Now King Solomon loved many foreign women… from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love… When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done… And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded.

1 KINGS 11:1-10 (ESV)

Up to this point in our forty days together, we’ve spent much of our time looking at how God saves a people. We are not alone on this journey. A life of worship moves us vertically – in reverence and obedience to God above – and horizontally – to the encouragement and edification of His people beside us. And in both cases, the relationship is a two-way street. God shows who He is to bless the people under His authority, and we send our praises up to Him in response. A similar back and forth happens with the people around us. Part of our call to worship means that we become a ministering people, sharing others’ burdens and receiving help with ours as circumstances require.

We know what life looks like when all these relationships are healthy. When we are seeking God, He is faithful to draw to us, and we can worship freely and honestly, expressing joys and sorrows, placing our hope in Him. When a desire for God is at the center of our human relationships, we seek first to serve one another, and our circles are filled with humility and vulnerability and ultimately, hope.

The journey is a wearying one. There are potholes and detours ahead we can’t predict, and in times of trial we run to Jesus and feel His strength through the work of his church. Some of my greatest joys in life have come from simply crying beside a grieving friend. It’s a deeply humbling thing to be present in these moments, to weep with someone close, and to search for God with them when everything seems shrouded in darkness. In my encouragement, I offer the one thing I can give, the life I have in Jesus. And in the tears of my friend, I remember the savior who carried our pain that we might have joy. This is a picture of the functioning, healthy body of Christ. We are cheering each other onward and upward.

My father used to tell me that friendships work a lot like the gear shift in a car. If you have your eyes set on a destination and are moving there every day, you have three basic options in your friends. The people close to you will either put you in drive, neutral, or reverse.

A faithful friend will always push you forward. They will challenge you when you are prideful. They will lift your spirits when you feel you’ve given up. They know the words to say to speak life and the words to avoid to keep peace. They see you clearly and love you well. They know where you’re headed and want to be there with you when you get there.

Not every relationship works this way. Some friends avoid difficult conversations, withholding painful truths to preserve the status quo. They might be quietly content with everyone staying right where they are. They may walk beside you, but only as long as you don’t go too fast or too far. A relationship like this, built on nostalgia, is static and won’t last many rough seasons.

Some friends pull us away from where we’re headed. These are the kind of people who know the worst in us and stoke the flames of our wandering. Comforted by our poor choices and bad behavior, they excuse sin where it appears. They downplay our devotion. They divide us from other believers. They point to our past and call it our home.

God designed us for communion, equipped us for ministry in the body of Christ, and sends us forward to proclaim a faith built on discipleship. Relationships are at the very core of who we are. This is why God tells us to take great care in choosing the people we cling to. Solomon was warned of the impact of “reverse” friendships, of intimacy between misaligned hearts. He chose to ignore God’s better judgement, and the people of God suffered with Solomon when it all fell apart.

There’s a critical lesson for us here, if we’re paying attention. Poor friendships will always pull you from God, and when they finally trip you up and make you fall, the people of God will feel it too. We bear the weight of responsibility in this life of holiness to which we’re called. On our journey we have a hope to hold, to steward, to proclaim, and the people we walk beside will either add to our light or blow it out. God calls us forward, and each day He gives us offers a chance to draw closer to Him. Life is too short to waste a minute fighting the gravity of people who would rather ignore His voice.

God, there is one relationship in my life that affects all others, and that is the one I have with You. I confess my wandering heart seeks comfort in wandering people. Help me love You most so that I might surround myself with others who do the same. I need Your wisdom to see what robs my passion for knowing You, and I need Your strength to remove myself from it. Don’t let me fall to the temptation of lesser relationships. Show me You’re the greatest friend I could ever know. AMEN.

If there are people knowingly pulling you from God, disconnect today. This might mean tough choices about the future of certain relationships. It could mean ending poor habits and leaving bad environments. You may need to take a break from social media, delete a phone contact, or have a hard conversation. If these steps seem difficult, go to the good friends in your life and seek their support and accountability.