Meet Jill and Cliff. They have a somewhat similar story, yet at this point they have very different outcomes. I have been in a relationship with Cliff for five years now. We met at a local coffee shop. Cliff and I have eaten many meals together, drank hundreds of cups of coffee, and spent hours just hanging out over the past five years. We have built a great friendship. One where we text back and forth about everything from the mundane to the important. Cliff is a guy I could go to if I ever needed anything, and I know he feels the same. I have only known Jill since January. When she heard about our little church plant, she decided to give religion a go. She showed up the second week of our core team gathering. Since then Jill and my family have had meals together, and spent time talking about the challenges and struggles she has had in her life. She is a single mom with three kids and has had a rough life the last couple of years. Church was kind of a last ditch effort to find hope.
Similarities & Differences
I have a deep love for both Cliff and Jill. They are good friends, ones I have been praying for and trusting Jesus to bring to faith. My method has been the same. I have shared the gospel with both of them on many different occasions. They both have had major needs, one is dying of terminal cancer, the other is struggling with a 10+ year drug addiction. Their need for God in their life is present, and both of them would tell you they need God.
Yet, in the midst of all these similarities there is a major difference. About two months ago, Jill put her faith in Jesus, after only being part of our church family for 4 or 5 months. No one person led her to Jesus. She did not say a 'sinners' prayer one day during a passionate plea from me. None of that happened. She just simply came to us and said she had faith in Jesus. She believed in all the things he said he did. She understood he had died for her sinfulness. He had forgiven her. He had risen again. She knew it all, and more importantly she believed it all with her heart and was willing to give her life over to Jesus. The only thing she didn't know was now what. She didn't know if she had to sign anything or say any special words. It was beautiful. The Spirit was working in her life!
Cliff, on the other hand, has heard the gospel. He has seen it at work in my life as I talk about struggles, about my past, and as he has seen me parent my children and love my wife. But he has still not placed his faith in Jesus. He has asked for a Bible and for me to study it with him, but that is as far as it has gone. I love Cliff. Cliff is not a project. He is my friend. He is my friend who I will earnestly seek God to bring to himself. Not for my sake, but for Cliff's. Jesus is the best thing that could happen to Cliff.
Time & Truth
The reason I compare these two friends of mine is that nothing different was done with Jill that wasn't done with Cliff. We did not have some amazing discipleship technique that worked on Jill, which we somehow forgot to use on Cliff. No, it's just how the Spirit works. The Spirit quickens who he will, and he tarries when he wants, and there is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is pray.
This is always a concern we must have when we think through discipleship. We must always factor the Holy Spirit into our equation. It is not that I failed with Cliff and succeeded with Jill. Far from it. God simply works in his way in his time. This is something I need to come to understand better. I need to realize that only by living a life that points people to Jesus will I have the chance to see God work in his timing.
It also gives me a deep hope for Cliff, and everyone else I know who is not submitting his or her life to Jesus. The hope is that the Spirit will work when he will work. It is not in my eloquent speech, or persuasive words. It is when he desires to lead those who he has called unto himself. All I can do is be faithful and pray and proclaim and display the gospel and sit back and wait.
When I think through the difference between Cliff and Jill, I can get frustrated. I remember sitting across from Cliff, asking God, “why?” What had I done wrong? It seemed like I had done everything right, from my limited perspective, yet Cliff’s heart was not changing at all, not in the slightest. I was looking at myself and becoming frustrated that I could not come up with the right things to say, or the right pitch. Later, I was re-reading Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change. Chester points out that, “Behind every sin is a lie.” (pg 73)
When I thought about the different outcomes between Jill in Cliff, I was getting discouraged and down, forgetting that God is good. I was forgetting these truths about Jesus, and believing the lie that it was in my hands to convince Cliff.
In the fifth chapter, Chester looks at Psalm 62.11-12 and points out 4 truths that we need to daily remind ourselves, when the lies assault us.
- God is great – so we do not have to be in control.
- God is glorious – so we do not have to fear others.
- God is good – so we do not have to look elsewhere.
- God is gracious – so we do not have to prove ourselves.
These four truths rushed in and brought comfort to my struggling heart that day. They were the very thing I needed to remember. These four truths are critical for my heart when I am in the midst of a situation as talked about above. We will all be in a situation that has the same storyline. We will fail at discipleship, in our own mind. Yet the truth is that in the midst of what we may label as a failure, God is still great, glorious, good and gracious. Each of us will have people that we invest time, money, prayers, all we have to show them Jesus’ love, and they will do nothing but cause you headaches. Whether Cliff ever comes to know Jesus or not, God does not change. I must never believe the lie that my value and worth is found in my fruit or in Cliff’s conversion.
Josh Cousineau was a youth pastor for over 5 years & is now the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Community, which launched in Auburn ME in 2012. Josh is married to his high school sweetheart, Anna. They have 3 amazing children (2 boys & 1 girl). Their daughter was adopted from Uganda in 2011. Josh blogs at http://joshcousineau.com
For more insights into evangelism & discipleship, check-out Jonathan Dodson's Unbelievable Gospel.