A colleague of mine at work has been really sick. While she was at the hospital, I asked another colleague to take her the devotional, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It’s a very uplifting and encouraging daily devotional I thought might brighten her spirits. However, I didn’t actually know if she was a believer or not.
I learned today that she rejected the book, telling the deliverer of my gift that she doesn’t want anything to do with religion. I find these to be crossroad moments.
On the one hand, I respect the person’s choice, knowing full well that God has given them the choice to choose against Him. On the other, it breaks my heart that this person is rejecting God and the consequences of that rejection. I think what’s even more troubling is the person doesn’t even understand what that choice really means for their eternity.
So what do you do? Keep at it, pushing God on them or let it be and allow them to stick with their choice no matter the consequences? I think we can find the answer in scripture and it might surprise you.
In Matthew 19:16-22 a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks what he has to do to get eternal life. Jesus quizzes the young man about keeping the commandments, which the young man says he does. Then Jesus tells the young man to sell all his possessions and come follow him. The young man turns away disappointed, because he was very rich. See, Jesus knew the young man’s heart and knew that he placed wealth above God – in effect worshipped the idol of money – so he wasn’t prepared to follow. But what happens next is most telling.
The rich young ruler walks away and Jesus doesn’t go chasing after him. No, Jesus just lets him walk off. That surprised me a little at first, because given the stakes – eternal life with Jesus or eternal life in hell – you’d figure Jesus would make a second attempt to bring the guy back to God. But, he didn’t. Instead, Jesus let the young man’s free-will choice stand.
The same thing happens in John 6:56-69 Jesus tells a large group of followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, certainly symbolizing being one with Jesus who is the bread of life, as well as pointing to what we now call communion, the Lord’s Table, or the Eucharist. All but the original 12 disciples there leave Jesus, actually disgusted with his teaching. Jesus asks the remaining 12 if they will leave, too. They say they will not, because Jesus has the words to eternal life. Jesus then makes no attempt to retrieve the others who could not bear his teaching.
Then we see Jesus in Mark 6:7-11 he sends the disciples out two by two into the various towns. He tells them to “shake the dust off your feet” at those towns that do not welcome them and the message. In that culture, shaking the dust off one’s feet was not just an insult, but basically writing them off. So here is Jesus yet again not chasing after people who reject him, but instead offering them the choice and then allowing people to live with the consequences of that choice.
I’ve struggled with this learning. I know from reading scripture and from God’s character that He doesn’t want one person to lose heaven, so I figure that my role is to keep plugging away at people. But then I read these and other stories where Jesus himself allows people to choose against God and does not continue to chase after them once they have made their decision. So what are we to do?
First, we should pray for those who reject God’s word. We should pray that even though they may reject our offering that the Holy Spirit may stir them just enough to think about that decision a bit harder. Perhaps the initial rejection will turn into acceptance and the step one of us took to introduce the subject of God will just be the start of the conversation.
Second, we should pray for guidance. Perhaps God does want you to chase after the person a little harder. I can tell you that I am not smart enough to figure it out on my own. While we don’t want to offend, we also don’t want someone to go to hell who could go to heaven if we were to just try a little harder and love them a little more.
Third, I do think we need to respect people’s free-will choices just as Jesus did. My father was an atheist who I tried several times to convince otherwise. The funny part about him was he was raised a Jew and should have known better. He died without ever accepting God into his life. Yet, after he died we found the Bible I had given him years before sitting prominently on his living room table. So who knows!
I am going to pray for my colleague. I hope she recovers from her illness, but more than that I pray the Holy Spirit does a miracle in her life and softens her heart enough to entertain a conversation with God.