What makes a friendship? Is it personalities? Or context? Or proximity? Yes. These areas where two people’s experiences overlap are usually good starting places for close friendship. But I’d argue that the strength of a friendship over the long haul depends not primarily on personality or context or proximity, but on prayer.
Personalities change because people do. Contexts change as people become interested in new hobbies and pursuits (and less interested in old ones). Proximity changes as people move, whether a town or state away, or across the ocean. But when all these factors change, we can still pray, trusting God to use the means he has given to strengthen our friendships with other Christians—and to change us.
The Privilege of Prayer
My longest friendship has lasted 11 years through overseas moves, marriages and funerals, joys and sorrows. Another close friendship began in a season of shared suffering and has continued through many others. Yet another started on a casual neighborhood stroll and has become a deep and intentional sharing of hearts.
What has bonded such unlikely people, kept us going through changing times, and made it such a joy to be friends? The friendship of Christ that we share––the privilege of being united to one another because we’re first united to him.
Paul’s words to the Ephesian church apply to Christian friendship:
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1–6)
Jesus died to purchase his people, bring us back to the Father, and set us apart from the world for himself. He also died to unite us to one another. Friendships in Christ are unlike anything the world has to offer. And we have the awesome privilege of boldly approaching God’s throne of grace––of praying––both with and for each other.
The Power of Prayer
What’s our motivation to pray with our friends, especially in discouraging seasons of friendship? Through many years of walking with my close sisters in Christ, we’ve known friendship’s ebb and flow. There are seasons when one of us is able to give more than the other, when we might struggle with feeling distant or disappointed, and there are seasons when we feel particularly close through mutual love and service.
But we mustn’t forget that prayer is a powerful act of love and service in itself. In seasons when we feel stretched thin, we may not be able to serve our friends in the ways we’d like—but we can always pray for them. Prayer is one gift we can consistently give.
Friendship involves two saints-in-progress who struggle with sin and depend on Jesus. We pray to express this dependence, and because we know God works powerfully through our prayers. So often we don’t pray because we don’t think it does anything. But Scripture insists we’re wrong: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). So we draw near to the throne of grace with confidence “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
I’m convinced that my strongest friendships are that way––strong––because our souls are knit together through intercession. It’s especially in the “ebb” seasons, when I’m struggling to love and feel loved, that God uses sacrificial prayer to get the friendship “flowing” again, to make us freshly “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). God uses the prayers of friends both to unify us and to accomplish his work in us.
The Practice of Prayer
What does a praying friendship look like? I don’t pretend to know its full potential, but I have seen many wonderful evidences of it. Here are several practical ideas for prayer that have strengthened my friendships over the years:
- Schedule intentional prayer time. Schedule (yes, schedule!) a time to talk and pray with your friend, either in person or on the phone. Not only does this guarantee the praying will happen, it’s a needed posture of pause and dependence before God in the rush of life.
- Leverage technology. Our phones and computers are wonderful prayer tools, as they give us the immediate ability to reach out to our friends for prayer. Praying together doesn’t always need to take an hour over the phone; take two minutes to ask your friend to intercede for you, and then ask, “How can I pray for you today?”
- Don’t wait. Pray right now. Have you ever told your friends you’d pray, and then forgot? I have, frequently. Don’t wait until later to pray; pray for them as you’re thinking about it. Write them a prayer through text or email, or leave a prayer on a voice text or voicemail.
- Choose a day to pray for friends. With all the needs on our prayer lists, our friends’ concerns sometimes get dropped. Setting aside a particular day to use your time of intercession for friends ensures you don’t forget them. I typically pray for my friends on Fridays. I keep a running list of requests and praises, and then I let my friends know I prayed for them. This routine helps me remember to pray and to follow up.
- Pray Scripture. It’s a great privilege to pray for our friends’ marriages, kids, and pressing circumstances. But are we praying for their souls in light of Scripture? Choose a verse or passage to guide your prayers for your friend’s holiness, for their fight against sin, for their love of God’s Word, and for a closer walk with Jesus. The epistles and psalms contain many wonderful prayers you can use to guide your time.
Press on in Prayer
It may sound cheesy, but it’s true: Friends who pray together stay together. It’s a sweet privilege to follow Jesus alongside treasured friends with whom we’ll share eternity when all our ebbs and flows have been swallowed up by perfection.
To that end, we press on in prayer, trusting our Father to use it to sustain and strengthen us—and to make us more like Jesus, the friend of sinners—until we see him face to face.