"I’ve learned to listen for God’s voice in the voice of such friends."
We’re sitting in a coffee shop catching up on life. It’s been a year since we sat here in this same coffee shop nursing our hot drinks and covering the gambit of predictable topics.
“How’ve you been doing?” We are both in our sixties now. News from the department of “internal affairs” tends to occupy the lead-off position in most conversations.
“How’s the family?” Our kids are all grown up now. We discuss the challenges of parenting adult children, then work our way to grandkids, spouses and extended family.
Work comes next. “Are you still working in the restaurant?” he asks me. “How many more years until retirement?” I ask him.
“How are things at the church?” We met at Bible college in 1975. We both play guitar (he plays better than I do) and have both led worship for many years, so the conversation goes naturally in that direction.
Eventually, we work our way out into the wider world. We wade into politics, the economy, and the rise of radicalism with its attending threat of violence. The state of our world, with its deep divisions getting deeper, introduces a sober timbre to our talk. Our coffee cups empty. Our conversation takes a breather.
After a moment my friend asks me, “What’s the answer?” When I take a little too long to answer, he adds, “Speak your mind, Steve.”
With six decades of life behind us, we are less inclined to beat around the bush. Plus, we’ve been friends for over 40 years. We can risk being blunt because finding new friends at this stage of life takes too much work. It’s easier to just not get offended. I begin to voice my thoughts on matters far too complex for my puny understanding, knowing it’s safe for me to do so. I start with what I believe the answer is not, hoping to stumble my way toward what it might be. I work to line up my words with what I understand to be God’s Word, with what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As I knew he would, my friend listens. Then he responds and I try to listen. By the time we surrender our table to the growing lunch crowd, we’ve worked our way, somehow, to a place of hope.
What a gift this friend is to me. And I am blessed to have more than one such friend. One or two of them I’ve known even longer. These friends help me figure things out because I don’t know what I think until I say it. In the saying and the re-saying, as I hear my voice give substance and weight to my thoughts, I sort out what I think. The give and take, the challenging of weak arguments and uninformed opinions, help me hone a wiser position on things—especially when the person on the other side of the table shares my faith in God and His Word. I’ve learned to listen for God’s voice in the voice of such friends.
It’s easy to let the daily barrage of bad news form our opinions and feelings about our world. Bad news comes at us in surround sound. When we let the five lead stories on any news platform shape our understanding of the world, we are tempted to live in fear. As Eugene Peterson puts it: “If we forget that the newspapers are footnotes to Scripture and not the other way around, we will finally be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough with the prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information; the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word.”
If I focus only on the chaos in our world, I can lose sight of God. In Peterson’s words, “We underestimate God and we overestimate evil. We don’t see what God is doing and conclude that he is doing nothing. We see everything that evil is doing and think it is in control of everyone.”
I’ve learned that I need to keep company with God’s Word, and with friends who will help me shape that Word into a way of living in these troubled times. Lately, my companion in the Word has been the “weeping prophet.” Jeremiah lived in troubled times too—one of the darkest periods of Hebrew history. Forces outside their borders were threatening to invade Judah. Violence, injustice and immorality were destroying the nation from within. For 40 years Jeremiah preached and prophesied to people who didn’t want to listen—and he paid dearly for it. His ankles and wrists knew the chafing of the stockade. He spent time in the darkness of dank dungeons and cisterns.
We know that the first leg of his prophetic journey was spent under a sympathetic king, one who had an open heart and ear for words from God. But for the decades following Josiah’s death, Jeremiah didn’t have many friends in Judah. In fact, the only person we read about who may have filled the role of my coffee shop friend was Baruch. Baruch listened to Jeremiah’s words and wrote them down. On at least one occasion, he became Jeremiah’s voice, and at the end of the day Baruch shared the ground the prophet took his stand on. We never read of them sharing a coffee and muffin, but I want to think that God gave His embattled prophet the gift of at least one good friend like my coffee shop friend.
You know who you are. Thanks for being God’s gift of a friend to me.
- Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 54.
This article appeared in the September/October issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. This content is provided as a free sample of testimony. Subscribe for full access to the complete magazine.