I was fired once. It was in 1990. I remember an elder coming in my office and telling me: "Darryl, I think we’ve the best youth ministry in the city. You’ve done an incredible job. Furthermore, you’ve always responded to our corrections by doing whatever we requested. The issue, we think is that of personality." It seems there were a group of teenagers who didn’t like me. Go figure.
He continued, "Since this is a personality issue, we can’t ask you to change. That wouldn’t be right. So, we’re asking you to resign."
I have to tell you—that was perhaps one of the most difficult times in my life. I felt like a failure. It was as if I could do nothing right in my own mind. Could I even do ministry to kids? Did I really know what I was doing? I remember driving for 45 minutes in one direction. I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was going to do. I just drove and cried my eyes out.
Two men saved my life. Oh, I wasn’t suicidal mind you. I’m obviously being hyperbolic. But they made it possible for me to survive the most difficult period of my life. Their names are Chris and Gary.
Chris was a youth minister in a nearby church. We’d done several writing projects together. We would meet once a week to review each other’s work. He was outraged at my firing. He ranted and railed about the inconsistency of the decision, the politics of “being liked.” It was Chris who eventually got me an interview in a church that eventually became one of my most productive youth ministries.
Gary was my preacher. Behind the scenes he confronted the elders over the situation. He told them: "You owe him all the time he needs to find another ministry." His discussion with the elders allowed me six months of continued work and salary. I was fortunate. God had granted me friends who held me up and encouraged me.
I have to give a major disclaimer here. You’re only hearing one side of the story! In fairness, the men who fired me are good men whom I respect. We’ve actually had meals together since then and there is no anger between us. Today we could probably even joke about the incident and rib each other good naturedly. But at the time, I felt crushed and hopeless. I felt the world had turned against me.
Have you ever felt that way? Maybe everything started off well. People treated you special. The future looked bright and life was fine. But something happens and the world falls apart around you. People start attacking. Your abilities are questioned—you even start second guessing yourself. What was once solid ground becomes quicksand. In such a situation it could be so easy to give up, to fall into complete despair, to quit life, to run and hide.
David started out as a no-name and rose to incredible heights in the Court of King Saul. This unknown shepherd ends up saving the day by defeating a 9-foot-tall giant. He’s given a commission in Saul’s army. He becomes the King’s personal assistant in charge of soothing his spirit. And all seems well, until the King becomes insanely jealous. He tries to pin David against the wall with a spear—not once, but twice. Two times he chases David into the wilderness in order to take his life. He even massacres the priests of God because they were accused of helping David. What kept him going? How did his faith survive?
Often we focus on David’s faith in God and how it sustained him in the wilderness as he fled from Saul. But perhaps most often God operates through the medium of people. He operates through special friendships.
The nature of God is relational. He created humanity relational. He works through relationships to help people grow and survive. For David, God provided a special friend: the son of King Saul, Jonathan.
"After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt." [1 Samuel 18:1-4 New Living Translation]It was this friendship that kept David going, that gave him hope. No matter how hated he was in court, he knew there was one person who would stand in for him, who would defend him—there was one person who would encourage him.
On one occasion Jonathan risks his life to stand up for David. Saul had sent assassins out to kill David in his own home. But Michal, his wife and Saul’s daughter helped him escape in the night. David approaches his friend Jonathan and asks: Why is your father trying to kill me? Jonathan is not privy to this information. Saul is very much aware of Jonathan’s friendship—so he intentionally keeps Jonathan in the dark.
Jonathan reassures David, but David knows Jonathan tends to be a little too trusting. So they agree to a plan. David is required to be at a festival hosted by Saul. David will not attend. If Saul notices David’s absence and inquires, Jonathan is to say he is required to be with his family in Bethlehem. If Saul is fine with that, everything is well. If he becomes angry—then they will know Saul plans on killing David.
Jonathan tells David, “God is my witness! I’ll find out by this time tomorrow what my father intends. If my father still intends to kill you, I’ll let you know. God will be with you as he was once with my father. If I survive this encounter, continue to be my covenant friend. If I die, please keep this promised friendship with my family, forever. And when God finally eliminates your enemies, stay loyal to me, your friend.” Jonathan then repeats his vow of friendship to David. The text tells us he loved David even more than his own life.
The night comes and everything happens just as David predicted. Saul becomes enraged David is not present. When Jonathan tries to defend David, Saul in his rage attacks Jonathan and even hurls his spear with murderous intent. Jonathan becomes furious with his father for his friend’s sake.
The next morning he meets with David to warn him. David falls down in front of Jonathan three times—prostrating himself. “And then they kissed one another and wept, friend over friend, David weeping especially hard. Jonathan said, ‘Go in peace! The two of us have vowed friendship in God’s name, saying, God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever.’”
The last time David sees Jonathan is recorded in 1 Samuel 23—sometime after this incident: "One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 'Don’t be afraid,' Jonathan reassured him. 'My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.' So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh." (New Living Translation) A friend in deed.
When your world falls apart, what do you need? You need a friend: someone who will love you, treat you with respect, loyalty, and care. You need the presence of God with skin on.
I think that is one reason why God became flesh in the form of Jesus. It wasn’t enough for this unseen spirit being to proclaim his love. He created us to be relational. He knew we needed to see him and experience him in the flesh. Folks need the same thing today. We need it. Everyone needs it.
Someone has suggested God’s people are the second incarnation. As Jesus enfleshed God and served as his hands and feet in this world—we are called to be the hands, arms, shoulders, and feet of Jesus. We are to be “Jesus in blue jeans” for the friendless around us.
I’ve become convinced so many people in our communities are friendless. Or the friends they do have are not friends who have their best interests in mind. They are lonely. These are not people who attend church; not that they haven’t tried. They’ve just been burned by unhealthy churches. And they are dying away from the vine! They have no community to lift them up. They have no hope, no help, and no friends to inject life in them.
Question: are we willing to become friends to our world? May I suggest beginning a ministry of friendship? How? First, have you made friends in your church community? Or do you just come for a weekly spiritual inoculation? Do you come for a little dose of religion?
I remember when I first started out as a youth minister I was aggravated that kids came to church to see their friends rather than to worship; until I realized community is the primary function of the church. We need each other! I don’t need an accountability partner! I don’t need a discipler! I don’t need a teacher! I need a friend! Finding a friend is a great reason to attend Christian assemblies! This is why small home gatherings are popular among serious Christ-followers: because it’s hard to develop friendships sitting in an auditorium for one hour a week looking at the back of someone’s head. Christ-followers need to develop friendships with people who are focused on Jesus.
Secondly, begin looking for the friendless in your community. Don’t worry about setting up Bible studies or anything like that. Just become someone’s friend. Pour yourself into them. Do it without attaching any strings. Eventually, the opportunities will come along to share your story. Your job is not to necessarily convert them. Your job is to be “Jesus” to them. Give them a taste of what friendship with Jesus is like—by being a friend. Where can you find friends? Get together with a small group and start brain-storming about people with whom you have contact. Just open your eyes. I promise you, wherever you live, it is filled with friendless people: people who need friends.
I was fired once. Maybe I deserved it, maybe I didn’t. All I know is that I survived through the help of friends who had their heads screwed on straight; friends who had the heart of God. I’m certain you understand. We all need friends.
So may you experience a friendship like David and Jonathan. May you experience friendship within a church community. But may you never be satisfied with a limited group of friends. May you become a friend to the friendless—and may you become a Jonathan. Who knows, you might even find a David!