We recently wrapped up the spring season of our Sunday night youth program. I ended with a series about friends. In today’s world, friends are the most influential people in a teen’s life. With the help of texting and social media, teens are able to spend more time communicating with or be influenced by friends than ever before.

I was surprised by how difficult this lesson was for me to teach through. Maybe it was because I haven’t always been the best friend, or maybe it was the fact I didn’t always choose the best friends. As I was preparing for each night’s lesson, I had one consistent thought – I wish I would have heard this when I was younger.  The truth is… I probably did, but I was probably way too smart to need any advice. Proverbs 13:20 would have been good to let sink in.

            Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

This is way more than advice – it’s a warning. Through experience, I now know this. If you’re like me you can look back through your life and remember what you were doing when you suffered harm. Who were you with? I’ll tell you who I was with… fools, and most of the harm suffered usually started with one of these phrases… “I dare you,” “I bet you wouldn’t,” or my favorite, Screenshot_2015-08-16-21-59-31“Hey, watch this!” Still looking back, I did these things for no other reason than to seek acceptance.

Can we choose who our kids hangout with or where they find acceptance? I guess sometimes, but ultimately, it’s going to be their decision – they have to choose. Will they walk with the wise, or be a companion of fools?

You may like the thought of “Choosing Friends for Your Children”, but I’m guessing they won’t. I believe we can influence these choices, but it’s probably not by saying “you can’t be their friend” or “don’t hang out with them.” In talking with students, I’ve found this will sometimes drive them to these people – they always want
what they can’t have. I believe Solomon nailed it again when he pinned Proverbs 22:6:

             Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

As parents we have to teach our children what true friends look like – what healthy relationships look like. Notice I didn’t say teach them what bad friends look like or what unhealthy relationships look like. To identify an unhealthy relationship you will first have to know what a good one looks like. Evil is everywhere and it comes in all shapes and sizes – Satan is sneaky, and will always find ways to deceive. If they learn what a healthy friendship looks like, they should be able to spot unhealthy ones.

We need to train our kids. We need to teach them the truth of the Bible. They need to know what’s right and wrong. They need to have strong convictions and understand why
no worldly relationship should hinder their walk with Christ. A true friend will respect your convictions and support your decisions. A true friend will value the person more than the relationship. They will hold you accountable, they will encourage your relationship with God and they will love you no matter what. These are the friends we should be praying that God places in our students’ lives. These are the friends we want our children to be influenced by, but most importantly, these are the types of friends you should train your children to be.

Our children are not in a bubble. They will be around bad influences, and they should be. This is where their training comes in. This is where they need to hold tightly to their convictions. They should be the influencer in these relationships. They should love these people and forgive them when they mess up, because Christ first loved us. We mess up, and He forgives us. How will these bad influences know Christ’s love if we don’t teach our children to show them? This will take work, but I’m so thankful for those that took the time and showed me grace when I was the bad influence. I’m thankful for those that pulled me aside and gently showed me the direction I was headed. I’m thankful for those that forgave me.

The hardest thing about teaching through this lesson is knowing that the students sitting in front of me will have very difficult decisions to make about the friends they choose to be influenced by. Some have strong convictions and although it will be difficult, they will make wise choices. Most will seek acceptance, and this is a very scary thought for me –  who will show them acceptance, how will it happen, where will it happen, will they be ready, are they prepared and is there anything I can do to help. In the end only God knows the path they will endure, so the one thing I can do is pray. I will come along side their parents and pray that God will place individuals in their kids’ lives that will show them His love – a real love, a life changing love.

Another hard thing about teaching through this series was realizing how much my true friends have meant to me. Most of them are hundreds of miles away, and …. I miss seeing their faces. I thank God often for the impact they’ve had on my life. He placed them in my life at just the right times and used them to draw me closer to Him. For that, I am thankful.