The time is approximately 64 AD.
The place is a Roman Prison.
The room is small and sparsely furnished with a heavy wooden table, a small oil lamp and a stool. On top of the table various scrolls are scattered, a quill, some parchments and a nearly empty ink well. In one corner of the small space is a lumpy pallet made of straw; a roughly woven blanket neatly folded at one end. In the opposite corner an old man is kneeling in prayer to God. His face is turned upward and he looks as though he were expecting an answer from someone far beyond the low stone ceiling. To the one watching, this old man’s spirit is soaring away. The confines of this dingy little room serve as no barrier to him as he communes with his Heavenly Father.
The setting is the cold, damp prison cell of the Mammertine Prison in Rome, under the rule of Nero, Caesar. The old man is the famed Apostle Paul, awaiting trial for crimes against the state. He is guilty of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ—the founder of the new Jewish sect—often described as “The Way.” The Roman Empire is rife with violence against those who proclaim Jesus Christ as the one and only God—or any other god than Nero, Caesar of Rome.
The Apostle concludes his prayer and stands. Moving to his desk, he picks up a parchment and reads what he has already written, absentmindedly stroking his long beard with gnarled, arthritic fingers. Reflecting on the recent events in which he is caught up, he sighs. Without God’s intervention, there seems to be no physical way out of this prison and this mess.
He has endured many things for the cause of the Gospel. He has been beaten, stoned and left for dead; he survived shipwreck and several times, imprisonment, not to mention the public scorn of fellow countrymen, and strangers in foreign countries.
“. . .do not be ashamed. . .”
Sighing, he picks up his pen and begins to write again. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner…”
He stops and smiles slightly. “OR of me, His prisoner. . .”
The faces of some of his so-called friends pass before his mind’s eye. He has been abandoned by many who were ashamed of him and his chains. Oh, he understood their temptation. They were fearful of their own lives and hence, left their old friend and mentor alone—comfortless, except for the company of the Holy Spirit and his strong memories of Timothy, his dear son in the faith.
Ah! Timothy would come to him soon—he was sure of it. The old Apostle chides himself and begins writing again. He must stop musing and finish this letter so that Timothy could receive it and begin his journey to Rome.
“Do your best to come to me quickly. . .”
In this fictional piece about Paul, we can sense his deep longing to see his friend and spiritual son, Timothy again. Since making the decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ, trial after trial had come into his life. Paul, and his message, became an offense to many—even in Christian circles. Persecution and fear drove some of his friends away. Others, even some of his closest friends, became ashamed of him, and abandoned him. But his close friendship with Timothy, and a few others, warmed his heart during those dark days just prior to his execution—hence this letter sent to Timothy.
Paul urges him, “Do your best to come to me quickly. . .” Then Paul tells him of those who have deserted him. (2 Timothy 4:9-16) He does not forget though to tell Timothy of his one, true Friend who did not leave him in his time of need. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength. . .” Paul boasted that it was through the enabling of the Lord that he was able to continue preaching the message he had been commissioned to preach to the Gentiles.
Friendship—the gift beyond all price!
Friendship—like sunshine after a cool spell–warms us and restores us, right to our very core. However, there are some who have died alone, without having one single friend to lament their passing. Sad are such stories–and I sincerely hope that no one reading this will know such an one. Instead, I hope that you are rich in friendships.
There is much written on this topic of friendship, and I will not attempt to elaborate deeply on it today—except to say: Sincere and loyal friendship is one of the greatest sources of encouragement for any human being–child or adult, male or female.
Often a child’s earliest phrases include, “Will you be my friend?” But friendships are not always easy to make or to keep. Lasting friendships are ones that pass through various stages of life and endure. Such a life shared with another is often our greatest encouragement–particularly as we grow older. According to Mark Leary, as reported in a November 1995 issue of Psychology Today, “we are happiest when basking in the acceptance and praise of others”.
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” (William Shakespeare)
Although there are many forms of friendship, certain characteristics are present in each and every one. These include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, enjoyment of each others’ company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend. And don’t forget–being a good listener, and one who keeps a confidence.
“. . . but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b.)
This week, I experienced firsthand the sweet gift of friendship from someone who exhibits most of those qualities in her friendships. I was feeling overwhelmed and sad about an incident that happened months ago. Thinking it was finished and in the past, I was surprised and distressed when it surfaced again, stirring up some powerful emotions in my heart. Feeling the buildup of stress, I was reluctant to burden my husband with it. (After all, he had already heard it all many times!)
Sensing that I needed to talk, my good friend offered a listening ear. An hour later—my stress was lifted significantly and my outlook on the whole situation became more positive. She shared some things from her life too—that helped restore a balance in my perspective. I left our meeting feeling loved, refreshed and encouraged.
“The first duty of love is to listen”—Paul Tillich
Alan Loy McGinnis in his wise book, The Friendship Factor, states a number of principles proven to improve our friendships. I was not surprised to learn that one of these is ‘Learn to Listen’.
Here are a just few tips mentioned in his chapter on “How to Improve Your Conversational Skills.” I hope these guidelines will help you, as they have me, to develop deeper intimacy in your friendships.
- Good listeners listen with their eyes
- Good listeners dispense advice sparingly
- Good listeners never break a confidence
- Good listeners show gratitude when someone confides in them
I concur. How can we ‘share’ life with another without being a good listener?
How would your friends rate YOU as a listener? Are you taking time to build “listening” into your times with a friend–or do you end up doing most of the talking?
How about scheduling a break with a good friend—just for the purpose of a leisurely conversation.
Enjoy the rabbit-trails! Laugh a lot. Listen–a lot. Cry–as needed. Ponder. Marvel. Pray together.
Remember: Encouragement comes from a life shared!
Thank you for taking time to read this post today. If you were blessed, share it, ‘like’ it on Facebook, or email it to a friend. If you would like to read more–click “Follow” and you will be notified each time I post another article. Take a moment and send me a comment–I’d like to know what you liked most about this post. That would encourage me!
If you would like to learn more about the Apostle Paul and his mentoring relationship with Timothy, you can download a free bible study here: simply click on (or copy & paste) the following link: http://www.lindakbridges.com/free-printables/ into your browser.
All God’s best to you,