April 1, 2014

Never Without a Friend

Walking into the Benson High School cafeteria on the first day of ninth grade was an exhilarating experience. Benson isn’t a neighborhood school, so I was unknown to most of the other students. That sense of anonymity gave me hope that I could leave behind the painful middle school memories of being bullied, and finally blossom into the social butterfly I knew I could be.

When classes let out for lunch, a flood of students poured into the cafeteria. There were no teachers there to tell us what to do and no assigned seats; this was my first real opportunity to break away from my shy past. Sadly, it was a long walk between the food serving line and the tables, and my introverted nature had me in its grip. Like steel that is inexorably drawn to a magnet, I made my way to a table far in the back of the cafeteria, where I knew no one else would venture. Feeling like an unwelcome outsider isn’t fun, and no one wants to be a loner. But for some of us, at times it is easier to shut out the rest of the world than to suffer through the awkwardness of polite conversation.

In spite of my attempt at solitude, I opened my eyes after saying a prayer over my meal to see that a fellow freshman had sat down at my table. Worse yet, he was staring at me. Assuming that I was a Christian, he asked what church I attended. That question sparked a surprisingly painless conversation which launched a friendship that lasted through four years of high school. Looking back, I can see that it was no coincidence that he and I ended up at the same table that day. God knew I needed a friend, and He brought one to me when I had no ability to make friends on my own.

Being alone, unfortunately, is something that you can get good at. Accepting rejection as the default for life can become its own twisted fallback position. That was how it was for me. So on the second day of school, I walked back to the same lonely table, expecting to be left alone. But when I arrived, I was shocked to find that nearly every seat around the table had been filled. To my surprise, God did not give me just one friend, but provided me with a circle of friends. He made sure that I never sat alone at lunch through four years of high school.

A couple years before that, when I was twelve years old, I was saved at a youth camp. But through my teenage years, I made the mistake of putting my faith in my feelings instead of God. I longed for victory that would supersede the impulses of a teenage mind which left me continually unsure about my standing before God. The Lord does not want us to be confused about our spiritual status, and I am thankful that He helped me to pray through to real and lasting victory during my junior year of high school. I was saved and firmly grounded in the Gospel on a Tuesday evening as I prayed in my bedroom. The next day when I went back to school, even though there was no visible change that anyone else could see, my entire life was heading in a new direction. On Thursday night, just two days after I was saved, God helped me pray through to the experience of sanctification.

Almost immediately, I had a deep desire to draw closer to God no matter the cost. I decided to fast during lunch each school day and use that time to read the Bible and pray. I didn’t tell anyone my plan, and certainly wasn’t trying to make a statement. I just wanted to be as close to God as possible, and was willing to do anything I thought might help me.

The trees lining the school race track looked like the perfect place to shut myself away with God. So each day at lunch, I would go out to the tree that I claimed as my own, climb its branches, and commune with God from my secret perch. My secret didn’t last very long, though; one day I approached my tree to find that it was full of people. Some of my friends from the cafeteria were there. They brought a few of their other friends as well. We spent our lunches out in the tree reading the Bible, talking about the things of God, and praying for each other. This was yet another evidence of the fact that these friends were a gift from the Lord.

A few weeks after I was sanctified, God met me at the altar on a Sunday evening and filled my soul with His precious Holy Spirit. I tried to relate my experiences to my friends, but simple words could never truly portray the glory of God.

When I started my senior year, I had decided to eat lunch again and a new face joined us at the cafeteria table. He was a freshman band student and, like the rest of us, he felt like a social outcast and was looking for friendship. I was happy to befriend someone with a similar past. Sometimes he would call me after school and ask questions about God and the Bible. One day, he came to the lunch table and I could tell that something was wrong. Looking at me with tears streaming down his face, he showed me the scars where he had been cutting himself and asked me why life had to be so horrible. I didn’t have any answers myself, but was glad that I could direct him to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who has all the answers for life’s toughest questions. Jesus wants to be our Friend and to walk with us through the good times and the difficult times in life. No matter what we are facing today, it is a great comfort to know that we never need to face it alone if we are walking with Him.

Thinking back on my high school experiences reminds me of a news article that I read recently. In 2006, while cleaning out the attic of his mother’s house, a man discovered an old leather satchel, which had been forgotten for nearly seventy years. Curious about his discovery, the man opened the satchel and found a violin. It could not be played due to the extent of deterioration, but the man immediately suspected that the violin was a part of an interesting story.

The man gave the battered instrument to a team of historians to piece together its history. Seven years later, the consensus of the research team revealed that the violin had been given to Wallace Hartley from his fiancé, as a gift to commemorate their engagement. Hartley then played the violin as the bandleader aboard the RMS Titanic on its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. On the evening of April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. In the midst of the fear and chaos aboard the sinking ship, Hartley used his violin for good. Attempting to calm and encourage the worried passengers, he led his band in a rendition of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” His body was recovered not long after the ship sank, and the violin case was strapped to his back.

Though the violin possessed a very unassuming appearance, had incurred serious water damage, and had been hidden away in humble surroundings for decades, it held immense historical value. In light of this, a collector of Titanic artifacts purchased the violin in October 2013 for 1.7 million dollars!

Like that violin, a life of poor choices may have left you broken and scarred. Maybe you’ve lived a pretty good life but you still feel the way I did as a high school freshman, believing that you do not possess much value. Yet God values you immeasurably. He loves you more than you will ever be able to comprehend. He lovingly created you with good plans for your future, and even right now He is reaching out to you, longing for you to travel this journey of life with Him.

It is awesome that God cared enough to provide me with the companionship of good friends at the very moment when I needed it the most. More importantly, I am so thankful that God made provision through Jesus that I might have a new life in Christ. Beyond that, I am amazed that God could use me, with my limited abilities, to be a blessing to others. Truly God can and will supply every need we have, if we will only look to Him.

apostolic faith magazine