You’ve got a friend

When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand, and nothing, oh nothing is going right… Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I’ll be there… You’ve got a friend. —Carole King

A railroad runs through North Carolina State University. As a student, one of my greatest joys was to slip down the grassy embankment and walk the rails. Long before boys discover girls, they fall in love with trains—yet another of the profound distinctions between the sexes. Anyway, one cool and dewy fall morning, I was dodging fast-moving freights when I discovered a treasure among the weeds: a broken and discarded coupler.

A coupler is an iron apparatus that joins one boxcar to another. It looks something like a gigantic human forearm with a cupped hand. As soon as I saw it, I knew it had the makings of a fantastic sculpture. There was only one problem: The thing was too heavy to move.

So, I got on the phone and called a friend. At such times as these, true friends are at their very best. My friend did not laugh, nor did he question my sanity. No, he grabbed ahold of the thing and lifted. Together, we wrestled the iron beast into my old Radio Flyer wagon and shoved it a quarter of a mile through weeds and gravel to my truck. My friendship lived on, but that wagon was never again quite the same.

Months later, through long nights of creative agony, I transformed that rusty coupler into a gleaming tribute to the industrial revolution—you’ll find it on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Yeah, right. The ugly truth is this: The thing became a rusting, 350 pound albatross around my neck. It was simply too big and too heavy to work with. A few years later, desperate to get rid of it, I buried it in the back yard.

But here’s the point: Had it not been for the help of a friend, I would never have had the chance to fail to realize my dream of making great art from a broken box-car coupler. More generally, we never accomplish anything significant in life without friends, mentors, teachers, parents and others to help us along the way.

Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. —Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NLT

Annika Sorenstam is one of the world’s great golfers. Despite her natural athletic gifts, she has often spoken of the coaches and fellow golfers who have shown her ways to raise her game to a higher level. Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist and mathematician, once remarked, “If I was able to see farther, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus and his friends, the twelve disciples, gathered for a final meal. Something terrible was lurking around the corner and their hearts were breaking. Jesus urged them to remain faithful to him and to each other, then he said this:

If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you. I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back… The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. —John 14:16-18, 26, The Message (Jesus speaking)

Friend. Holy Spirit. Spirit of Truth. In the original Greek, that word “friend” is parakletos, a word meaning advocate, helper or comforter—”friend” bundles them all into something familiar. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is sent to us by God to be our friend.

I have to admit that sounds implausible. We’re talking about the eternal Creator of the universe, the Prime Mover, the omnipotent and holy God. In all other faiths, God is at best unapproachable—in most he is simply unknown and unknowable. He is thought to be a mysterious, life-giving force, or perhaps a stern and rigid judge of wickedness. But friend?

Christianity is unique. It teaches that God became human for a time in the person of Jesus Christ. He walked the hills of Israel, perspired under the blazing sun, grew hungry and thirsty and tired, ate and drank and slept, loved and grieved. He experienced life exactly as we do, but he wasn’t satisfied to stop there.

As a human being, Christ knew limitations. He could only be in one place at a time. He had to sleep. His body could bleed and die.

No such limits hamper the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures teach that he indwells the heart of every believer. He is with us in every gritty and difficult moment of life. He knows us and serves as our advocate, speaking to God on our behalf. He knows God and reveals him to us.

Most important of all, the Holy Spirit is the source of Christianity’s life-transforming power. He is the one who strengthens us and helps us develop new habits of the heart. He joins us in the yoke-partnership that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30 and shares our burdens.

Islam calls its followers to carefully observe the laws of Allah, to pray faithfully and to be devoted to a life of good works. Buddhism calls its practitioners to find peace and enlightenment through meditation.

Christianity gives us the very presence of God. Through the Holy Spirit—our Advocate, our Helper, our Comforter, our Friend—we have a relationship and ongoing dialogue with the Creator of all heaven and earth.

It’s a good thing to have friends in high places.

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