Never Give Up. Never Surrender
"Never Give Up. Never Surrender.”
That's a line from the movie Galaxy Quest. (Fun movie) I thought it appropriate for today's podcast about bringing people to Christ. Sometimes those we love seem to be on the wrong path. I know I was for many years, but my parents never gave up. They never surrendered to the lie that mine was a hopeless case. They believed the promise of Jesus that with God all things are possible.
When we believe that promise, we need to ask God, "What is my role in bringing them to you?" It may not be what you think.
My husband and I once had a Doberman named Brutus. When he was a puppy, I would take him for a walk, and he did not like it. It was part walk and part drag. Maybe that's been your experience trying to get teenagers to church on Sunday. You take them for a drag. When they become adults, that approach no longer works. We cannot force them to go to church. We cannot insist that they have a personal relationship with Jesus. We cannot argue them into taking time for personal prayer. We need to try something else, which is unfortunate if you are like me and really excel at forcing, insisting, and arguing. I'm not saying I have been successful in using those strategies, but I have used them many, many times.
As I try to get those I love to put Jesus first, I have discovered that there are some other ways (not so heavy handed) to help someone find God. Here are eight that I find fruitful:
- I have to be wholehearted towards God. Jesus was very clear about this. He was an all or nothing kind of guy. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” “Give away everything and follow me.” “You cannot serve two masters.”
We may want to give our whole heart to God, but sometimes it is difficult. So I make exceptions. And if I have exceptions for myself and my behavior, I am a poor witness to the Christian life. No exceptions is a hard way to live (and we fail all the time), but we have to strive for that excellence – that unity of life. If I can find 10 reasonable exceptions for me, how many more will my son accept? And if he finds 15 reasonable exceptions, how many will his children accept? A watered-down faith is a lukewarm faith. That is not what I want to pass on. I have to strive to live a perfect life if I’m going to witness to anyone.
- I have to show them and tell them how much I love them and how much God loves them. I have to love them first before talking to them about God. When my son was little, each night at bedtime I would say, "I love you. Daddy loves you. God loves you most of all." He is grown now, but I still tell him I love him and I show that I love him. It is the small acts of love that get noticed and remembered: a hand-written card sent in the mail, making their favorite dish, complimenting them on an accomplishment, biting your tongue rather than criticizing. All of these are acts of love. We draw people to God through love.
- Sometimes we have to coax them, like God coaxes us. When a child is learning to walk, the parent doesn't hold their feet and move them along. They stand a few paces away and call to the child. They encourage. God encourages. He invites. Jesus invited people to join him all the time. We can invite our loved ones to join us at church or to pray with us or to attend a church retreat. There is no guilt in the coaxing, just a request, "I would love it if you would come with me." The choice is theirs.
- I can teach them by sharing something I have learned in prayer. My son is now in college and each morning at the end of my prayer time, I send him a text. It's fairly short – maybe 150 words – and touches on something that came to me in prayer. I started doing this because I realized that I thought about him so often and had so many things I wanted to talk to him about but there wasn't time and I wasn't sure he would listen and he was away at school. So one day near the end of Lent, I had the idea to send him an encouraging text each morning. He never responds, but I know he reads them and appreciates them. It's my way of sharing my faith with him in small bites.
- Sometimes God calls us to debate them. Jesus often debated the Pharisees and scribes. Peter said that we must always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within. I shouldn't always jump to the debate approach; I need to listen for God's prompting to know when to engage in debate or explanation. And even more importantly, know when to end the debate. If my goal is to explain rather than win, it can be a fruitful discussion. If my goal is to win, I'm very likely to be a poor witness of Christian charity.
- Sometimes God tells us to back off and let things lie for a time. That's very hard. But we must remember that God has a plan, which is very possibly better than our own plan. Sure, it is slower, but some things take a long time to cook, like barbecued ribs. I remember a quote that goes, "We have a crock-pot God in a microwave world." I need to trust God to take those I love at the pace that is best. Sometimes that means I have to back off.
- We can fast for them and offer up small mortifications. Fasting is giving something up for a time, denying ourselves as a gift to God. I fast from meat on Fridays. Some fast from social media one day a week. Jesus said that some demons can only be removed by prayer and fasting. Mortifications are inconveniences or discomforts that we offer to God for particular intentions. For example, I heard a talk by woman who offered up the labor pains of each of her five children for specific couples who faced infertility. So fasting and mortification are helpful.
- Always we have to pray for them, and sometimes this is the only thing God asks of us. St. Monica is the mother of St. Augustine. When he was still living a very sinful life, she would talk to St. Ambrose about her failures in getting Augustine to agree to get baptized. Ambrose's response was this, "Maybe you should talk less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine." That's good advice for all of us. Our prayers that they will come to a living faith are good prayers. They are pleasing to God. We can never stop saying those prayers.
Those are eight ways to help your loved ones come to know Jesus. Here are some things I did not mention. I did not suggest that you threaten them with Hell, nag them every Sunday or use guilt to get them to church. There was no mention of shaming them on social media or tricking them into going to a church event. Jesus never tricked people or misled them. He always spoke the truth, even when it was a hard teaching. He was always inviting. Always patient. Always loving. Always merciful.
We want those we love to love Jesus because it's the greatest way to live. It is the abundant life. Why wouldn't we want that for them? We must be prudent in leading others to Christ. Their souls are too precious. God has a plan for those precious souls, just as he has a plan for ours. Sometimes we are part of God's plan for another person and that is a great gift to us. The key is figuring out exactly what God wants us to do. That's what you take to prayer as you intercede for the salvation of those you love. And we never give up. Never surrender. Just like God.
Questions for prayer:
- Who in my life am I supposed to bring to Jesus? How God leading me to be part of His plan for that person?
- When have my efforts to "save" someone failed? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?