NOTE: This is my column Choose Friends Wisely appearing in Forward & Direction Magazines, Summer 2015.
When I met Jason, he was seen as a new kid on the block, in his first year of serving a life sentence without parole for murder. Jason was nineteen. We talked for a long time about his past, his broken home, and how he grew up on the streets of Baltimore, dealing dope and packing heat before the end of fourth grade.
Jason could’ve made excuses for where he was. He could’ve laid blame for his poor choices on his life on the street. Instead, he looked me square in the eye and said, “There’s no one to blame but me. I chose my friends. Now I’m paying the price.”
Friendships. We all have them. We all want them. And, to a certain extent, we all need them. Your friends are one of, if not the most, powerful influences in your life today. But do you ever really think about the friendships you have and how they affect you? Your friends are your friends for probably a lot of reasons:
- They’ve accepted you.
- You have a lot in common with them.
- They make you feel secure.
- You trust them.
- They’re loaded!
Okay, except for that last one, all of those are pretty valid reasons. Here’s another one: They need to live a godly life and encourage you to do the same. Your friends seriously impact you—how you dress, how you talk, how you act, who you date, what music you listen to, and even how you treat your parents.
I know you’re probably thinking, “I don’t let my friends influence me like that. I decide what I want to do.” Well, it may seem that way. But think about this:
Friends = Time
Friends are not just people you know. They’re people you do life with – school, lunch, sports, parties…it’s safe to say you spend a lot of time doing stuff with them.
Time = Influence
The more time you spend with another person, the more you’re influenced by that person. That’s natural. As you commit time to a friendship, your lifestyle will be more and more affected by theirs.
Influence = Character
1 Corinthians 15:33 warns that bad company will corrupt our character. How’s your character? Do you find yourself making choices today that you wouldn’t have made if it wasn’t for your friends? If yes, have these choices been honoring or dishonoring to God?
Character = Choices
Think about the five choices you most regret making. Now, think about where you were and who you were with when you made these choices of regret. I bet it’s pretty safe to say that you were probably with a close friend when you made most, if not all, of these choices.
God knows that friendships are important to you. And He wants you to have truly great ones. But He also knows how much bad friendships can hurt you. So how do you know the difference between good friends and bad ones? Well, unfortunately, your friends are not like bags of Doritos—they don’t have labels on their backs listing all of their ingredients. In Proverbs 13:20, God gives us a promise and a warning that can help in choosing the right kind of friends:
The promise: Spend time with wise people, and you will grow wise.
The warning: Spend time with foolish people, and you will suffer!
If you hang out with wise friends, people who know right from wrong and choose right, you’re going to get wise. Wise friends will be more able to offer you good advice in time of need, because they believe God’s ways are right and they follow them.
The warning in this verse is just as clear as the promise, and just as serious. Proverbs says if you hang out with fools, then bad stuff is going to happen to you. This verse doesn’t say bad stuff “might happen.” God’s word is completely clear!
Meaningful friendships don’t always come easy. And there’ll be times when distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy friendships will be hard. But as you commit to stay in consistent communication with God, He’ll give you wisdom to know the difference. God wants you to have awesome friendships. He wants you to have fun with good friends. But God also knows what can happen if you choose the wrong friends. So, choose wisely!