As a chaplain with our police department I ride with one of our officers during a shift at least once a month. Recently I had a very interesting and enjoyable ride with an officer who had served for many years with the Beverly Hills Police Department. As you can imagine, he had some very interesting encounters and experiences in 25 years with the department. But one of the most memorable was serving as security for the 80th birthday party for Jimmy Steward. Arriving early, he rang the bell at Mr. Stewart’s home, expecting to be greeted by a housekeeper or some member of the house staff. Instead, Mr. Steward opened the door and welcomed him in, gave him a tour and visited with him as if he were a long-time friend. As the guests began to gather, he was in awe of the long-standing friendships of the invitees – people he had grown up watching in movies and on television. It was obvious that they had lasting friendships with their host and there was no celebrity air in the gathering. After the party ended, again Mr. Stewart spent time with my friend thanking him and visiting long after everyone had left. And as this officer reflected on his experience he decided it was not difficult to understand why these people were such loyal friends to Jimmy Stewart. The reason? He was a loyal friend who valued their friendship. There was no pretense of fame or position. He loved them and they loved him.
I thought about the classic Christmas movie called It’s A Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart stars in the lead role as George Bailey. You’ve seen the movie, I’m sure, and know that George is a man with a huge heart for people but loses everything to Mr. Potter, the conniving and selfish town bully. But when things had reached their worst most of the town came in friendship to declare their support of George. And someone said, “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends.”
One of the things God has been reminding me of lately is the high value of friendships. We need friends and should choose, cultivate and keep them. That takes a deliberate investment of time and thought on our part. I’m very grateful for the friendships God has given me through the years. I have two friends from college who are also in ministry that I have the opportunity to see and spend time with each year. Another who has been a friend for 30 years who continues to challenge me in faithful ministry and is always good for more than a few laughs every time we visit or talk by phone. I have a friend with whom I have prayed each week for a number of years and continues to challenge me to pursue God’s heart. And there are others God has brought into my life through sports with our sons, workouts at the gym and shared commitment to missions. Some of the greatest experiences of my life have been shared with a couple of friends in mission travels through the years. I could never place a dollar value on those friendships.
What do friendships offer? They influence our lives, provide accountability to how we live, and they bring encouragement to persevere – to live and finish well. I often think of a powerful illustration of those contributions in friendship that happened to another long-time friend. He signed up to run a marathon in Washington, D.C. that was part of the celebration of the anniversary of one of our armed forces. His wife waited a few miles from the finish line where she got as close as she could get to the rope barrier and watched for him to appear. When she finally saw him, it was apparent that he had “hit the wall” and was hanging on, trying desperately to finish. In an instant she went under the barrier, ignored the shouts of Marines who guarded the race course, and began running alongside her husband, encouraging him to keep going, stay the course and finish the race. He did. But he was always quick to say that he would never have done it without his best friend – his wife – coming alongside, bringing influence, accountability and encouragement as she ran with him.
Who are your friends? Value them. Thank God for them.