It was late afternoon, when the old man was walking slowly on a narrow path through his garden, giving thanks to God for the colorful flowers that grew there and at the same time thanking Him for the beautiful friendships that had grown in his garden of life. Sensing that the wind was about to change from the south to the east, he turned to his garden and proclaimed, “Rain is comin!” A quick glance at the darkening western sky with thunderheads boiling high, gave him the confidence to add to his prophecy, “And a storm with it!” Filled with enthusiasm, he thought to himself,”It’s time to get my house in order.” Stopping often to catch his breath, he eventually made it up to his house.

After taking care of what needed to be done, he looked out of his window at the approaching thunderstorm. With excitement and anticipation he hurried, the best he could, to his porch where he could be as close as possible to this tremendous display of God’s reoccurring, creative power. A cool breeze drew him to his favorite chair. As he nestled down, lightening illuminated the sky and thunder shook the very foundation of his house! A smile of amazement, along with a feeling of awe, slightly mixed with fright, ushered in the anticipated adrenaline rush! Eyes wide, he awaited the first drop of rain….. There it was! A pitter…and then a patter, growing and intensifying rapidly! The old man braced himself. Without warning, sounding like a stampede of wild horses racing toward him, blankets of rain drenched everything in sight!… His thoughts leaped centuries into the past. He wondered what it might have been like for Noah and his family. Did they peer out of small openings at the top of the Ark to see the waters falling from the heavens and shooting up from the earth like had never been seen before? Then a horrible thought entered his mind. Did they hear the screams of people perishing as the raging flood waters took them down? What about their friends? Surely they had a few friends that didn’t dessert them? If so, they didn’t believe and they were lost…. As quickly as it came, the rain slowed it’s pace to a gentle rhythmic beat.

Now in a dreamy state, the man sat back to relax and just listen to God as long as natures melody would last. With the night air now filled with a freshness left behind by the rain, he spoke toward Heaven, as if he were addressing a great cloud of witnesses, “What a blessed man I am!” The rain reminded him of his friend who loved thunderstorms as much as he did. He began asking God to bless his friend by meeting the needs in his life and he thanked Him for causing their paths to cross. This was no ordinary friend. He only had one friend like this in all his years. Through the storms of life, this friend was there for him. Standing strong, as an anchor on a ship that is buffeted by violent winds. His friend had  been a constant in his chaotic life, providing a safe harbor in this turbulent world. One who he could come to whether he was happy or sad or anywhere in between. Some suggested that this person was an unlikely friend for him. But the old man just thanked God all the more for the privilege of loving one so rare. When others were judgmental, pointing fingers to blame and find fault, his friend stood ready to forgive, love and encourage. When the world caused him to feel small and useless, just talking to his friend gave him a renewed sense of self worth. Just thinking of his friend lifted his spirits. What joy it brought him to send his friend a happy birthday note or text him with an occasional,”How are you doing today?” Oh, if they only could be together now, side by side, witnessing this reminder of God’s activity on earth. It was like there was a chord attached between their hearts that could never be broken no matter how long or how far they were apart. When his friend’s heart ached, he hurt. When his friend was happy, he was satisfied. His friend had a way of speaking to him so honestly and openly about what was going on inside, not hiding it as some have a habit of doing. He was honored and humbled to be trusted in such a way. What a joy it was to lift up his friend to the throne of God in prayer and through faith, he knew that God was touching his friend’s life in some big or small way. They seemed to understand each other in such a simple and straight forwardness. No matter what events may befall either of them in the uncertainty of life, their hearts were inseparable…. The old man’s thoughts drifted back to when they first met. He admitted, they were an unlikely pair. Some would call it chance, but no, it was God. It was obvious that the Lord knew they needed each other in this world. The man felt sorry for those who would never know this kind of friendship.

