Recently, I’ve been talking with people who don’t want to listen. It’s been a lesson for me in patience, love, mercy and perseverance. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a horrible salesman and I don’t like pushing people to do things they don’t want to do. If you ask my students, they’ll tell you that I don’t baby the ones who are unmotivated. If they want want to fail, I let them. Yet I’ve somehow found the Lord pushing me to talk to people who are pretty happy with the status quo and not terribly interested in changing.
One of my joys is talking about the good news of Jesus with people. I was recently talking with a couple guys about how we respond to God’s word. When God speaks to us or when we read his word, do we listen? Do we believe for a while and then give up? Do we let other worries in our lives choke out what God has told us? Or do we pay attention and hold on to it. At the end of our conversation, one guy told me that it made him uncomfortable and asked me if we could just play some games in English. Wow, I thought, we could talk about something that’s really important like having a relationship with the living God, but instead you’d rather just hang out, laugh and pretend like none of that matters.
It’s a bit like rushing into a burning house to save your friend only to find him reading Better Homes and Gardens. “Your house in on fire!” you tell him. “Oh let’s not worry about that,” he tells you. “In fact, I was thinking about redecorating. Do you think this wall would look better in mauve or chartreuse?”
I was also talking with an elderly lady about her faith. She claims to know God, but she has no desire to grow in faith and resists examining her actions and beliefs in light of scripture. Both of those are warning signs to me that her supposed faith is nothing more than religion and not a living relationship with God. But she finally told me that she does not want to change her ways and wants to talk no further about such things.
There have been other situations in addition to these where people responded with passivity rather than with zeal, making me wonder why God has me even try. After all, they don’t seem to want to listen. But there are some things I’m learning about God that make me realize that I shouldn’t give up so easily.
First, I’ve been seeing over and over again that God is willing to give people a chance to change. He said in Isaiah 65:2, “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices.” This was directed to people who claimed to know God. However, these people were choosing to sin even though they knew better. I finished the book of Jeremiah a couple weeks ago, and it amazed me how persistent God was with his people. The people insisted on continuing in their bad choices and actually wanted to be deceived rather than listen to the truth, yet the Lord sent Jeremiah to them over and over again.
Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Jeremiah 26:2b
The Lord warns and warns and warns, but he also judges. Many of us are hoping against hope that God is too nice to judge us for our sins, but that is a false hope. Hence the persistent call to turn from our sins and be forgiven.
There is a second group of people who aren’t following God but this is in part because they don’t know any better. To these people God said, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me” (Isaiah 65:1a). All of us were like this at one time if we are honest enough to admit it. We were going our own way with little interest in knowing or obeying God. It took a miracle for our lives to be turned around. The fact is that God even loves people who don’t yet know him or want him.
I’m finding God to be more merciful than me. Whereas I would let people fail without much of a warning, he is actively warning and encouraging people to turn to him. I have to go back to the fact that God had mercy on me, and I need to let him use me to let other people have a chance even if they don’t take it.