To be clear, I’m not talking about crushing the dreams of every 8-year old. Or my current dreams…don’t do that.
But after my freshman year of college, one of the graduating seniors whom I looked up to most wrote me a short but powerful letter. He probably doesn’t even remember doing so, but one piece of advice convicted me and has stuck with me ever since:
God doesn’t ask us to be cowboys. Never go solo into a fight.
After reading the letter, I began to realize that I had spent most of my freshman year on a spiritual island. I had a few Christian friends, attended RUF, and went to church, but I didn’t really have a spiritual home. I wasn’t part of a team. Christian “fellowship” and “community”—two overused yet under-realized words in so many Christian circles—were notably absent from my life.
And sadly, I was ok with that; in fact, I almost relished the challenge. It was me and Jesus vs. the world, and I didn’t need anyone else’s help.
In all the wrong ways, I was riding solo. I was Clint Eastwood riding off into the sunset, my secular campus the deserted wasteland minus the tumbleweed blowing across the screen. But rather than riding with a gang of lawmen at my side, I was trying to do it on my own.
And I wasn’t the only one. My friend who wrote the letter—perhaps the manliest man I will ever meet—wrote out of his own struggles with stubborn independence.
Like me, my friend was raised in a culture that teaches kids to be cowboys and cowgirls. Independence, individualism, and self-sufficiency have become the gold standard for “growing up.” Everybody wants to be the hero, and the hero doesn’t ask for help.
Whether in school, sports, or everyday interactions, society explicitly and implicitly drills a similar message to all students: boys—be your own man. Be strong. Grow up, get a job, and lead a family. And don’t you dare read an instruction manual or ask for directions along the way. And girls—it’s a man’s world out there. So put your big girl pants on, toughen up, and go change it. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that just won’t cut it.
But that’s not God’s way. When the world tells us we have to trust in ourselves and our own abilities, God offers counter-cultural comfort through dependence on Him, supported through vulnerable, Christ-centered friendships. God doesn’t want cowboys; He wants an army.
Admittedly, teaching students to seek out godly friends (perhaps for the thousandth time), to walk through life together, may seem like meaningless repetition. But too often, the conversation is framed around avoiding hanging out with the wrong crowd and staying out of trouble.
Instead, if we show students that God desires us to seek and find Godly friends to support us in our everyday lives and bring us closer to Him, then they can begin to recognize the joy and strength we find in Christ when we understand we don’t have to do this whole life thing alone.
Three in One
We serve a relational God. He understands the joy of living in community, and He created us with the innate need for fellowship with Him and others. “Let us make man in our image,” God said in Genesis 1. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all live in loving union, and God desires that we join Him in that beautiful union on earth and in heaven.
We partake in this divine union because the Spirit of God lives within us, meaning that the Father and Son are also eternally within us. At the same time, we can more tangibly experience our communion with God on earth by joining with fellow believers. Writing to the church in Ephesus, John shared his personal testimony of Jesus “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
In short, fellowship with other believers is fellowship with God Himself. And while having friendships with nonbelievers is also important, students must recognize the depth and significance of a friendship rooted in Jesus.
Two by Two
According to scholars Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, “It takes two to make a thing go right.” Or if you prefer God’s infinite wisdom, He simply observed, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Keep in mind that God said this about Adam in the Garden, while Adam still lived in perfect relationship with God—we’re all wired for fellowship with God and people.
Not only do godly friends help us live in communion with Christ, but they also strengthen, encourage, and even carry us through life. “Two are better than one,” Solomon says, “for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, two are stronger than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
And praise be to God, He knows our every need! Throughout Scripture, God repeatedly provides His people with close friends for support. Adam married Eve. Aaron spoke for Moses. Ruth saved Naomi. Jonathan encouraged David. And when Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He sent them two by two so that each could support, strengthen, and encourage the other when the going got tough.
In short, He sent teams, not lone rangers. Day in, day out, these godly men and women worked together, laughed together, cried together, worshipped together, and yes, screwed up together.
Even Jesus, God in the flesh, asked for help. His disciples were His closest friends, with whom He wept, washed feet, and asked for prayer in His moment of greatest need. And even though His friends often let Him down (and ours will too), Jesus shows that through only vulnerability—through truly knowing and being known by others—will we find the closeness, strength, and true fellowship that God desires for us.
To be sure, Jesus is and always will be our most faithful friend. He has already exposed Himself and given everything for us. But as we walk the earth, as a timid 7th grader or a lonely Christian at college or even a minister at a godly church, remember that God never meant for us to saddle up and ride alone. Through Christ-centered friendships, God provides the help and support we need to navigate this cowboy-crazed world, and He gives us a glimpse of our heavenly home as we draw nearer to Him in unison with other believers.