Toward the end of his life Lester Sumrall was a lonesome man. What? How could a man of his spiritual stature, who had traveled and ministered all over the world, and supposedly had many sons in the faith be lonesome? The answer is friendship.
So called sons aren’t always friends. Disciples aren’t always friends. Ministry colleagues and peers aren’t always friends. Bro. Sumrall said he could count on one hand the number of friends he had. Though I’m sure they loved him, his own biological sons weren’t necessarily his friends either.
MY OWN DADDY
I watched my own daddy grow old and tired. He had no need for material things, gifts of any kind, or more money. In fact, he would often say, “There is nothing good in this world.” What he longed for was love from his family and friends. Some of his most fulfilling times were holiday times when genuine love was expressed. He hated superficiality and gift giving without warm love and honest interaction. But he also had a mouth that brought him much unnecessary trouble. As the minister in the family, I overlooked that shortcoming and many others he had, and tried to see those things as a heart cry for genuine love and attention.
TIMES OF NEED
In his old age when my daddy had open heart surgery I stopped by the hospital on the way to a preaching engagement. I wanted to be there when he first woke up from surgery. When he saw my face in front of his, I could see the immediate joy on his countenance. He was so happy to see me! In his greatest hour of need he just wanted to know someone who loved him was there. He was a tough man, a man’s man really, but due to old age hardship and the physical body’s woes he became more tender in his later years.
Near the end of his life he was worn and broken. And what he wanted more than anything else was companionship. Even my Mom and him had a lot of strife and misunderstandings and became irritable with one another due to their sufferings. When a person is suffering physically they are not always pleasant, especially if they are in pain. My parents were born again believers but didn’t learn to walk in the Spirit very consistently due to carnal strongholds in their lives.
BACK TO SUMRALL
Lester Sumrall knew many people and ministers, but again, he said he had only a few true friends. Four or five he said. I was very surprised to hear that, so I listened very carefully. Apparently he was working on a final book at the end of his life on true friendship, but I’m not sure he completed it before his departure. If he did, I’ve not seen it. His words on friendship broke my heart. I sensed his lonesomeness. A man that came out of his death bed as a teenager and changed the world had few true friends. Imagine! His precious wife Ms. Louise had gone to be with the Lord two years before he did. I remember him describing the strange sensation he had when they pulled the sheets over his wife’s body and wheeled her away. Death has lost its sting for believers but it still hurts.
LONGING TO SEE THE FACE OF FRIENDS
After our recent trials, I long to see the face of friends. I’m a pretty sentimental person as it is, I know, but even more so since the illness. I long for intimacy and transparency and a genuine expression of the love and honor of heaven. Don’t let my sometimes rough exterior fool you. I laugh and cry a lot more easily now. To be vulnerable and authentic is to expose yourself and risk being misunderstood and hurt. That’s okay. Jesus lived that way. Think about it. He was the most vulnerable, truthful, loving, and yet most misunderstood person who ever lived. I’ve been misunderstood for most of my life, because I’m direct and a bit of a straightshooter. I don’t fear man. It has been said that the man who is intimate with God cannot be intimidated by man. I love that quote.
HERE’S THE BALANCE
But I’ve also learned you can’t always be so direct with everyone. Not everyone can hear it that way. Jesus treated the rich young ruler differently than he did Zaccheus. It’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn over the years. That’s why I will go out of my way to reason with, reconcile, and comfort one I may have hurt through some misunderstanding, but yet I cannot compromise spirit and truth.Carolyn and I are very different that way. She doesn’t like conflict and clams up and goes into a shell and retreats at any sign of confrontation. I’m the opposite. Plus, I’m Portuguese. She’s German. I’m passionate. She’s reserved.
Additionally, we were raised very differently. She came from a very dysfunctional family and had an unloving father who was mean-spirited and abused her mentally, and left his family when Carolyn was only five. I came from a functional and fairly stable family with loving hard-working immigrant parents. Instead of clamming up and doing the silent treatment, my temperament is more like this: Let’s be brutally honest and completely transparent with each other, put it all on the table, fight it out emotionally if need be, come to an understanding, and then keep loving each other. That’s me. But not everyone is like that.
In 30+ years of marriage I’ve never let the sun set on any wrath with my wife. I won’t go to sleep until we work it out. She’ll be the first to tell you that. But she’s different. Let’s sleep on it and talk it over in the morning is her style. My directness can be offensive at times if not tempered with love and tenderness. Speaking the truth in love is not always that easy for some Christians.
Here’s another great quote: “You be careful when someone comes to you with a sugar-coated pill or with a slimy tongue. They are always of the devil.” — Smith Wigglesworth
I’m understanding more and more why Jesus, the apostle Paul, and men like Bro. Sumrall had few true friends. Sumrall frequently visited Wigglesworth’s home, and said that nobody was ever there. Me? I’d be knocking on his door every day. Not many visited him. I wonder why. Well, just look at the above quote. He walked in truth and spoke very directly, but he was also a very broken and compassionate man. But often, due to offense, and a veiled face, people didn’t see that side of him.
JESUS AND PAUL
Why do you think the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head? Multitudes were taught by Him and many followed Him, and yet no one invited Him to spend the night. I believe it’s because He saw too much in people’s lives, and that made them uncomfortable .
The apostle Paul also taught many and established disciples and young ministers in the faith, but said he only had one who was trustworthy, and that was Timothy (Phil. 2:19-22). Everyone else was seeking their own things, and not the kingdom. They were selfish. Selfish people don’t make good friends.Let’s all work on being a better friend.
I think the little poem below is the intoxicating drink we all long for in life. Drink deeply of the wine of its words. May you find true friendship in life and remember Jesus is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother, and no better friend we’ll ever have.
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