As the last rain drop fell, he reflected on how he was a better person just by knowing his friend. Their friendship had energized his purpose in life and gave him confidence that the Lord could still use him. Circumstances had become such, that they seldom saw one another anymore, yet somehow, they were never really apart. In a feeble manner, the old man walked back into his house with the awareness that this was the last thunderstorm that he would ever witness on earth. He wondered what his friend was doing and was so thankful  they both knew Jesus and they would, one day, be serving the Lord together, forever. Surrounded by darkness, he offered up one last prayer. “Oh Lord, take care of my friend. Who will be here to encourage or just listen? Please send someone.” As he faded off, he whispered, ” God, if for nothing else… but to know the love… of such a friend… it was all worth it.”…

Perhaps you have such a friend. Or, do you long for a friendship like this? Possibly you once had this kind of friend, but they are gone now. Maybe you are this kind of friend to someone? I wonder if David and Jonathan, from the Old Testament, had a friendship like this? What about Ruth and Naomi? Or maybe Paul and one of his traveling companions?

Isn’t it true that friendships like this are nothing short of awesome? We may do some cultivating, but isn’t it our sovereign God, in His wisdom, who brings two people together in one place, at one moment, in one lifetime? In our little garden of life, how true is Proverbs, 17:17. “A friend loves at all times.” Think about it. We may disappoint or even let down a friend, but a true friend, no matter what we look like or what they know about us, will always love us unconditionally, even as they draw their last breath.

A few years ago a study was done on friendships, showing that most of us have many casual friends, but only a small percentage of people have more than one close, intimate friend. The kind of friend they could trust with anything. Sadly, the study also revealed that some people have never had one close, intimate friend in all their years of living. I can’t help but wonder, is that in part, because we are sometimes not willing to put our selves out there for some one who God has placed along our pathway? If that is so, then many blessings are missed.

There is one, who with His last breath, spoke with you on His mind. Dying on the the cross, Jesus spoke these last words. “It is finished.” What was finished? Everything that you and I need to have a relationship with the living God. Your redemption, my redemption. Forgiveness of our sins. Power to live beyond our weakness and even beyond our own strength. If we are only willing to put ourselves out there for the friend of all friends and accept what He has to offer us.

Jesus said in John, 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We can apply this truth in  a number of ways in our own lives, can’t we? Recently as I was speaking to the residents of a local nursing home about the meaning of the cross, I asked this question,”Has anyone here ever had someone give up their life for them?” No one said anything for a few moments. Then slowly, a man toward the back of the room raised his hand. I asked him if he would like to share anything about that experience. He didn’t say much, except that it was during the war and that his friend took the hit for him. It was obviously very emotional for him to speak about what his friend did for him. We learn the full implication of John, 15:13 as we read on. Jesus begins to tell his followers that if they obey His commands and because He had revealed to them all that was important, “everything I have learned from my Father”, He now called them His friends and the cross was drawing nearer. Remember that the words Jesus spoke to His followers are timeless. If you are a true follower of Jesus, today, then He acknowledges  you as His friend for life. The Son of God calls you His friend! You can have no greater friend than this, for He has given His life for you and He has given new life to you. He is our Lord, yet He is our friend and to his followers He also gives the Holy Spirit, a spiritual cord, connecting us to Him. It’s a cord that can never be cut, no matter what dark forces attack us in this life.

Maybe you find that you are living in a somewhat friendless environment. Remember that Jesus knows what it’s like to be alone, deserted and hurting. Pray and ask Him to bring a good friend into your life. You may find that friend to be closer than you think. If you have a friend like the man in the story had, don’t forget to let them know how special they are to you. You never know how long you will have them.

… As the old man’s family was going through his house, they discovered that in every room, he had posted written prayers for his family and friends on the walls. It seems that when he first noticed  he was loosing his memory, he began writing out his prayers for the people who held a special place in his heart. Then he taped  them to the walls in his house so he wouldn’t forget any of the people he loved. During his last days, he would walk from room to room, reading those prayers. One of the man’s daughters discovered a  prayer that her father had written over and over and had placed it throughout the house. It began like this, “My Lord and my God, thank you for my thunderstorm friend.”

At the old man’s funeral and family visitation time, many came to express to the family and give thanks to God for how the man’s friendship  had touched their lives. The thunderstorm friend was there as well, testifying of how God had brought the two of them together. ” From the day we first met, my life has never been the same. He introduced me to Christ. He helped me see the potential that was within me. He encouraged me always. He was there in my darkest hours. It was like he was always thinking of me, always praying for me.”

What is the moral of this story? You decide how it applies to you. But, maybe it has something to do with not underestimating how God can use the friends that He places along our way, to give us encouragement and purpose in this life.

OK, enjoy the next thunderstorm!  (safely)  Giving thanks for your friends.