Today I want you to do a little mental exercise with me. Sound good? Too early? I promise this will be easy.
I want you to think of your top five friends. Say their names in your mind. See their faces. Who would make it into your top five? We all have many acquaintances in our lives—co-workers, classmates, neighbors, etc. But who is in your inner circle? So for pretend, let’s say that “Bob” is answering this question. By the way, Bob is a cool name. Pretty sure my next child will be named Bob, even if it’s a girl. So Bob makes his list and identifies the following as his five closest friends:
Mary (his wife) Johnny
There ya go! Bob has his five. Do you have yours? As you think of your friends, I want to ask you a very direct question. Are any of these friends challenging you to become stronger in your Christian faith? Are those who influence you most influencing you toward godliness? Are they inspiring you to study the Word of God more? Pray more? Give more? Serve more? Share your faith more? The Bible says in Proverbs 27:17 that “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” I absolutely love this word picture of iron sharpening iron. Two hearty and rugged forces colliding into one another. There is friction, resistance, sparks. While the process may not be especially alluring, the end result absolutely is. What was once jagged, coarse, and dull has become smooth, refined, and sharpened.
So today the question is not if your friends are influencing you. I assure you that you are becoming like those who are closest to you. Many of us (especially men) often try to dismiss or discount this reality. But it is just that, a reality. All of us are being influenced. The question is how.
My goal in our time together is to help you see the importance of putting “sharp” people around you. For your Christian faith to grow and mature, you must intentionally surround yourself with people who are growing and maturing. We need to be around believers who are strong in areas where we are weak. Who thrive in areas where we struggle. Who have defeated things that we still battle. Welcoming these kinds of men and women into your life means welcoming their influence. It means you are positioning yourself to be sharpened.
Let’s look at this principle in a different context. Let’s say Bob wants to get in better shape physically. After 12 years of marriage he is no longer worried about impressing Mary with his physique (he has traded in his six pack for a keg). He has gained weight, never exercises, and has an atrocious diet. He knows he needs to change, and knows he needs help to do it. So Bob looks over his list of close friends and recognizes that none of them are especially healthy. Johnny was once asked to leave a buffet. All of Steve’s pants have an elastic waste that say “one size fits all.” David used to be a great basketball player in high school, but these days all he dunks is donuts. Allen is on a first-name basis with all the workers at Wendy’s. So here’s the question—if Bob’s goal is to eat better and exercise, are any of his friends going to be able to really help him in this area? Oh sure they “know how” to get in shape, but are any of them doing it? Because what Bob needs is someone who can inspire him by their example, not their words.
Following this analogy? Let’s let it play out a little longer. Stick with me. So a few days later Bob is at work and notices his co-worker Charlie. Rather than swigging on a 127 oz drink from the local gas station, Charlie is all about that bottled water. While everyone else is buying Twinkies and Doritos from the vending machine, Charlie is snacking on fresh fruit or a protein bar. Charlie is trim and muscular and seems to always have lots of energy. Bob sees Charlie living the lifestyle that he wishes he was living. Bob wants what Charlie has! So he catches him in the parking lot one day and asks him some questions about his lifestyle. To his complete shock, Bob learns that only three years ago Charlie was 75 pounds overweight. When his doctor put him on blood pressure medicine he knew something had to change. He joined a gym, changed his diet, and resolved to get healthy. He shares his journey of transformation with Bob. He speaks with passion as he talks about how he has more energy to play with kids, feels better at work, and no longer needs medication. Bob is inspired by Charlie’s story, but moreso by Charlie’s discipline and lifestyle. Bob asks Charlie to come alongside him and help him get on the same pathway.
Please tell me we are getting this! Whether it’s physical or spiritual, the principle is the same. We have to surround ourselves with people who have what we want! The reason so many Christians have hit a plateau in their relationship with God is that they have no one in their inner circle who challenges them. If you are around complacent people, you will be complacent. But on the flipside, if you are around people who have a red-hot relationship with Christ, it will inspire you to do the same. So it really boils down to something very simple—WHO ARE YOU SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH? Only you can determine who gets to influence you. So, ultimately, when you choose who gets to be in your inner circle you are choosing who you yourself will become.
Want to clarify something. I am NOT saying you need to completely drop all your friends. What I am saying is that you need to take ownership of your faith. It is YOUR faith after all. No one else’s. So if you don’t have anyone sharpening you, making you want to pursue God more than you ever have...then start seeking out that person. Chances are they are already in your life, you just haven’t been connecting with them. Pray and ask God to bring you your Charlie. He will do it if you will only ask. When you allow Him to shape you in the context of community you will see changes that would have never happened if you attempted them on your own.
So what if I told you there are gatherings every week of people who, like you, want to get in good spiritual shape? That there are believers who go to God’s “gym” consistently. Wouldn’t you want to learn more about that and be around those people? Well here is your “AHA” moment—those “gyms” are called small groups. They are filled with people who want more than just showing up on Sunday. If you are ready to go to the next level, get to the next small group gathering. Charlie will save you a seat.