The Transforming Friendship—Reflections on the Writing of Weatherhead

Before I begin today’s reflection, I want to remind readers once again about the purpose of this blog. My intention, prayers, and hopes are to provide a forum where Christians can talk about issues of faith and/or real problems they face, identifying resources they use/draw upon to help them overcome these problems or deal with issues. I encourage interested readers to share their own experiences in the context of the day’s topic. Only then will this blog reach its full potential and God-given purpose.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.—Rev. 3:20 (NIV)

An old Scotsman lay very ill, and his minister came to visit him. As the minister sat down on a chair near the bedside, he noticed on the other side of the bed another chair placed at such an angle as to suggest that a visitor had just left it. “Well, Donald,” said the minister glancing at the chair, “I see I am not your first visitor.” The Scotsman looked up in surprise, so the minister pointed to the chair. “Ah!” said the sufferer, “I’ll tell you about the chair. Years ago I found it impossible to pray. I often fell asleep on my knees I was so tired. And if I kept awake I could not control my thoughts from wandering. One day I was so worried I spoke to my minister about it. He told me not to worry about kneeling down, ‘Just sit down,’ he said, ‘and put a chair opposite you, imagine that Jesus is in it and talk to Him as you would to a friend.'” “And,” the Scotsman added, “I have been doing that ever since. So now you know why the chair is standing like that.” A week later the daughter of the old Scotsman drove up to the minister’s house and knocked at the door. She was shown into the study, and when the minister came in she could hardly restrain herself. “Father died in the night,” she sobbed. “I had no idea death could be so near. I had just gone to lie down for an hour or two. He seemed to be sleeping so comfortably. And when I went back he was dead. He hadn’t moved since I saw him before, except that his hand was out on the empty chair at the side of the bed. Do you understand?” “Yes,” said the minister, “I understand.”

The reality of this transforming friendship is reached not through argument but through experience.

The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but his loved ones know.

But they know.

—From The Transforming Friendship by Leslie D. Weatherhead

Have you ever wondered what it means to have “communion with Jesus?” I have. Years ago I read Weatherhead’s book and found it tremendously helpful in answering that question. I especially like the poignant story above because it has all the markings of real fellowship between Christ and one of his beloved children (note too that the disciple was not spared suffering). In part, because of Weatherhead’s little booklet, and because I have intentionally tried to practice what Weatherhead preached, I have been able to develop a closer relationship with Jesus. As with any relationship that involves humans, it’s not perfect but it’s definitely becoming a deeper, more intimate relationship. What’s the secret? Faith, practice, and more practice.

The first and most important lesson I learned from reading Weatherhead was to treat Jesus like a person, not some abstract concept or historical relic consigned to the past. Doing so helped me understand that I have to do the same things with Jesus that I must do to cultivate any relationship—work at it and invest myself in it. What does that look like in my daily life? Well, when I am driving alone in my car, for example, I try to picture Jesus sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I talk with him and try to listen for his voice (see my previous reflections on this—mind you, I don’t hear an audible voice but I do hear his voice at times). Knowing that Jesus is in the car with me also tends to help me be on my best behavior (and when my wife reads this, I’m quite sure she will want me to picture Jesus sitting in between us when we’re in the car together! :)). After all, it’s certainly not polite to issue the flying fickle finger of fate to some crazy driver who just cut you off when your Lord and Savior is sitting beside you!

Likewise, when a noble thought strikes me or I am moved to some act of compassion, I try to remind myself that Jesus must be present and has prompted me to think or act in that manner. I have also written in a previous entry about how I look at his face during my morning prayer time to cultivate a greater sense of his presence. Now certainly Jesus is present with me ALL the time, whether or not I am aware of him being with me, but that is not my point; rather, the point is that I must work on my end of this relationship so that our friendship grows. The more I work at it, i.e., the more I practice, the better able I am to cultivate my Lord’s presence. This is not unlike thinking constantly about our beloved spouse or friends when they are not present. The more intimate we become with them, the more they become part of us, irrespective of physical limitations or time and space constraints. That’s what I am constantly working on, and not always successfully. Some days are better than others, of course, but there is not a day that goes by without me thinking about my beloved Savior or listening for his Voice. I should also point out that my ability to cultivate this relationship is heavily dependent on my other spiritual disciplines (daily Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, tithing, and weekly worship).

In regards to the spiritual discipline of weekly worship, my growing friendship with Jesus has also helped me change my attitudes about the way folks worship. For example, I loathe contemporary music to the degree that I am convinced if I am ever cast into hell, it will surely be a place where I am forced to listen to this music for all eternity. 🙂 Seriously, despite my personal feelings about contemporary music, I am all for it if it helps folks grow in their friendship with our Living Lord. Likewise, if folks can find meaning in crossing themselves, or genuflecting, or lighting candles, or reading psalms, or waving hands, or whatever else, I’m all for it. In other words, the mode of worship should focus on developing a REAL relationship with the real person Jesus so that believers find themselves in an increasingly intimate relationship with their Lord. THAT’S communion with Christ! As such, believers should always do those things that are meaningful to them as they try to practice the presence of God. So whatever its mode (or form), as long as it helps the believer find our Risen Lord and strike a meaningful relationship with him, mark me down as being all for it, irrespective of my own personal beliefs about a particular mode or form of worship.

Based on my experience and the experience of countless others, if seekers can find the real Jesus and not their own made-up version of him, I am confident they will never have to worry about correct doctrine or any such thing because they will have found the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

What about you? Do you have a satisfying relationship with Jesus? If so, what do you do to help grow it? What does Jesus do to cultivate your friendship? What problems have you encountered in your relationship with Jesus and how were you able to overcome them (or were you)? If you don’t have a satisfying relationship with Jesus, what is standing in your way and how can we help? Share your wisdom and experience with us so that together we might grow in our love for Jesus and each other.