How to Really Change the Lives of People

Most people want to know that their life matters. You can call it making a difference in the world, searching for the meaning of life, discovering your purpose, identifying your calling, proving yourself, changing the world, making a dent in the universe, self-actualization, having impact. And there are many good things that people do in their quest for significance. And then there are some not so good things that people do in trying to fill that void.

This brilliant insight from a Tim Keller sermon cuts through all of that and points to the one thing, the essence, of how life change really happens in a person. This echoed back to a tagline I’ve used in the past: “Seeing life change up close.” Here’s the salient excerpt from An Immigrant’s Courage:

Number one, we learned the spiritual dynamite of friendship.

… What changed Ruth’s life? It wasn’t a sermon. It wasn’t programs. It wasn’t a great book. It wasn’t incredible arguments. And then, let’s go backwards.

What changed Naomi’s life? She was poor. Was it a government program that changed her life? Do you see what I’m saying? All the economic redemption and all the spiritual redemption, it all happen through nothing but a friendship. And there’s nothing else to it.

Friendship is about the only way I know to change somebody’s life.

Nobody, no matter how great a speaker you are, no matter how smart you are, no matter how powerful you are, whether you’re the President of the United States; is that how you’re going to change the ghetto?

If you’re a great preacher and you are really articulate, is that really how you’re going to change people spiritually?

I tell you. Listen. If you come here and you don’t have a friend with you, you might get inspired by my preaching; your life isn’t going to be changed. If you don’t have a friend to think about this with and to work it in with, you’re never going to learn.

Over the history of my education, the times in which I’ve learned the most, the places, the courses, the professors, in which I say that really change my life? I realize that it wasn’t the professors. It was the people I was learning with, the friends, the people that I ate in the cafeteria with afterwards, the people that worked it in.

We can only have a few friends in our whole lives. And they are the only people who probably you will be able to see the transforming power of God in, through your friendship.

And a lot of us are so dog gone busy, running around doing things we think are really going to make the world a better place, when this is the only thing that really will. All the things that I’m doing, all the things you’re doing, all those things that you’re running around to make this world a better place, are nothing but the artillery. This is the infantry.

They’re used by friendships, they’re used in friendships. But it’s friendships. That’s the place. That’s the thing.

Think about that. Wrestle with that. Understand that.

This is the only way that anybody’s life is really changed, in the end.

And what is a friend? The definition is right there: time and constancy. “Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. And where you die, I will die.”

It’s not information. It’s not a skill. It’s being present, being committed, being there for somebody over a long period of time.

It’s in that context. Without that, all the information is roll off you. All the sermons, all the projects, all the movies, will just roll off you.

Friendship is the only way to change the world. You only will have, probably in your lifetime, about a dozen or a half a dozen opportunities to do it. So think about it.

Raw transcript excerpted from An Immigrant’s Courage—this sermon was preached by Rev. Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on October 19, 1997. Scripture: Ruth 4:13-17. Posted on the Timothy Keller Sermons Podcast by Gospel in Life feed on February 9, 2017. Also available as a free download at