I have rewritten this post several times now. It’s a plea, a call for help, and a risk. Because, you see, I don’t love like Jesus loved. He looked at people who wanted to kill him, and he loved them. He looked at a disobedient nation, and he loved it. Seems to me he loved people pretty equally. And I don’t.
Confession: I want my people–my children, my spouse, my family, my friends–to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus more than I want anyone else to come to that same knowledge. I will sacrifice more, pray more, and plead more for those people than for strangers. I might give up on strangers if they deny Christ. But I will never give up on the people God has given me.
I suspect that’s true for all of us. And it makes sense. None of us can invest in everyone. Even missionaries in distant communities only live in a single community at once. A person who invests his life in a tribe in South America can’t also give his life to a village in Asia. We all invest more in some than others. Jesus was the same, pouring himself into a few men and not everyone. So maybe I shouldn’t feel bad about this.
God has given me a church family. I hope he’s given you one, too. And although I believe the Spirit opens hearts and draws people and ultimately saves a soul, I believe He does it through people. And likely He will win my people through me or other people I know.
Because I have people in my life, people I love, who don’t know God. Some have never known. Some are wandering. I’m willing to bet everyone in every church is the same. We have people who mean the world to us, and they haven’t answered the call to live for Jesus, and our hearts shatter into a zillion pieces with every prayer, every hope, every conversation. We can only do so much, pray so much, and love so much, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to change a thing.
When someone who isn’t walking with God agrees to attend church with you, how do you feel? Is there hope? Do you pray that that person will be changed, that the Spirit will sweep over your person during worship, during songs, during fellowship? I do. It’s what I want more than anything else, that a person I love who walks into a worship service with me will walk out new.
So, here’s the thing. Here’s where I keep deleting and starting over. Church body, this part of the post is for you. For any church body. Every church body. It’s normal to greet strangers. Every church I know greets strangers, surrounding them with love, asking them questions, hoping they will return, praying they will feel loved and sense the Spirit in our midst. But how do we do with the not-so-strangers? The adult children who walk in with parents. The siblings who appear only on holidays. The parents who come only for a grandchild’s baptism. How hard do we work to love those people?
I hate to admit this, because it’s a heartbreaking truth, but not all of my children are pursuing God at the moment, not with any fervor. Some are questioning and wandering. They know the truth, but they haven’t claimed it yet. They weren’t loved well by other bodies, and now they hesitate to enter a body again. And I have done all I can do. I have said all I can say. Every now and then these children agree to attend church with me. And I pray and hope every single time that this time the body will gather round them. Perhaps this time they will meet a kindred soul and develop a friendship that will ultimately lead them back to the fold. Maybe someone will speak the words to soften their hearts and pierce their armor and remind them of the truths of eternal life. I hope someone will be the lifeline to lead them home in a way I haven’t been able to do. Yet often we walk in and out and nobody says a word to them.
When I bring my people into the body, I’m calling in the cavalry to surround them, to speak to them of love and truth, to be God’s hands and feet. This is a battle and a rescue, and I need help. I am not, as the commercials say, an army of one. God never meant for me to be that.
A few weeks ago another mother of a young adult son approached and asked me if we could introduce my son to her son. She felt they might have some common ground. And the two young men talked a long time. I realized I need to do this, both search out people who might have common ground with the guests I bring into the church as well as seek out other people’s guests. Because I am the cavalry, too. Perhaps someone will bring a daughter or friend or sister who needs me, something only I can give. Maybe the Spirit wants me to be the one to head up the rescue of someone else’s special person. Someone might have shed as many tears over her people as I have over mine, and God’s answer to her tears is ME. It sounds unbelievable, but maybe it’s true. Maybe that’s why each particular group of believers is together, because we have what it takes to rescue each other’s people as well as reach the world where we live.
We want to rescue the world. That’s a perfectly good thing to want. But more personally, we want to rescue our own. And if I worship with you, your people are my people. Your family is my family. Your tears and fears and hopes–they’re mine, too. So here’s my promise. I will help you rescue those you love. I hope you’ll help me rescue those I love. If I don’t worship with you, I hope you will make and keep such promises to your own bodies about your own people. Between all of us, we can reach many, many souls.
We need to love each other well. Have each other’s backs. Speak the words of the Spirit to each other’s people. And not let the enemy carry away anyone we care about if there’s anything we can do to stop it.