In August 2008, I faced a difficult choice. After months of studying, standardized testing, essays and applications, grad school beckoned.
Although I’d spent most of my waking hours working toward the singular goal of getting accepted at a short list of schools, I hadn’t really counted the intangible cost of leaving a place that had become my home.
It wasn’t the familiarity of the surroundings – it was the people. Five guys in particular. Men I had walked through the good and bad with; individuals I could call at any time of the day or night… I guess I just hadn’t realized how special these relationships were until I faced living day-to-day without them.
Sobered, I prayed my way across the country on my way out to school, hoping that I’d find the same kind of friendships there to greet me. Happily, I did – and I learned a great deal about the life-shaping, life-altering potential of friendship along the way.
Dispelling the Myth
One of the most pervasive lies of Western culture is that we don’t need each other. Instead, we glamorize the rugged, independent, ‘self-made’ individual.
Guest what – that person doesn’t exist.
Or, if he does, he’s not fulfilled and he’s not living a life of impact or significance (because doing that requires that you invest in other people).
In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of relationships to living a happy life. I’ve got a section dedicated to it in 12 Ways to Maximize Your Next Twelve! But in truth, friendship is a whole lot more important than that!
In fact, Steve and I are working on a book on the topic – a conceptualization of real, intentional friendship that we call ‘armor bearing.’
I’m excited to say that NexTwelve.com readers will have a front row seat as we explore the concept over the coming year. I hope you’ll join us and participate in the discussion – your thoughts will influence the development of the book.
“You can help me. Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? If we stay together we survive.”
– Russell Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator
There are different kinds of friendship, but the kind that we want to explore here on NexTwelve.com is a special kind – I’m talking about committed, reciprocal, reliable, life-shaping friendship.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it!
I started thinking about ‘armor bearing’ friendship in early August 2008, just before I left for grad school. I was surprised at how emotional I was about moving away from my closest friends – men who knew my story, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and loved me for who I am.
Never had I felt God’s grace reflected toward me in such a tangible way! It gave me courage to overcome hurdles and heartache, and confidence to quit my job (despite my mortgage), move across the country (despite not having a renter for my house), and start law school (despite having been out of school for more than four years).
I stumbled across the following story and a light bulb flickered on:
One day Saul’s son Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Let’s go to the Philistine military post on the other side.” But Jonathan didn’t tell his father he was going. Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah with about 600 men. The troops didn’t know Jonathan had left.
There was a cliff on each side of the mountain pass where Jonathan searched for a way to cross over to attack the Philistine military post. Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Listen, we’ll cross over to the Philistines and show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are until we come to you,’ then we’ll stay where we are and not go up. But if they say to us, ‘Come up here,’ then we’ll go up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has handed them over to us.”
His armor bearer answered him, “Do whatever you have in mind. Go ahead; I am with you, heart and soul.”
So both of them stood at the bottom of the hill and showed themselves to the Philistine troops. The Philistines said, “Look! Those worthless Israelites have crawled out of the holes where they’ve been hiding.” “Come up here,” the men in the military post called to Jonathan and his armor bearer. “We have something to show you.”
Jonathan told his armor bearer, “Follow me up to the military post because the Lord has handed the troops over to Israel.”
Jonathan crawled up the hillside, and his armor bearer followed right behind him. When they got to the top, Jonathan killed the Philistines who attacked from the front, and his armor bearer killed those who attacked from behind. In their first slaughter Jonathan and his armor bearer killed about twenty men. (1 Sam 14:1-14)
There are three pillars of ‘armor bearing’ friendship, and they are illustrated by this story. Let’s unpack them:
First, ‘armor bearers’ are supremely committed to one another. As this story begins, we can easily envision Jonathan and his armor bearer hunched behind a boulder at the foot of the cliff, staring intensely at one another. Jonathan hatches a death-defying plan: reveal themselves to the enemy. The armor bearer’s duty is to ‘take the hit’ on Jonathan’s behalf – so we know that this man has already counted the cost…
But his response sends chills up my spine every time I read it:
“Go ahead, I’m with you heart and soul.”
That’s that kind of friendship I want in life! Individuals who will face trouble with me, knowing the risks, and say, “Let’s do this – together.”
Life-changing friendship always starts with commitment.
Second, ‘armor bearing’ friendships are reciprocal. We next see Jonathan and his armor bearer making an arduous climb. This is no leisurely stroll or quick dash up a grassy knoll. They are climbing with hands and feet. Picture arid, rocky soil and a very steep grade, their weapons slung and shields stowed as they crawled up the hillside, leaving them very vulnerable.
Now remember that there could very well be spears and arrows raining down from the garrison above, ‘target practice’ for soldiers enthusiastically attempting to ‘pick them off’ as they worked their way up the hill.
But wait – Jonathan, the crown-prince, is out in front!
Jonathan is leading the way even though it’s technically the armor bearer’s job to protect him. Jonathan is willing to ‘take the hit’ for his armor bearer.
Here’s where self-sacrifice enters the picture. This is love, being worked out practically. Be warned, it can be very difficult, and armor bearing always requires self-sacrifice: your time, convenience, money, pride, etc… Maybe even your reputation.
Would you sacrifice the good opinions of other people to support a friend who made a terrible mistake?
Armor bearing will force you to answer difficult questions and put yourself in uncomfortable situations on the behalf of your friends. As an armor bearer, you are both the protected and the protector, trusted and trusting.
Life-changing friendship cannot exist without reciprocity.
Third, ‘armor bearers’ are reliable. As Jonathan crests the hill and starts to fight, the garrison soldiers try to encircle him – but his armor bearer brings up the rear and the two fight back-to-back.
What would have happened if Jonathan had been alone in that fight?
He would have been surrounded – and likely killed.
Truth is, we find ourselves in a variety of different ‘fights’ all throughout out lives. Financial issues. Health challenges. Frustration and temptation. Disappointment…
We need friends who have our back, no matter what – just like Jonathan and his armor bearer.
Life-changing friendship is always marked by this kind of reliability.
So, what is armor bearing?
Armor bearing is the Old Testament notion of taking the hit for a dignitary with a figurative twist. It generally won’t require you to make the ultimate sacrifice, but it will still cost you your life – just over the course of a longer term.
Armor bearing is the kind of friendship we all want and need.
I hope my description of armor bearing stirs something deep within you, causes passion to burn in your breast, or a lump to rise in your throat. If so, please join us here at NexTwelve.com as we explore this topic over the coming year.
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Leave a Comment: Do you have ‘armor bearer’ friendships in your life? If so, what’s been the most challenging part of the experience? If not, why?