By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Every story has a purpose and my re-telling of this story has its purpose revealed in our sub-title. Abraham's life is rich in illustration of the purposes of God and the daily incidents of a pilgrim but our ultimate goal will be to identify elements in the life of Abraham which made possible this amazing testimony from God Himself; Abraham, My Friend. [Isaiah 41:8]
There are many wonderful ways in which God describes His relationship with men and woman but this must be one of the most extraordinary; Abraham, My Friend. If Abraham had referred to God as ‘my friend' we might have thought that he was guilty of ‘name-dropping'; the way in which some folk try to derive significance by association. If I were to refer to ‘Abraham, my friend' I might lay myself open to that same accusation, but why should God refer to this man as ‘My Friend'?
Perhaps there is an indication in the New Testament. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. [John 15:15] Friends become the carriers of unique, intimate, knowledge because they can be trusted. It almost takes the breath away to say it but it is a regular testimony of scripture that God trusted Abraham. Abraham himself is the archetype of the man who trusts God but Abraham, My Friend, is an indication of God's reliance upon Abraham. It brings to mind many another scripture; I sought for a man... ...to stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. [Ezek 22:30] Oh, what would He do if He could only find the right man? EM Bounds famous book, Power through Prayer, begins with the statement that the 'Men are God's method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.' In turn, that brings to mind the comment of Paul Billheimer 'Who knows what God would do for His servants if He dared?'
In Abraham, God found the kind of man He had looked for, a man who would become My Friend. He became God's trusted agent, ‘our man on earth' through whom God would further His purpose. Not in ignorance, as some kind of automaton blindly following an instruction, but as My Friend. What God accomplishes on earth He will accomplish through His Friends. Christians love to say that God accomplishes wonderful things ‘in spite of' His servants. There is a truth in this statement but it ought not to blind us to the opposite and equally true statement that He accomplishes even more ‘because of His servants'. He will accomplish more through one trusted Friend than through a billion super-efficient tools. 'Men are God's method.'
Prayer, of course, functions at many levels; it usually begins with a sense of dependence and need. The man or woman who does not pray is an ‘atheist' no matter what theology he subscribes to. He is also a ‘fool'; a word reserved, biblically, for those who leave God out of their reckoning. But prayer that remains at the level of personal need is still-born. The unique glory of the pray-er is that he has more than one friend; he has two. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? [Luke 11:5,6] That's not one friend, but two. The pray-er is the living link between the Resource and the Need. If this chain is broken at either end the Resource and the Need remain separated; he must maintain living contact with both. There is valuable insight here. The pray-er is conscious of his own lack and inadequacy. He has nothing to set before him but the wonder is that he has access to another friend who has all necessary resources. Only by maintaining our links with both friends can be the channel of the blessing.
It took the Quakers to remind us that ‘Friends' is a New Testament description of believers gathered in a local church. But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name. [3 John 1:14] As we regard the settings where God has placed us, how well are we functioning as Friends? The Church comes under a lot a legitimate criticism but we would be using our unique role to better purpose if we prayed for our Friends. If we know that they lack resources, we know where we can go to find an answer. It would doubtless have many spin-off blessings; double portions even. It is recorded that the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. [Job 42:10] Perhaps if we are seeking release and blessing our best route is to pray for our friends.
The Greek word for ‘friend' (gk: philos) is a word of tenderness and companionship. It is a word which speaks of fellowship. The original Hebrew word for ‘friend' has another mood, (hb: ahab) it is the word for ‘Lover'. The Septuagint translators translated it not by ‘philos' but ‘agapE' giving something like ‘Abraham, My Lover'. It shocks us to read it. God's love is not marked by faithful duty and companionship only, but by passion and exclusive personal commitment.
We begin to sense the personal relationship that blossomed between God and man. If Abraham is a man characterised by his faith, his faith is characterised by his love; this is authentic faith, faith that worketh by love [Gal 5:6]. It was not from isolated experiences that Abraham was designated as Abraham, My Friend but from a continuing relationship that grew throughout a lifetime. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. It came not primarily from enormous crisis experiences characterised by giant leaps into the dark, but through the single ‘steps of that faith of our father Abraham'. [Rom 4:12]
So it is with Abraham's children, we grow not by big bangs and heroic set-piece triumphs, but by daily obediences of love. Not by stage-managed performances in the public arena but in the secret places where only God is witness. For those who measure success by visible effects it is often a weary plodding existence, but for those who genuinely seek only to be approved unto God it holds the prospect that in some secret place, one day, God will say this is ‘Abraham, My Friend'