For some there will always be another question.
Let me say from the start that I believe with all my heart that God’s pressing desire is to be in covenant relationship with all people. Not just some. All. To accomplish this end I believe the Holy Spirit engages in a relentless pursuit to turn men and women’s hearts in repentance from themselves and from disinterest, ignorance and error towards a Father who is patient, forgiving and redeeming. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Does this mean that all people will accept God’s invitation to salvation? Certainly not! The Bible is filled with examples of people who were either living witnesses to the Savior and his message or exposed to the story of Jesus’ life and yet were unwilling to be drawn to him. Most of us have experienced living examples of the same scenario, knowing people who have heard of Jesus, have been exposed to the redemptive message of the gospel, and yet have “stiff-armed” God’s embrace. The invitation to mankind is to walk with Jesus through the “narrow gate,” but the response of many is rejection. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matt. 7:13)
If your heart is bent towards desiring the people you know to also know Christ (and since Jesus desires that, we should too), there can be considerable frustration and disappointment when people we care for are either obstinately resistant to the gospel or just not ready to make the faith “plunge.” The point in time when people are ready to commit to Christ is really a bit of a mystery and certainly influenced more by the Spirit than by us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:26 “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”
Our words are important, but prayer is too. Sometimes even more than our words. In our zeal to see people come to know Jesus, we often excel at speaking rather than listening to understand where they really are, gauging the position and condition of their heart. We can have a tendency to back up a truck load of well-meaning scripture prompts (often in Christianese which they don’t even understand) and dump them overflowing into the little tin cup they are holding. I’ve seen sweet, caring people do this more times than I can count. They leave feeling rejected and possibly upset. The unbeliever sits there overwhelmed and confused. Let’s pray more and pray harder.
Our discernment has a place to play in this as well. We need God’s help to assess where a person is on the readiness scale to receive what we say about God and in what quantity. Some people are not ready at all and some may never be ready. Remember these verses in Matt. 7:6? “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” We possess the gospel as we possess a treasure. Some people will not or will never see its value to them and will reject it and you. They won’t hold the gospel in the same regard as you might. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45-46) If our sense of timing is off, we can waste our time and possibly do more harm (or receive more harm) than good. Discernment. Some people will debate or amuse us by their superficial interest in the gospel or engage with us in a sparring contest, maybe even elevating it to an argument. You may have experienced this. Too bad.
No matter what the gospel offers or what people see in the life and offer of Christ, it just may not be quite enough. Remember all those accounts where Jesus performed miracles and people asked for “one more” to nudge them towards belief? They never believed. It was always one more question, one more miracle. Belief was never on the table. We will experience this as we attempt to share God’s good news with others. We can expect that. But should we exhaust our energies and allow our spirits to be deflated by people who are not ready for the “good stuff” God offers? I say no! What can we do?
- Let’s be smart and genuinely care
- Let’s ask God to help us assess the spiritual temperature of those we want to reach
- Let’s pray a lot about them and for them, seeking God’s will, timing and direction
- Let’s deliver the meal by the spoonful rather than by the shovel
- Let’s be willing to back off when we get ahead of ourselves
- Let’s love no matter what and exercise patience and much grace
- Let’s demonstrate genuine joy, peace and contentment and make them jealous
- Let’s remember we are instruments in God’s hand and the Spirit does the work
- Let’s know that pushing a person towards Christ usually backfires
- Let’s be aware of those who appear open to move forward and serve them
- Let’s keep our language simple and understandable. Avoid Christianese and theological terms.
- Let’s remember we can still be friends even if they choose not to know our God
- Let’s think about it