Monday, December 03, 2018

Anonymous Asks (16)

“I have a friend at my public high school and she isn’t really walking with God anymore and the clothes she is wearing are not God-honoring at all. She says she is close to Him but she’s really not. What do I do?”

Of the twenty to thirty kids who came and went more-or-less regularly from our 1980s youth group, I’m guessing perhaps 30-40% are still walking with the Lord today. Of the remainder, some are living morally decent but secular lives. Some would still call themselves Christians but don’t really fellowship with other believers anymore. Some are in a major mess, or in the process of trying to climb out of it.

Almost every serious Christian goes through this with a close friend at one point or another. It is very discouraging to witness someone else’s spiritual decline, especially when your own heart and life are deeply invested in their welfare.

Let me suggest four things you can do for your friend:
  1. Encourage her to live consistently with her profession of faith.
  2. Set the right example.
  3. Pray for her.
  4. Keep moving forward in your own Christian life whether she responds or not.
Encourage One Another

First, the writer to the Hebrews addresses something that sounds like exactly the problem you are describing:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Sin is deceitful, and people who claim they know Jesus Christ can easily fall away from the faith if they do not take care. The remedy here is exhortation, or encouragement from fellow Christians. If your friend is really a believer, there is a written standard of acceptable behavior that you both agree on (at least in theory), and to which you can appeal. It sounds like you are doing this already, but I would encourage you to keep it up. It’s not necessary to become a nag, or to constantly repeat the same things, but if your friend really knows the Lord, she has the Holy Spirit working to convict her that the way she is living is displeasing to her Savior.

Set An Example

Second, bad company ruins good morals, as Paul tells the church in Corinth. Likewise, good company encourages them. “Set the believers an example,” Paul tells Timothy. Why? Because it’s not always enough to appeal to a common written standard. Some of us need to see the standard lived out and embodied in order to grasp that it’s possible and desirable to live the same way.

I have found that when you point to areas of need in someone’s life, they will often respond with a list of your past failings, as if the general observation that everyone sins somehow nullifies your specific concerns for them in the here and now. It’s best to head this excuse off at the pass by leaving them as little as possible to work with.

Naturally, if you want your friend to take your concerns about her spiritual state seriously, it is necessary to take any concerns she expresses about yours equally seriously.

Sinning by Ceasing

Third, keep praying. This is so obvious I am almost reluctant to note it, but James reminds us to pray for one another, then adds, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I don’t believe your friend’s fate is sealed one way or the other. It is very much fluid, subject to influences both good and bad, both earthly and from the spirit realm. Jesus taught his disciples to always pray and not lose heart, which suggests giving up hope of an answer is a very common problem.

Samuel said, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” He said it to a people who had just sinned, and being a prophet, he knew they would continue to sin too. But he was not about to join them in sinning by giving up praying for them.

Keep Going Regardless

Finally, be prepared to let go emotionally if you have to.

That may sound a bit confusing since I’ve been saying you should not give up praying even if your friend is unresponsive to your attempts to modify her behavior. And you shouldn’t. But remember that the one thing worse than your friend returning to the world would be you becoming discouraged and getting dragged down along with her.

So brace yourself and be realistic. It may be that your friend was never saved in the first place. It may be that she is saved but has some hard lessons to learn before she is willing to make the necessary changes to her life and habits. These lessons sometimes take years, and often involve serious long-term consequences. If she is determined to persist in her current path (“hardened”, as Hebrews puts it), you may find your efforts to encourage her only drive the two of you apart because she will not want to keep hearing about her sin.

Sinners, as we know, have a tendency to want to shoot the messenger. When the king of Israel was told he should consult the prophet Micaiah, he replied, “I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” This was because King Ahab was an evil man doing evil things, and the prophet’s job was to tell the truth. It’s not appropriate to applaud a reprobate.

Anyway, as a result, Ahab avoided talking to Micaiah, as if not hearing his message would somehow change its validity. It may be that your friend will do something similar and avoid you like the plague.

That’s not necessarily an indication you’ve done a bad job. It may be an indication you’ve done exactly what the Lord expects of a good friend. We often find our fellow believers leave us along the way. Sometimes they come back.

No comments :

Post a comment