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 (Manna 36: Prayer)
Choosing Friends Wisely
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Once we move on to college, we have to make a lot of decisions for ourselves. We have to decide what bank to open an account with, what major to study, and who to spend our time with. That last decision may be the most pressing when we first enter the college scene. As Christians, we ought to include God in our major decisions, such as choosing what kind of people to be our friends. How do we choose our friends from such a diverse student body? Is it really important to find a friend in the church close to school?

When we think about these questions, let us see what advice God has given us in the Bible.

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess 5:10-11, NIV)

One of the goals of friendship is to build oneself up in character and integrity, pleasing in the eyes of God. What better place to find a friend than in a place where all the people your age are striving toward that goal? The first place you should look for friends is in your local church.

Do I Really Need Friends That Share the Same Beliefs?

Yes, you do. Why? Well, ask yourself, do you want to hold onto the values you have learned from studying the Bible and attending church? Do you want to keep yourself pure from the unwholesomeness in this world? If the answers are yes, then you need to find friends that share similar Christian beliefs.

Despite what we may think of ourselves, we are influenced by the environment we live in and the people we deal with. If a person constantly exposes himself to an environment where morals are lax and godliness is of little importance, very slowly, he will begin to think that certain things are okay to do, for "evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Cor 15:33).

The Bible was not written in the 20th century, and does not specifically address issues that are present in our daily lives. Questions like, is dating in college acceptable? Are we allowed to drink alcohol? Is it okay to go to a gathering where people might get rowdy? Is it okay to go to a review session instead of going to church? The Bible doesn't give us clear-cut answers. These kinds of situations sit in the "gray" area between right and wrong. Think of it like a delicately balanced scale: on one hand, the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that skipping service to attend a much needed review session is wrong, but on the other hand, attending church service helps us to build our relationship with God. Depending on your faith, the scales may seem equally balanced, and your choice of friends can tip the scale ever so gently in one direction or the other. Hanging with a crowd of people who are determined to do what is pleasing to God will definitely help tip the scale in the right direction. If evil company can corrupt good habits, then surely virtuous company can nurture good habits. The church community is a great place to begin looking for "good company."

It's one thing to say you'll make some friends at church, and another thing to actually do it. In reality, sometimes there are obstacles to that ideal. For example, you may find that some church youths get on your bad side, or very simply, you don't feel a connection to the youths at the local church.

What If I Can't Find Anyone in Church I Can Relate to?

If this is the case, you first need to examine yourself. Do you have a tendency to avoid people that don't share the same interests and activities? Do you have expectations of Christians that the church people you come in contact with don't seem to fulfill? Are you an "initiator," or do you wait for someone else to initiate a relationship?

After some reflection, you may notice that you say "yes" to some of the questions above. This doesn't mean that there is something wrong with you; rather, it presents something that you can do to get to know people at church. We can't demand that people be our friends, so the only thing we can do is to demand from ourselves that we be friendly.

If you are disillusioned with the people at church, you need to realize that spiritual perfection is a goal that takes an entire lifetime to pursue. In all likelihood, the people at church, including you, are "works in progress;" we all have imperfections that need to be ironed out. Since this is the case, try to be understanding, and not judgmental, of one another's shortcomings. Instead of shunning a group of imperfect youths, be united and encourage one another to pursue spiritual growth. In short, spiritual imperfection is not to be treated with disdain but, rather, with love and understanding.

Next, make a conscious effort to try to get to know people at church. In the same way that your character cannot be fathomed after one meeting or conversation, it takes time and effort on your part to get to know other people. When I first arrived at the local church near my university, I often kept to myself and avoided situations with people that could be potentially awkward. I thought to myself, I'm new here, how come no one seems to notice me or show that they care about me? There were also some habits in the youth group that bothered me beyond words. I would get upset at church people in my heart, and wish that I could return to the church I grew up in. As a result, I almost never attended youth fellowship or any after-service activities; every Saturday I'd go back to the dorms and do my own thing.

After a year of being disillusioned with the youths at this particular church, I found out that many of them were going through tough episodes in their lives: some had not received the Holy Spirit and were discouraged, and others were having family problems. It suddenly occurred to me that in the duration of that year, I did not make an effort to know the people around me. Apparently, I wasn't the only one with problems; other people had issues in their lives, and I was so caught up with myself, I didn't even take the effort to address their needs. After that, I made an effort to attend fellowships and choir practice and got to know some of the youths better. From these simple church activities, I made some friends, and those friends got me through some of the toughest times of my life. And all I had to do was to decide to focus less on myself and more on other people.

