I recently read an article by Greg Trimble called “The Most Dangerous Temptation That Faces our Youth” and it was completely on point as it named that temptation as our children’s friends. Those friends, more than any other earthly influence, will help them determine their steps in the day to day.
As moms and dads who love the Lord, we share scripture, we try to plant seeds in their hearts for Jesus, we love and encourage. But then we pray, wait, watch, and hope for the best as they go out into the world each day. We do not have the privilege of making choices for our kids. We do not have the opportunity to help steer their steps as they approach each fork in the road. And we shouldn’t…even though it is so very hard to let them go.
But on many occasions at school, sporting events, social gatherings, and even church, our kids will not be making decisions alone. They will have friends whose opinion and direction they will seek. So how do we help them choose that inner circle of friends that we know will help them be men and women after God’s own heart and not the things of this world?
I have six things I pray out loud for my own children each morning on the way to school, and I believe they are some of the keys to look for in close friends as well. These are my go-to for thinking deeper about their own hearts…and their friends…when hard situations arise. So, here are six questions to help determine if a friend is one for their inner circle (and I would say that these apply to adults as well):
1. Do they speak life? So much of our influence comes through the words that we speak. Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death…” and Luke 6:45 tells us that “what you say flows from what is in your heart.” When you are with a friend, are their words lifting people up, encouraging others, and bringing hope? Or are they tearing others down, gossiping, and making you feel bad about yourself? It’s very easy for us to say, “oh, I didn’t mean that” or “that came out wrong.” But as Paul David Tripp expressed, we should really be saying, “I’m sorry for saying what I really meant” even if it was hurtful and ugly. Listen carefully and take people’s words to heart because it tells you a lot about who they are on the inside.
2. Do they guard their hearts and minds from the things of this world? The Bible tells us that whatever goes into our heart and mind will eventually come out in our words and actions. Television, movies, music, apps, social media, YouTube…our world is bombarded with technology at our fingertips. And the things we watch and listen to can’t help but have an effect on the way we live and treat others. Kelly Knause shared a quote from a former pastor that said, “Big doors swing on small hinges of obedience,” and that’s so very true. Each little decision we make can have lasting consequences. When the choice is: rap song with cussing vs. one without, movie with intimate scenes vs. one without, YouTube star whose focus is outer beauty and material things vs. one who focuses on kindness…will there be a decision to go with the first because it’s “popular” or the last? Will they choose opportunities for obedience to God’s word…or acceptance from the world.
3. Do they do the right thing even when it’s hard or embarrassing? It’s so easy to bend to peer pressure. To take a step back and claim ignorance or lack of ability as an excuse for our inaction when we have an opportunity to help. If your best friend is making jokes about another kid, do you tell him to stop? If you have an embarrassing moment, does your friend laugh at you with the crowd or come to your aid? If your classmate sends ugly texts about a friend, do you just look away, or tell someone before it gets worse? In 2 Chronicles 34:2, it tells us about King Josiah and that, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.” Who will you please? Whose example will you follow? It doesn’t tell us that all of his people did what was right. It says he did. We have to be willing to be that one and choose friends who are too.
4. Do they listen to and obey authority figures? We live in a world where so many tell us to make ourselves happy, to put our own thoughts and opinions above others, and that no one has “the right” to tell us we are wrong. Where parents step in and rescue their children from the consequences of their actions and those same children, as a result, feel free to talk back to their teachers, policemen, and others in leadership. In Deuteronomy, it tells us in numerous places to obey the laws, honor your father and mother, and “do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight” so “all will go well with you.” Rules and boundaries are put in place for our safety and the safety of others. To guard us from things that are not good for us. Story after story in my own life and others, paints a picture of how rebellion from authority figures did not “go well.” We must have a heart of submission and choose friends who do as well to help with the next step.
5. Do they apologize and ask for forgiveness when they’ve done something wrong? Nothing in our lives is more important than knowing how much we need Jesus. But to understand that, humility has to take root in our hearts. One way to know if someone has that is to see how they react and respond when they have messed up. Will they try to make things right…or allow their pride to have control? In friendship, in any relationship, we all mess up. We will all hurt feelings and let others down at some point. But to keep a relationship healthy, we must be able to admit our shortcomings and understand that Jesus is the only one who can help us make amends and do better next time…in His strength and not our won.
6. Do they help you understand how loved and valuable you are to the Lord? We were all created by the King of Kings because we were loved and valued and formed with a purpose in mind. And we all need reminding. We all need mercy and hope and faith and reminders of sustaining grace spoken into our lives from those closest to us. Their support just means more. Jeremiah 29:11 says that the Lord has plans for “good and not disaster, to give a future and a hope” for all of us. We need to know that we have cheerleaders rooting for us to succeed, reminding us of our strengths, and doing all of the things above so we can stand strong together.
Oh y’all, help your children navigate this crazy life by giving them support and encouragement to choose friends who will love them and stand by them like you would. They may not always take your advice. They may not always follow through like you hope. They may even break your heart through their choices, in spite of everything you have taught them. But know that every small seed you plant will not go to waste. One day, it may be watered and then harvested through others the Lord chooses (1Cor.3:6-9).
Keep praying, keep guiding, and keep modeling what true friendships look like. We are all in this together. Col.1:17