William Cowper (1731–1800), the English poet, found a friend in his pastor, John Newton (1725–1807), the former slave trader. Cowper suffered from depression and anxiety, attempting to die by suicide more than once. When Newton visited him, they’d go on long walks together and talk about God. Thinking that Cowper would benefit from engaging creatively and having a reason to write his poetry, the minister had the idea to compile a hymnal. Cowper contributed many songs, including “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” When Newton moved to another church, he and Cowper remained strong friends and corresponded regularly for the rest of Cowper’s life.

I see parallels between the strong friendship of Cowper and Newton with that of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. After David defeated Goliath, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David,” loving him as himself (1 Samuel 18:1). Although Jonathan was the son of King Saul, he defended David against the king’s jealousy and anger, asking his father why David should be put to death. In response, “Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him” (1 Samuel 20:33). Jonathan dodged the weapon and was grieved at this shameful treatment of his friend (v. 34).

For both sets of friends, their bond was life-giving as they spurred on each other to serve and love God. How might you similarly encourage a friend today?