You may remember the popular song back in the early 80s, You’ve Got a Friend written by Carole King. It’s a beautiful song of commitment and love. Remember the words?
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend.
We all need friends. Surely there have been times you wished that you had a friend—someone to help when the chips are down. Surely you have wished at times that you had someone to talk to when you were lonely—someone to listen to your problems, someone who cared, someone who would love you even if you were in the wrong?
Or you were glad you had a friend like that. But I think there’s another aspect of all this—and that God can be your friend. To think that the One eternal God, maker of heaven and earth, wants to be your friend is mind blowing—it’s incredible to know that he wants to be your friend. It means that as God is your friend, no situation is ever hopeless. He is there to help and assist you any time. Things will work out eventually because you have a divine friend.
Yes, for most of us it is important to have friends. For most of us it would be important to know—beyond the shadow of a doubt—that God is your friend. Sometimes we think that famous people like movie stars have their lives together—but not so.
Philip Yancey is the author of the book Where Is God When It Hurts? He talks about interviewing the beautiful people—famous football players, movie stars, authors, TV personalities. He talks about how we idolise them—how we want to be like them; how we want to know every detail of their lives, their clothes, their romances, even their toothpaste. Then he says: “Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience, these our ‘idols’ are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met. Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seem tormented by incurable self-doubt.”
Hard to imagine, isn’t it! But we know that it’s true. We know about their broken marriages—their addiction to drugs and alcohol. We know that their talent has a dark side. If the beautiful people find themselves “tormented by incurable self-doubt”, we need not feel odd if we, too, sometimes feel lonely—isolated, uncertain, like we need a friend. That is part of the human condition.
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That is how Jesus’ disciples felt—lonely, isolated, uncertain. They needed a friend and felt betrayed when Jesus spoke about leaving them. He was talking about dying and yet the disciples had made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. In fact, they had staked everything on him. They had walked away from their fishing businesses. They had left home and allowed themselves to believe that Jesus was the one who would turn everything around—would make everything right. They had believed that he was the Messiah—the one who would save Israel.
And now he was talking about leaving them. Can you imagine how they felt? How could it be that he asked them to follow him if he intended to leave them? Why had he brought them this far if he intended leaving them? Yea—I’m sure the disciples felt that they needed a friend.
Jesus knew that his disciples were afraid—he made them a promise. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” In the original Greek, the word we translate as ‘advocate’ is parakletos. Well it means ‘someone called in to help’:
- A parakletos could be a lawyer called in to defend you.
- It could be a witness called in to testify in your behalf.
- A parakletos could be anyone called in to help in your hour of need.
- A friend.
Jesus, knowing that he would soon ascend back to the Father, promised his disciples a parakletos—someone on whom they could call when they needed help; someone who would be there for them in their hour of need. Jesus promised that this friend would be with them forever.
That is where we come in. This friend is available to us as well, to guide us when we need guidance and to protect us from harm. This is the Holy Spirit, God dwelling in our hearts. That might seem pretty academic to you—not especially useful ‘where the rubber meets the road’ in the nitty-gritty of your life. But it isn’t academic at all, because it works—it helps.
I remember reading about Colonel Thomas Schaefer, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran when that embassy was overrun and the Americans taken prisoner. Colonels are seasoned veterans and tend to be strong—and Schaefer was no exception. However, being taken prisoner in a hostile nation—not knowing if he would ever see his family again. Held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with nothing to read and nothing to do—Schaefer found himself at the edge of his limits. But he was a Christian, and so he got down on his knees and prayed, “God, I cannot handle this. I need your help.” He says, “And I got it!” He received the help that he needed to survive those long, seemingly endless, days of captivity.
The parakletos—the friend, the Holy Spirit—gave him the strength that he needed.