In the late afternoon of 8 January, the day my workplace reopened after Christmas Holidays, one of our senior team leaders tragically took his own life. He was a husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend. In work he was a strong advocate for suicide prevention, and a gentle and tireless support to families suffering the loss of a loved one to suicide. He had established two successful mental health programmes that helped Maori men deal with their negative emotions and destructive thought patterns, and this year was set to spearhead a suicide prevention programme.
At the funeral colleagues, relatives, and clients lamented to his lifeless body, “Why didn’t you practice what you preached?” “You told me to reach out - why didn’t you?” “Why did you feel you couldn’t talk to me?” He was a pillar in his community. Many depended on him. Everybody loved him. The questions we, his colleagues, mournfully asked ourselves was - did he have friends? Were we his friends? Had he considered any male colleagues a friend?
In the Bible the friendship Jonathan extended to David was extraordinary. Jonathan was successful in every way. He was the crown prince of Israel who would one day succeed his father King Saul, and he was a mighty warrior (1 Samuel 14:13-14). David was a poor rural boy, the youngest of eight, of no significance and with no prospects. But God supernaturally filled Jonathan’s heart with a rock-solid love for the poor shepherd boy from Bethlehem (1 Samuel 18:1-4). The friendship never faltered or failed. Jonathan delighted in David and protected him for as long as he could, and then when all hope of reconciliation was lost, helped him escape the rage of Saul. In David’s desperate years, still on the run from Saul, at least once that we know of, Jonathan rode out to where David was deep in the bush to encourage him in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16). Jonathan is a type of the Holy Spirit.
1 Samuel mentions at least three times that Jonathan and David made friendship covenants (1 Samuel 18:3, 20:16-17, 1 Samuel 23:18). All three were initiated by Jonathan. Jonathan knew God’s plan for Israel and did his part to fulfil God’s will (1 Samuel 23:17). The Lord Jesus knew God’s will for the world and, to fulfil it, made a new covenant in His own blood (Luke 22:20).
Have you heard someone say to another, “I need help” or “you need to get help”? What they mean is, I/you need to get professional help. When did we stop being the first line of defence for our friends and relatives? When did we stop asking, “how can I help?” Covid, and its effects on society - some for good, some not so good - has seen a phenomenal rise in requests for counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists. Many of these professionals, especially Christian ones, do outstanding work with serious disorders by diagnosing illnesses, managing treatments, and helping people, through talk therapy, learn to cope with relationship issues and mental health conditions. However, I do wonder if some of these professions have inadvertently become a substituted for the vital function of friendships and family relationships.
By instruction then demonstration the Lord showed us what true friendship is. He said, “For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “Friends” in Aramaic is “family” or “relatives”. Jonathan and David were friends before they became in-laws through David’s marriage to Jonathan’s sister Michal. Our Lord gave His life so that anyone who believes in Him can become part of His family.
The friendship between Jonathan and David is truly inspirational but the Lord’s friendship with His children is the greatest inspiration and aspiration of all. Good friendships and solid family relationships in 2024 and beyond will become increasingly vital to our collective wellbeing. Having been shocked into the reality that “it can happen to anyone” I am resolved to be a friend like Jonathan was and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to try to be a friend like Jesus was and is. By the grace of God, we will be true friends who love no matter what and, when hard times comes (as they always do), we will be true friends who stick closer than a brother or sister. The Lord said we can and will do greater things than He did, so there is every reason to believe that you and I can and will pull some out of the fire (Jude 23). To God be the glory!
Love and blessings