Sharing the love of Jesus with friends and family members is often not a sprint. Sometimes it can be a marathon. Doing outreach with parents, siblings, friends, colleagues and other people God places in your life takes time and Spirit-granted patience.
I have one family member who came from a very intellectual background. He was a deep thinker, a committed reader and waffled between atheism and agnosticism. I prayed for him, shared my own journey with Jesus and presented the gospel to him on many occasions over two decades. Sometimes when I was praying the hardest and having some of the best spiritual conversations with him, he seemed farther from God than ever. It just didn’t make sense to me. I knew spiritual battles were taking place, but there was no rhyme or reason to any of it. One day he would be open; the next, he would be pushing back or pull away. It was very frustrating.
I would give him books like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. While he read these books and reflected on them, he would not take that step of faith to believe in Jesus. At times, I felt disheartened, discouraged and ready to give up. As much as I loved this guy, it felt like there were zero indications that his heart was growing soft or open to the good news of Jesus. Numerous times, I was tempted to move on to “greener pastures” and focus on people who seemed more open to the gospel. But God kept calling me to pray, share yet again and look for new ways to connect him to Jesus.
After close to 20 years of me walking with this man, his heart began to soften. He started asking new questions about Jesus, the Bible and the Christian faith with a sense of urgency and openness. Over time he was able to think through many of his questions, but he also realized he could never make it all the way to Jesus through his intellect—he needed to take a step of faith, a genuine surrender. When he finally cried out to Jesus for cleansing and new life, he was transformed. It was a joy to watch! The Holy Spirit swept in like a fresh spring breeze and brought life to this young man. A new kindness marked his interactions with other family members. A gracious spirit took over his heart. His whole life direction began to shift toward the things of God.
It took more than two decades of patient prayer, sharing, friendship and risk-taking conversations, but it was all worth it. I knew I could easily have given up. And I am so thankful that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
Pray for patience as you reach out to your friends, family members and new connections God is forging. Be in it for the long haul! Don’t give up on them. Even as I write this, I still have members of my family who are not followers of Jesus. I have been praying for some of them for more than 30 years. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with family members, have shared countless stories of how God has moved in my life and have presented the good news of Jesus on more occasions than I can remember. I grow weary and discouraged at times. In these moments, I do what I hope you will learn to do: I pray for power and patience. Then, I press on. I remember that God was patient with me, and I seek to continue to be patient with them, knowing that God works through the prayers of his people in his time.
Do you have a friend you have given up on? Pray and keep walking with them!
Do you have a family member who seems more hard-hearted than when you began praying for them? Don’t give up!
God is still working. Their hearts might be more open than you realize. Keep loving, praying, serving and sharing. This could be the day.
Kevin Harney, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more on this topic, see Organic Outreach for Families by Kevin and Sherry Harney.