Special agents in the FBI require more than just the physical skills normally attributed to them. Beyond the training required in self-defense, a vital skill in their career is the ability to make and develop friendships. This skill goes beyond keeping bonds with their allies, it allows them to effectively recruit agents and question suspects. In their book The Like Switch, former FBI Special Agent Jack Schafer, Ph.D. and author Marvin Karlins, Ph.D. explain the process of acquiring and keeping friendships. Interestingly enough, the principles Schafer and Karlins discuss apply to more than daily interactions with others. We can use these same principles to strengthen our relationship with God and become more devoted to Him.
The method emphasized in the book is what they call the “Friendship Formula,” which consists of four basic elements: proximity, frequency, duration, and intensity. As expressed, the proper use of these methods can lead to close and long lasting friendships—or in their case, temporary ones when needed.
Proximity is the first element mentioned in the Friendship Formula. They define it as the “distance between you and another individual and your exposure to that individual over time.” In our case, it is the distance and exposure between God and us. James wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). This is a promise based on the fact God desires a close and personal relationship with us, and thus our proximity to Him should be close. This is evident in any person-to-person relationship. The only way we will ever get to know anyone on a personal level is to be close to them. If our exposure to someone is minimal, then our relationship will be as well. This is why our constant exposure to God is so beneficial. The apostle Paul similarly addresses this point when he said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Frequency, or the “number of contacts you have with another individual over time,” is the second key to friendships. In our case, how many times do we come to God to spend time with Him? It can be hard to have close and personal relationships if we do not make efforts to have contact with others. Prayer is a very beneficial method of coming to God and it is necessary in our relationship with Him.
While frequency is the number of times we come in contact with an individual, duration is the length of time spent with them. Schafer and Karlins note, “Duration has a unique quality in that the more time you spend with a person, the more influence they have over your thoughts and actions. Mentors who spend a lot of time with their mentees exercise a positive influence over them.” In saying this, they touch on a very profound concept in how duration relates to our relationship with God. The Bible is not rigid in telling us how much time to spend with God, but rather, it leaves that open for us to decide. But it does emphasize the importance of spending time with God, and doing it in a way that will draw us closer to Him.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (emphasis mine). Notice Jesus says “when you pray” and not “if you pray,” implying we as Christians must spend time with God. The more time spent praying, a believer will develop a desire to come to God with a willing heart out of love and eagerness rather than stubbornness and guilt.
As Schafer and Karlins noted, the more time spent with an individual, the more like them we will become—specifically related to our thoughts and actions. This is the same when it comes to our relationship with Christ. Specifically, we will exemplify the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in our actions. And, as the apostle Paul stated relating to our thoughts, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Paul summarizes elsewhere, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
The final element in the Friendship Formula is intensity, which for our purpose is how strongly we are connected with Christ. In other words, how serious do we take our faith? Jesus is adamant about having His followers being true Christians who are committed to their faith. He states in Revelation that He rejects those who claim to be Christians in words only but not in actions (3:14-21). Paul set a good example of intensity when he said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Though Schafer and Karlins wrote The Like Switch with intentions of teaching people how to gain and keep relationships with others, the implications expressed in the Friendship Formula can apply directly to our relationship with God. While it is true that our salvation cannot be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9), we love Him (in this case "we want to be His friends") because He first loved (befriended) us. But as John shows us in chapter 15, there are expectations in maintaining His friendship (see verse 14). But unlike human relationships where we follow these steps to gain a friendship, there is no need to do that with God. Because there is nothing we can do to earn friendship with Him, He freely gives it to us as a gift. The Bible says we are friends of God (John 15:15), and because God is perfect (Psalm 18:30), God is a perfect friend to us.