Do you have a friendship with Jesus?
St. Paul considered his friendship with Jesus the most important thing in his life. It exceeded his ministry, preaching, miracles, prophesies and every aspect of his life. He said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)
Jesus seemed to confirm this priority in his final words to the disciples when he prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The knowledge that Jesus was referring to was not just knowing about God and himself, but knowing the Father and the Son as a person and friend.
Is it possible to have a real friendship with God who we can’t see, or Jesus who died as a human person 2000 years ago?
The disciples and the 500 other people who saw Jesus after his resurrection (1 Co.15:6) would likely say yes. Paul, who had been persecuting Christians met Jesus in a vision on his way to Damascus and was given specific instructions about what he was to do next. Paul later describes how he was taken up into heaven to hear indescribable things. Various saints throughout history have had similar experiences.
Many years ago I was at a Christian gathering in which a priest asked us to engage our imagination to experience Jesus. You may think this sounds phony, but Jesuit author, William A. Barry in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says that the principal way in which God communicates with us is through our imagination, memories, insights and thoughts. Whether they are from God is a question of discernment, which is often determined by the fruit of what follows.
At that gathering, I imagined that I met Jesus on a lonely country road, south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm. I asked Jesus to take a particular burden from me. He did. And my life has never been the same since. I can describe every detail of that encounter – the gravel road, the farm house nearby, where the mailbox was, and what Jesus looked like and said. It was so real!
For almost 40 years I have been meeting with Jesus nearly every morning for coffee. We are friends like my best friend who is my wife; like a few Christian brothers who know me inside and out. The change and fruit in my life following that encounter would indicate that it was authentic, though I am still capable of messing up.
Jesus told the disciples, “I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15) We have the benefit of scripture to learn about the Father and the Son, and their offer to dwell within us. (John 14:23) We also have our God-created ability to think, imagine and receive insights. This, in combination with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, enables us to establish a friendship with the Father and the Son.
Friends share knowledge and experiences. A husband and wife share intimate details about their lives. Good friends share joys, sorrows, and the mundane.
God the Father and God the Son invite us to do the same.