Summary: The need to find 'soul friend'
September 3, 2017
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Recently a couple of words caught my attention. I suppose I had heard them before; maybe I had even had some instruction in them – but they struck me like they never had before. They were the words “Soul Friends”.
Without a doubt I can say I have had many ‘soul friends” in my life. I would define many of you as such. When I was in the hospital this last time I was blessed with the realization of how many people care deeply about me. So many prayed for me and wished me well and some picked up some of my load. It truly gave me strength and helped in the process of healing. But the way this term was used was in a little different context. John Wesley actually came up with it. John Wesley believed that all Christians need the support of spiritual friendship and guidance. To Frances Godfrey, he wrote,
“It is a blessed thing to have fellow travelers to the New Jerusalem. If you do not find any you must make them for none can travel this road alone.”
Even wealthy bankers like Ebenezer Blackwell needed spiritual friends. Wesley wrote to him,
“I am fully persuaded if you had always one or two faithful friends
near you who could speak the very truth from their heart and watch over you in love, you would swiftly advance.”
To Mary Bosanquet he wrote, “You have need of a steady guide and one that knows you well.”
Wesley’s letter to Ann Bolton, written when he was 82 years of age, shows both the need and the qualities Wesley expected in a spiritual friend.
My Dear Nancy—It is undoubtedly expedient for you to have a friend in whom you can fully confide that can always be near you or at a small distance, and ready to be consulted on all occasions. The time was when you took me to be your friend; and (to speak freely) I have loved you with no common affection. I “have loved you”—nay, I still do; my heart warms to you while I am writing. But I am generally at too great a distance, so that you cannot converse with
me when you would. I am glad, therefore, that Providence has given you one whom you can more easily see and correspond with. You may certainly trust her in every instance; and she has . . . understanding, piety and experience. She may therefore perform those offices of friendship which I would rejoice to perform were I near you. But whenever you can, give me the pleasure of seeing you.
John Wesley discovered for himself that he needed a soul friend and he, himself became a soul friend to many people through the years. I think the Apostle Paul must have been his example. Paul wrote,
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become so dear to us”. 1 Thess 2:8, NRSV
“We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children”
1 Thess 2:7, NRSV
“We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you live a life worthy of God, who calls you”
1 Thess 2:11-12, NRSV
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!” 1 Thess 2:19-20, NRSV
I think it was almost taken for granted in the early days of the Church that we would each have ‘soul friends’ or mentors and that we ourselves would become mentors as we matured in the Lord. Acts 20:20, sometimes called the 20/20 vision of the New Testament Church, says:
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”