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“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)

February 13, 1831 was the birthdate of John Aaron Rawlins, a man who could have easily made little of his life. However, he overcame an impoverished family background and limited education. Rawlins became known as a self-made man who went through a period of self-directed study to make up for his lack of formal education. After studying law, Rawlins passed the bar and entered into a law partnership in his hometown of Galena, Illinois while also becoming a noted public speaker. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he gave a notable pro-Union speech and soon became known to another Galena resident, Ulysses S. Grant. Rawlins joined the Union Army and served primarily as an officer on Grant’s staff. His promotions were linked to Grant’s success on the battlefields and Grant’s advancement in the Union Army under President Abraham Lincoln. Later when Grant became President, he appointed Rawlins as his Secretary of War. Unfortunately, he died of tuberculosis at the young age of 38.

Rawlins had an absentee father who was prone to drink. His father’s behavior affected his own strong attitudes and fears concerning alcohol. According to one historian – Rawlins’ abstention was caused by his belief that if he took even one drink, he would not be able to stop. When the Civil War started, Rawlins became a personal aide to Grant. He was Grant’s principal staff officer throughout the war, and Grant said that Rawlins was nearly indispensable. Grant had a reputation of being a heavy drinker when he served on the frontier in the 1850s, and it appears Rawlins was instrumental in keeping the General from excessive alcohol consumption.  On one occasion when Grant was alleged to have been drinking excessively with other officers, Rawlins became aware.  Considering himself to be Grant’s protector when it came to alcohol, Rawlins wrote him a letter of concern about the matter which was never sent but was later found by historians. Rawlins became Grant’s chief defender against allegations of insobriety, and the two became close personal friends.

The truth is – we all need friends. We often hear that many of the tragedies in our society are provoked by individuals who are friendless, otherwise labeled as loners. A wise principle of friendship is found in Ecclesiastes. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). The hymn writer, Will L. Thompson, reflected this sentiment with the following lyrics:

“Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad . . . He’s my Friend.”

Friends are like-minded. Friendship is a relationship that is mutually entered into by individuals, and it is only as good or as close as those individuals choose to make it. A friend is one with whom you can be yourself, someone in whom you can confide with complete trust. Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:13-17). Someone has said that if you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand, you are blessed. If you do not have such a person in your life, then invite Jesus to walk your journey with you. He is the best friend you will ever have . . . a true friend indeed.

REFLECTION: On those occasions when you have felt loneliness and wondered if you had any true friends, have you considered asking Jesus to be by your side? What are some ways that you might reach out to others who appear to be loners, offering them the gift of Christ and your friendship? In those times when you feel isolated, how can you begin to reconnect with others and learn to trust God in the process?


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