Anyone who's ever been involved in ministry knows this to be true: MINISTRY IS HARD. Helping people see their own weakness and frailty, helping them see their need for a Savior is hard work. Discipleship is also hard; especially when one side of the equation walks away. Don't get me wrong, it's more rewarding than it is hard, but that doesn't take away from the difficulty. I do and say things on a weekly (and by that I mean daily) basis that make ministry even harder. So some of the difficulty we create, and some is thrust upon us from others.
The bottom line is still the same: I love to watch God work! Let me explain.
A little over a year ago, a young man that I started discipling a few years earlier walked away from the church and his faith. This is a guy that I saw a lot of potential in, a leader. God had gifted him in some mighty ways and I thought for sure that God was leading him towards full-time ministry in some form. But then he walked away. He cut ties with his family, his church friends, and me. I pursued him for several weeks and sat down with him a couple times to try to figure out what I had done wrong. He was experiencing his "prodigal" moment. He wanted things his way, he wanted his "freedom".
In the months that followed, contact became less and less until it was nonexistent. I had the unfortunate task of writing him a letter to inform him that as far as the church was concerned, he was under church discipline. In the meantime, I would send him texts letting him know I was praying for him, was willing to meet up if he were ever interested. I got no response.
I couldn't figure out how I had pushed him so far away. Was I pushing too hard? Was I giving him responsibility he wasn't prepared for? Was I not providing adequate supervision and instruction? What was the problem?
Then God reminded me of my job and His. It's my job to be faithful with the message and share it with those whom I come in contact with. It's His job to change the heart. I was trying to do what only God can do; change the heart. But now that this friend and brother is gone, what do I do now?
God in His faithfulness reminded me of the 2 things I could be doing in this time.
I should continue to pray in faith. Just because nothing happened in my time table didn't mean that this process wasn't happening according to God's. I prayed that God would break him of his pride. I prayed that God would return him to his family and church family. I prayed that God would do this in accordance with His plan and will. I repented of my pride, my self importance, and my self pity. I prayed regularly for God to do what only He could.
After I prayed ... I waited. I waited to see how God was going to move. A little over a year later I got a call from his dad (who happens to be a fellow elder). I could hear the mix of excitement and fear in his voice as he told me his son had asked to move home, was willing to submit himself to any rules his parents came up with, and expressed a desire to "make things right." Before he could ask, I asked if they needed help making this happen. Dad broke into tears (which made me do the same).
That night we moved him out of the small room he was renting in an apartment and took him home. Through tears and prayers we talked about the future. Since then we have started to meet for discipleship again and are moving through (and by that I mean figuring out) the steps of reconciliation. There's a long way to go, but we will face it together.
I am excited to have my friend back. I'm excited that a family has their son back. I'm excited that the church has a brother back. I'm more excited that it was done God's way!