By J.R. Miller
Perhaps we are paying too dearly for some of the boasted gains of our modern life. In our swift, intense life, we are losing some things that people used to enjoy in their more leisurely days. Friendship is one of these. There is no time for it now, for friendship takes time. We touch each other only lightly and superficially, in our crowded days. We have many acquaintances, and we may give and receive help and inspiration even our hurried contacts. But in quieter, slower days, the people had time to live together, and enter into intimate relations in which they impressed each other's life, and did much in shaping and coloring each other's character.
The art of friendship is one we cannot afford to lose. Friendship means a great deal to us, not only as a source of pleasure and happiness--but in practical ways. We never can know what we owe to our friends, what they have done for us, how they have helped us, what they have done in the building of our character. Our lives are like buildings going up, and everyone who comes to us, whether for a prolonged stay, or only for a few moments--puts something into the walls or into the adornment. Our friends, if they are worthy, exert a measureless influence over us.
The thought that one who is noble, true, and worthy is our friend--gives us a sense of companionship, even in loneliness. Such a consciousness is like a holy presence in which we cannot do anything unworthy. Such a friendship transforms us, enriches our character, sweetens our spirits, and inspires in us--all higher aspirations.
The thought of these influences and ministrations of human friendship, helps us to understand a little better what the friendship of Christ may be to us, and what it may do for us and in us. For one of the ways in which Christ offers himself to us--is as our Friend. Perhaps we do not think enough of this phase of his life. We speak of him as our Savior, our Master, our Helper--but do we think of him often enough as our Friend? Friendship implies intimacy. We love to be with a friend. We love to talk with him about all the sacred things of our life. Do we have any such intimacy with Christ?
The other day one complained that he could scarcely get time any more to pray, he had so much to do. Life is indeed strenuous for many of us, full of duties which seem to forbid leisure. If our modern life is robbing us of the privileges of human friendship, is there not danger that it shall make close, intimate friendship with our Master also almost impossible? We read of someone spending a whole hour every morning with Christ, and we say, "That is impossible in my crowded life." But even if we can get no long hours alone with our Master, we can cultivate a friendship with him that will go on unbroken through the longest, busiest hours. Those who were close to great missionary, said that in the time of his most intense occupation, he would often be heard saying in whispers, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" He lived all the time with his Master.
This is not an impossible attainment for any sincere and earnest Christian. We cannot always be on our knees in the formal attitude of prayer. We have our duties, and we may not neglect them even for acts of devotion. This would not please our Master. We can conceive of occasions when prayer would not be the duty, when we ought to even to leave our private devotions, and attend to some service of love which needs us. But we may always pray while we work. Our hearts may be in communion with God--even when our hands are busiest in activities. We may talk with Christ, even while we are serving him. In whatever we do--we may have Christ with us--and we may do all we do in his name. We do not have to leave our tasks, in order to be with Christ. We may cultivate friendship with him in our busiest days.
If we would find the best that is in Christ, we must know him as a personal Friend. We are in danger of thinking that nothing counts in the Christian life, but the activities; we must always be doing something, talking to somebody, holding meetings, making garments for the poor, relieving distress. But there is a better way. The disciples thought Mary had wasted her ointment when she had broken the vase and poured the precious ointment on her Master's head and feet. It had not done anybody any good. It had fed no hungry one, paid no one's rent, put bread in no hungry mouth, and clothed no shivering child. They thought that using it only to honor a friend was a waste. But the truth is, that never before nor since, in the history of the world, was so much value put to more blessed use. Think how Mary's loving deed comforted the Master, warmed his heart, and strengthened him for going to the cross. Then think how the telling of the story of her love has filled the world with sweet inspirations and gentle influences through all these centuries. Countless thousands have received impulses to lovely things--through the story of Mary's deed of affection. Thus the fragrant act of this quiet woman has started inspirations of love wherever the story has been told throughout the world.
Of course, it is worth while to build churches, found hospitals, and help the poor--but it is worth while also to cultivate friendship with Christ. The Chinese have a saying, "If you have two loaves of bread--sell one and buy a lily." Some people toil only for loaves, never thinking of lilies. But bread is not all that people need. There are days when you are not hungry for food--but are longing for sympathy, for a word of kindness, for encouragement, for appreciation, for friendship. There are hours when you have everything you could crave of earthly comfort and blessing and of human affection and interest--but need the touch of the hand of Christ, some revealing of divine interest and affection. Sell a loaf and buy a lily--for the lily will mean more to you than the bread.
Of all the blessing within your reach, nothing will mean so much to you as the friendship of Christ. If you have it--you will not miss anything else that you do not have. This friendship, close, constant, confidential, satisfying, will leave nothing else to be desired.
Think, too, what the friendship of Christ will do for us in the way of spiritual culture. It was the friendship of Jesus that was the chief influence in the making of John. He was not always the apostle of love that we know in the fourth gospel and the epistles. These were written when John was an old man. At first he was hasty in temper and speech, resentful, ambitious for place, not sweet and loving. But he accepted the friendship of Christ, allowing its holy blessedness to pour into his heart like sunshine. And it transformed him.
It is related that a friend once said to Lord Tennyson, "Tell me what Jesus Christ is to you, personally." They were walking in the garden, and close by was a rose bush full of wonderful roses. Pointing to this miracle of nature, Lord Tennyson answered, "What the sun is to this rose bush--Jesus Christ is to me." The sun had wooed out from the bare, briery bush of the spring days--all that marvelous beauty of roses. And whatever was lovely, winsome, and divine in the life of the great poet--had been wooed out of his natural self by the warmth of Christ's love. So the John we know in later years--was the John that the friendship of Christ had made. Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self control. These are the roses which grow on the thorny stem of human nature--when the warmth of the love of Christ has been falling upon it.
Then the friendship of Christ makes our Christian work a thousand times more beautiful. Love has a strange power in calling out the best that is in us. They discovered the reason for the young soldier's splendid courage in the battle, after he had fallen, in the picture of a fair face that he carried in his shirt pocket, over his heart. Love inspired his bravery. If the secrets of life were all known, it would be seen that the world's best work in every field--is done through love's inspiration.
The love of Christ transfigures the poorest, plainest things we do. We may be discouraged over the things we have been trying to do for Christ. A young Sunday school teacher spoke with disheartenment of what seemed to her, a failure in her efforts to do her pupils good. We all feel so, of ourselves and our work. We cannot think that God will use anything so poor, so inadequate, so unworthy, as even our best. But let us remember that if the friendship of Christ is in our hearts, it is not we alone--but Christ and we, who do the work. Inspired by this friendship, even the smallest things we do, if they are the best we can do--will be beautiful in God's sight, and will be accepted.