Monday, October 29, 2018

Anonymous Asks (11)

“How can I help a non-believer friend who is extremely struggling?”

I’m going to assume (with no evidence) your friend is a girl, since writing “he or she” a thousand times is tedious, but almost everything I’m about to say applies to young men as well.

I too have unbelieving friends who are struggling, so I feel the same deep concern for them you do. I think most Christians will relate to your question.

Bad Circumstances, Bad Choices

One of my friends has a physical disability brought on by years of abusing his body. He’s older now, and in constant pain. On top of that, a couple of years ago his mom passed away, and he did not handle it well. His work is demanding and unpleasant, and he is not physically up to it anymore. Sometimes when he’s telling me what’s going on in his life, he breaks down and cries. It’s hard to hear, especially because I’ve shared the gospel with him and know he has heard it in church and from extended family. As I’ve told him a couple of times when he tells me his troubles, I don’t have anything else to offer him other than recommending repentance and faith in Christ. I cannot take away his pain or change his circumstances.

Another friend has a rebellious teenage daughter she is trying to raise with no cooperation from the father. She has invested years of her life in loving someone who, from all appearances, cannot stand the sight of her and regularly tries to physically hurt her. As a Christian, I can see how so many of the present difficulties might have been prevented if the daughter had been born to loving, consistent Christian parents instead of into her current dysfunctional mess, but what would be the use of pointing that out? What’s done is done.

These struggles are largely self-inflicted, like so many of our problems. Others are a result of factors outside our control.

First Things First

We live in a suffering world, and as Christians, we know the answer is Christ. That may sound like a cliché, but there is no better answer to be had. The world has its Jordan Petersons and Dr. Ozzes and Oprahs dispensing practical advice for people in difficult situations: “Lose weight, be honest, get a job, clean your room, contribute” or whatever. Much of this advice is good and some of it may even have the occasional biblical principle behind it, but as Christians we know it will ultimately fail to deliver the sort of lasting relief that is really needed. It’s the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid® on a gangrenous limb.

What your friend really needs is the power of God, the life of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Without these, no practical suggestion or material help is likely to produce the long term answers she needs.

Struggles with a Point

I want to be very honest here: it is distinctly possible that if your friend’s struggles are a result of her life choices, some of which cannot be reversed, or are a result of things about her that cannot be changed, such as genetics or family, then she may continue to experience difficulty even if she comes to faith in Christ.

The difference is that she will struggle with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, who is by nature a comforter; with the joy of the Lord in her heart; with the wisdom of God’s word to guide her future choices; with the example of the Lord Jesus in front of her; with full awareness of the loving care of her heavenly Father to encourage her; and with the prayers, love and practical support of God’s people to help her.

Further, she will struggle knowing what is happening in her life is not pointless, meaningless suffering with no end in sight, but a heaven-managed process by which God is producing Christ-likeness in her, a process that has nothing but glory, love, peace and joy at the end of it.

What Can We Do?

What can we do? Pray, of course. I’m sure you are already doing that.

If you have not shared your faith with her, you need to prioritize that. You cannot force it on her, or coerce her into talking about the things of God if she is unwilling, but you need to make it clear where you’re coming from. Asking God to save the people we love without doing what we can to help makes no sense: the primary way God does his work in this world is through his people.

Small, practical kindnesses are also important. It’s one thing to say, “I hope that medical test goes well.” It’s another thing to drive the person to the doctor’s office and sit through it with them. It’s one thing to say, “Good luck with that job,” but it rings a bit hollow if your friend doesn’t have bus fare to get to the interview or a decent shirt to wear. Gestures like these — even small ones — show the faith we are promoting means something in the real world.

Sometimes they say more than any words we might come up with.

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