How do you cope with the fact that most of the people you know and love are going to hell?
First off, I don’t know that they are. I try to stay away from those areas of judgment, since the Bible says, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1. Our assumptions like that also open the door to a critical spirit -- a presence that attaches to us when we decide to put ourselves on the judgment seat, as it were, and do the judging for God. The critical spirit oppressing a person likes to size up everyone and everything in a negative light. I’d prefer to avoid dealings with the Devil like that, and simply try to intercede and pray for people who need help understanding that God loves them. Besides, only God knows the inner workings of the human heart (Luke 16:15) and he alone knows who’s on the highway to hell. Since he’s the perfectly just, wise God, I’ll let him make that call.
That said, I do hear the point of your question. One hour of CNN, for instance, will illustrate in detail that the world can be a bad place; there are myriads of people in it who do not know God and seem to take great pride in mocking the ones who do. Since the Bible tells us that it’s a wide, four-lane full of souls heading south ... and a small, narrow footpath of a few folks heading north by comparison (Matthew 7:13, 14), we may rightly understand that some of our relatives, neighbors and friends are heading in the wrong direction. Many of us have spent years, maybe decades on our knees for certain ones who simply don’t desire to come to know Christ. I have this conversation at least a couple times each month: “How do people live without God?” I reply that I have no idea, since this is the truth. I wouldn’t have made the choice to live long, I’ll tell you that.
So what do we do? Indeed, how do we cope with our loved ones who’ve decided against the whole idea of the Savior of the world?
Rule number one: Pray for them continually ... but release them. Put them in God’s hands and stop wringing yours. Your prayers are being acted upon by the Lord (this is your faith-walk -- it’s a trust issue,) so the best thing for you to do is love them, keep praying, but get out of the way. All your secret mailings of tracts and Bibles; your non-stop clippings of Christian articles pertaining to their lost-ness; your dabblings in manipulation designed to force their decision to follow Christ won’t amount to a genuine conversion. They may say things and do things to get you off their back, but the truth be told -- they can’t see the way clear to know Jesus’ value in their life if you’re blocking their view. They must conclude the Savior’s worth on their own. Prayer is a good way to accomplish this. Why? Because God knows how to get to them. He knows their address and he knows what it will take to bring them into relationship with him. You don’t.
Let me be clear, we are called to witness! God asks us to make disciples ... of all nations, in fact. That is not what I’m talking about. When it comes to people closest to us, even Jesus had trouble getting folks on board with his Messiah message (John 7:1-5). The reasons for this are discussions for another day, but I will assure you, nobody was ever led to faith in Jesus at gun point.
Rule number two: Love your neighbor. Demonstrate the lifestyle of a Christ-follower every time you interact with them. Be good to your unsaved loved-one, even when it may not make sense to do it. Go the extra mile; go out of your way with patience, like Jesus did. Notice I did not say “enable them.” Treat them with the fruits of the Holy Spirit such as kindness, gentleness, love, etc. while steering clear of participation in their destructive lifestyle of sin. Example: “No, I won’t take you to the store to replenish your alcohol supply and buy your cigarettes, but I thought maybe you could use a couple bags of groceries.” Then, after you’ve blessed them in the natural realm, ask if you might pray with them. Bless them in the Spirit. Make sure you ask, though. Let them make the decision to encounter your God. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He won’t enter unless he’s invited and we shouldn’t either.
Adrienne Greene pastors the Rockdale United Methodist Church near Harrison, OH. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: email@example.com