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How to Be a Biblical Spiritual Friend Part One: Pointing Others to the Ultimate Spiritual Friend

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A church member knocks on her pastor’s door early Monday morning. She’s in tears over her teenage son’s suicide attempt. Her pastor greets her with a loving, gentle welcome, ushers her into his office, and opens in prayer. Together they’re ready to engage in the art of arts: spiritual friendship.

A client arrives for his scheduled appointment with his professional Christian counselor. He’s hopeful that he’ll finally find help to break the hold that rage has on his heart and relationships. Together they’re ready to engage in the art of arts: spiritual friendship.           

A young woman hugs her female lay encourager as they enter the “Encouragement Center” for their seventh meeting. They both experience a close connection and a calm confidence that Christ will continue his good work in and through them. Together they’re ready to engage in the art of arts: spiritual friendship.

Two friends sitting in the corner of an almost empty local diner sip coffee as they talk. For two years this has been their “sacred place” where they meet to bear one another’s burdens. Together they’re ready to engage in the art of arts: spiritual friendship.

The settings are almost limitless and the individuals so very diverse. Yet, the art is the same—the art of biblical spiritual friendship. But what exactly is a spiritual friend? What does a spiritual friend “look like”? How do spiritual friends relate?

David’s Story of Spiritual Struggle

God calls shepherd-boy David to shepherd all Israel. Called, David serves. Serving, David suffers. When the chorus line of the day sings out, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul becomes enraged. The refrain galls him. From that time on, Saul keeps a jealous eye on David—an evil eye.

The more success David enjoys, the more fear Saul endures. When Saul realizes that the Lord is with David and that his daughter, Michal, loves David, Saul becomes still more afraid. He remains David’s enemy the rest of his days.

Plotting to kill David, Saul even enlists his son, Jonathan. Jonathan, very fond of David, spills the beans, not only warning David of impending danger, but also spying on his own father on David’s behalf.

Exasperated, Saul expels a torrent of rage toward the harp-playing David, attempting to pin him to the wall, through the heart, with his spear. David eludes him and makes good his escape.

The plot thickens. Saul assembles his death squad to hunt down and execute David. David hides out in the cave of Adullam, surrounded by a rag-tag bunch described by the biblical author as, “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented” (1 Samuel 22:2). Sounds like an ancient version of The Bad News Bears

Day after day, Saul pursues David, forcing him to move his band of brothers from place to place. Camping in the wilderness like vagabonds, David learns that once again Saul has come to take his life (1 Samuel 23:15).

What did David need at this point? What would spiritual friendship have looked like?

David’s Story of Spiritual Friendship

In David’s desperate setting, we learn the source of his strength. “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength (hazaq) in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). 

Finding strength (hazaq) pictures binding together, girding, and uniting. The Old Testament uses it for strengthening, encouraging, instilling courage in another, and aiding. The core idea emphasizes strengthening another person’s grip by joining hands in support. 

We’re made firmer and stronger when we bind ourselves together with one another. When we’re losing our grip, we need to be gripped by others. In spiritual struggle, we need spiritual friendship.

As illustrative as this is, we’ve pondered only a portion of David’s story of spiritual struggle and spiritual friendship. As David’s spiritual journey continues, Saul pursues. David evades. Saul is vulnerable. David spares Saul’s life, not once, but twice.

David battles victoriously for Yahweh. Returning from Yahweh-battle, David and his men experience Yahweh-mystery. The evil Amalekites have raided their camp at Ziklag where the wives and children of David and his men resided. Returning to Ziklag, “they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive” (1 Samuel 30:3). Grieving greatly, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Samuel 30:4).   

We would say that they’re “wiped.” Exhausted. Shattered. Overwhelmed.

David is no exception. “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters” (1 Samuel 30:6a). If my wife and children had been taken hostage while I was away ministering for God, I would be distressed, too. If all those who worked for me were so bitter that they wanted to kill me, I would be distressed, too.

David’s narrative begs for the intervening voice of Paul Harvey saying, “And now, the rest of the story.” Here it is. “But David found strength (hazaq) in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6b).

Strengthis the identical Hebrew word we examined in 1 Samuel 23:16—hazaq. David’s previous connection with Jonathan empowers him to experience communion with Yahweh. Having a spiritual friend in his life to strengthen him, equips and empowers David to connect with the Spiritual Friend.   

Where did David’s help come from? Who do we need when we are suffering or sinning? What do we need along our spiritual journey when we face spiritual struggles? We need spiritual friends—Christians, and we need the Spiritual Friend—Christ.

Spiritual friends—the Christian community—point us to our ultimate Spiritual Friend—Christ. God has designed us to find communion and closeness with him—our true source of all help—through community and connection with one another. Spiritual friendship is our greatest hope for connecting to God’s help.

Join the Conversation

How does your human spiritual friend point you to your ultimate Spiritual Friend—Christ?


Note: Developed from Spiritual Friends. Spiritual Friends is part of the ABC’s biblical counseling curriculum and the ABC’s certification process. In Spiritual Friends you learn how to develop twenty-two biblical counseling relational competencies.


Posted on June 14, 2013