When you run into an obstacle in your path, what happens? Everyone encounters obstacles, but some people give up and others press on. Why is that? Granted, there are a number of reasons, and many of those reasons depend on how many other obstacles you’ve encountered previously. But I truly believe one of the most important factors for those people who press forward are their friends. And they don’t even have to be close friends. Even an acquaintance can help someone make the decision to keep going when without them they might have given up.
Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:17.
As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.
I’ve always loved this verse. I love the symbolism of it. Iron sharpens iron. The thing about it that’s so cool is that if you try to sharpen iron with a metal that’s softer than it is, not only will you destroy the softer material, you’ll dull the iron too. Not saying you can’t have friends who aren’t the same kind of iron, because diversity in our friendships is important too. But a friend who doesn’t challenge you, a friend who doesn’t encourage you won’t help you much.
And I really think that’s what it comes down to most of the time–encouragement. What is encouragement? See many people hear encouragement and think it means you have to love. And that’s not untrue. A lot of encouragement is love. In fact, encouraging someone is pretty difficult if you don’t love them, but love is only a tiny part of what encouragement actually does. Some people hear encouragement and think that means they have to make allowances for people’s failures and accept people where they are with no question. And that’s also good. Part of real love is making allowances for people’s’ faults and meeting them where they are. But just because we’re supposed to love people that way doesn’t mean we need to help them stay there.
Encouragement is building others up. Think about the word itself. It means to give courage. And you don’t give someone courage by giving them a reason to sit on the bench.
Encouragement isn’t easy. No, it’s the farthest thing from easy. It’s so much easier just to pat someone on the back and let them roll around in their insecurities and their failures and their insufficiencies. It’s so much easier to just listen while they want to give up, to stand by while they make terrible decisions, to remain silent when they start down a path that will ultimately lead to trouble.
I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been that friend who was too afraid to encourage someone to make the right choice, and I’ve been that friend who tried to help them pick up the pieces afterward. I don’t ever want to be that kind of friend again.
I have so many friends in my life who have encouraged me–really encouraged me. Yes, I have many who have loved me and who still do (miraculously). But the ones who have encouraged me stand apart because in the moments of my life when I was ready to give up, they wouldn’t let me. In the times when I was on the verge of letting go of my dreams, they helped me find the courage to hold on. When I was facing insurmountable obstacles, they stood beside me.
Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? Do your friends make you better? Or do they just love you from a distance? Maybe they don’t actively tear you down but they aren’t doing anything to build you up either.
Sharpening isn’t really a pleasant experience. To me it feels like pruning. But the stronger we get, the more we can accomplish, the more God can use us, the more people we can help. And iron can’t sharpen itself. Left on its own, it rusts. Without sharpening, it will become dull. The same is true with us. Friends will keep us sharp, and the sharpest friends are the ones who encourage us, even though it may not be fun at the time. The best friends are the ones who never let you give up. The best friends are the ones who tell you the truth in love and respect. The best friends jump into the trenches with you.
If you’ve got those friends, thank God for them. They’re priceless. If you don’t, don’t give up till you find some. You’ll be better off with friends like that in your life. Maybe the people you know now are good at patting you on the back and congratulating you for mediocrity or even when you give up. But I wouldn’t call them friends. Friends accept each other, yes, but they also make each other better.