing to cause us to need Jesus. It causes us to humble ourselves.

Nancy: And if you’re on the receiving end of that, remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” This is an expression of God’s love for me and His friendship.

Okay, before we go, I want to just touch on something that you give a whole chapter to in your book, called Friend-ish. It’s the last chapter. It’s thinking about our friendships in the context of the long range, the eternal. Just talk about that for a moment.

Kelly: The world wants “best friends forever.” We want something that’s secure for eternity. For us who are in Christ, that’s already been purchased. You and me, Nancy, we have forever together.

Any friend of mine has treasured Jesus with me, even if I no longer talk to them because our seasons have changed. I miss those friends, and I sometimes long for them. I can remind my heart, “Oh, I have forever with that person to catch up on everything I missed in their life and to celebrate with them.” So it gives me, actually, the ability to let friendships go in seasons where things are changing. I’m having to embrace my limitations in a new city or as a mom. 

But it also reminds me, “Well, then what am I here for?” We’re not home yet, to that place where we can enjoy that uninhibited fellowship with Christ and one another. So why am I here? It reminds us that we are exiles still in this land.

This isn’t home, and we are on mission for Christ and His kingdom. We have this good news within us. The light of Christ has been put in us, and we’re the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are here to continue proclaiming that gospel truth to people, so that more and more might come in and enjoy Him.

Nancy: I think that gives an intentionality to our friendships, that we’re not just lollygagging through life together.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: There is purpose; there is meaning. That doesn’t mean we don’t sit down and just do relaxing, fun things. But to see our friendships not as mindless or needless or unending socializing, there’s a purpose to them.

Kelly: Yes. The same purpose we saw in Jonathan and David, right? They’re for the kingdom of God, and they unite together for that reason.

I think as social media is growing, it’s expanding our ability to stay connected with more and more people.

Nancy: At one level.

Kelly: At one level, right. I think it puts pressure on people, especially younger people. We spend a lot of time with college students. They feel this pressure to keep up with everybody at the same level. So I’ll talk to them sometimes after our small group, and the things that they’ll list to me are, “Oh, I need to have coffee with this friend and this friend, and I need to catch up with this one.” It’s out of a good place they’re wanting to keep up with these friendships, but it that’s the goal, then you could spend your whole life, 24/7, just catching up with all of your friends!

Nancy: And still not do it all.

Kelly: And still not get it. That’s not the reason that we’re still here. That’s not the mission that Jesus has given us to do. We do need friends. We need community, but that’s not our goal. We have that built in forever. We get to link arms, not just to become ingrown and be about one another and our relationships. We get to link arms for a common goal, to move forward the kingdom of God as much as we’re able, to be faithful stewards and servants of God in this life. 

Good friendships make that journey doable. They make that journey enjoyable, and they make it fun and sustainable, but those friendships are not the goal. It’s not just, “Let me keep up with all my friends all day.” They’re for a purpose, and I think thinking on eternity, reminding ourselves of the promises of eternity, can help us and give us wisdom in how to shift through every season of life. When our friendships have to change, we can remind our hearts that we have that built in for us already, those forever friendships. 

It’s just not for now, so then, “Lord, what is my season right now? What is important?” What would He have me be doing right now? What should my friendships look like in light of that?

Nancy: I’m thinking as you’re talking, Kelly, about that classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. The pilgrim (his name is Christian in that telling) is headed towards the Celestial City. There are moments when he has to walk by himself. God does put us in seasons where we may be, for whatever reason, more isolated. But generally on that journey, he has friends with him.

Now, sometimes they aren’t really helpful friends. Sometimes they’re pulling him away from the truth, trying to pull him the wrong direction. But he has those few friends—they have names like Faithful and Hopeful . . . He gets to the finish line, goes over the river to the Celestial City with that friend, Hopeful.

When Christian feels like his feet are slipping, like he can’t do this, like he’s not going to make it, Hopeful says to him (if I’m remembering this correctly), “Be encouraged, friend; I have felt the bottom.”

Kelly: “I feel the bottom,” yes.

Nancy: “We’re going to make this together.”

That’s what we do for each other. We’re heading together toward the presence of Christ forever, and home with Him forever. We encourage each other; we take each other by the hand; we pull each other out of some of those places we fall into. Then somebody else pulls us out of the place we’ve fallen into, or where our hearts got tempted. This is what friendship can do, but always headed toward that Celestial City, and doing it together with friends that we will spend eternity with in heaven.

Thank you for writing a really helpful, practical book. There’s lots more that we haven’t talked about. You have a section on how unhealthy friendships can even lead to same-sex attraction and what to do with some of that, some of the pitfalls. You talk about some of the other aspects of healthy friendships. That chart at the back about healthy versus unhealthy friendships; that’s a really helpful tool.

So I want to encourage our listeners at different seasons of life, even if you’re not in an unhealthy friendship, you know people who are, and you’re vulnerable to it (we all are). So this is something worth reading, because we want to reclaim in this culture of confusion, true, real, godly friendship for God’s glory.

So thank you, Kelly, for being my friend. Thank you for being a friend of Revive Our Hearts, and thank you for encouraging our hearts this week.

Leslie: That’s our host, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in conversation with Kelly Needham. Again, as a thank-you for your gift of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you a copy of Kelly’s book. Just ask for it when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend, and join us on Monday. That’s when Jen Wilkin will help us understand the hows and the whys of being women of the Word. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you be a conduit of the comfort of Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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