"He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend." (Prov 22:11) A friendly, considerate person is more likely to have friends than a person who isn't. It'll take some effort to open yourself up and take the initiative towards friendship, but it is definitely worth the while. Having a few brothers and sisters as close companions will help you grow in your faith in God and be a source of encouragement for you when you feel discouraged.

Do I Need Friends Outside of Church?

Even as you build up friendships in church, it is also necessary to make friends outside of church. Making friends in the campus environment helps you gain an understanding of people from all around the world and from different backgrounds. Ultimately, having that understanding will shape how you, as a Christian, relate and communicate your beliefs to those around you. The Lord Jesus did not pray to the Father that He should take us out of this world (Jn 17:15); rather, He commanded that we go into it to share the good news with other people (Mk 16:15). The friendships you make will broaden and deepen your understanding of people's struggles, their needs, and how faith fits into the picture. In the end, they can give you the opportunity to touch others' lives.

In all likelihood, you will spend more time with your friends at school than those at church—which means that you have to choose them all the more carefully. There are many people out there who can be positive role models by showing you how to work diligently towards a goal, or be dedicated to a worthy cause. In the same way, there are people out there who won't be good influences. In either case, we need to acknowledge that we are influenced to some degree by the people we befriend, and that they may shape our values or views. So what should your approach be? How can you keep your footsteps pleasing to God while mingling with people whose lives are not necessarily oriented around Him?

Choosing Friends From Among Classmates

First, you need to decide for yourself what kind of person you want to be. As a Christian, you want to preserve the values and principles set in the Bible, and pursue worthwhile goals, such as being charitable or acquiring knowledge to help improve the world around you. Look for people who are like-minded and strive for similar goals. There are plenty of non-Christians out there whose lifestyles do not contradict Christian values and who work to improve the environment around them. Befriending them can become a positive influence on your life and help you to achieve your goals.

While I was in college, I really wanted to learn how to use my time efficiently and constructively and to avoid laziness. I was fortunate enough to meet people who knew how to squeeze the most out of their day; they studied, volunteered with the honor society, and even played sports or instruments. After seeing how they could divide up their time so carefully, I was able to divide up my time in a more streamlined fashion to do schoolwork, church work, and other extracurricular activities. Being around people who weren't lazy really helped motivate me to make the most of my day.

Undoubtedly, you will encounter people on campus who have grown up in environments quite different from your own. While you ought to be open-minded towards other lifestyles and cultures, you must also be cautious. You need to choose friends who will respect your Christian beliefs and allow you to be the individual you want to be, as opposed to shaping you to be like them. Remember to stick up for yourself, while respecting the beliefs of your peers. Mutual respect is one of the things that keep two friends together for the long run.

Never Compromise What You Believe in

When you first start interacting with your peers, there is a period of time when you find out about each other and discover what kinds of things you would or would not do. During this initial phase of your friendship, be sure to set forth your values and beliefs with surety and without flinching. It is much easier to be frank at the beginning about something that could become awkward than to wait a long time before addressing the issue.

I had two roommates my first year in the dorms. I liked them a lot because they were very friendly and easygoing; however, they had some not-so-good habits, like clubbing Friday night until the wee hours, drinking, and having the occasional joint. They weren't "bad" people, but the things they did were not "beneficial," as Paul would put it. The interesting thing was, even though the three of us were pretty open with each other, they never asked me to go clubbing with them or drink or smoke with them. We did go out for ice cream and candy together, shop for CDs, and celebrate special occasions together.

Why the distinction? They knew I was Christian. They saw the Bible on my desk and knew I read it and knew that I was a consistent churchgoer. Because of these things, it went without saying that I would not go clubbing with them, nor would I drink or smoke with them. Simply by setting down my religious beliefs and life principles right from the beginning and sticking to them consistently, I avoided situations in which I would be presented with an opportunity to do something that would be displeasing to God. In the same way, if you establish your boundaries clearly with your school friends right from the start, you can avoid being tempted to do things you wouldn't otherwise do. Avoiding temptation is a lot easier than dealing with it when it hits you head-on. Picking the right friends in school helps you avoid facing temptation all the time.

Choosing Friends Wisely

Choosing friends is a life-changing decision. Many things that happened in my life were a direct result of the people I chose to be my friends. The wise choice ultimately come from knowing who you are, realizing how you have anchored your life, and recognizing what is its core. "He died for us so that… we may live together with Him." If we keep this as our purpose, then in every new situation or every new encounter we will never really stray from that goal.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church