A struggle with gratitude can arise from the rejection of the gospel by those we love. We can find that our joyful anticipation of heaven is tempered because those who reject Christ will enjoy no such paradise and will be sent to a real place called hell for all eternity (Matthew 10:28, 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). That is true not just for unrepentant criminals but also for well-meaning neighbors, friends, and family members who do not embrace the gospel. We pray for them earnestly. We look for ways to live out the gospel before their eyes. We seize opportunities to sincerely express the reason for the joy that is within us.
We are burdened by the fact that our words and actions so often seem to fall on deaf ears. As a result, there is a danger that our own gratitude toward the Lord who saved us is diminished due to our frustration with knowing that our loved ones are not saved.
How are we to respond?
This sorrow is the same as that which we see Paul experiencing in Romans 9 as he thinks about his Jewish kinsmen:
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9 v 2-3
This anguish is right and biblical when we long for non-believers to come to know Christ, but not when we allow it to stop us from showing real gratitude to God. When that happens, we need to turn to Scripture and be reminded of what we cannot see:
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13 v 12
We see dimly and do not have a deep understanding of what is happening, but even so, we desire to hurry up the results. We want lost people to come to Christ. We struggle to accept that God is at work on his own timetable. The Lord is teaching us yet again that we are simply not in control—and that he alone sees the big picture.
When God Saved a Family Through a Funeral
I recently heard an amazing and encouraging true story. Two parents had seven children. The father was the only Christian in the family until one of the sons became a believer as well. By the time this father died, still just that one child was a Christian. Everyone else in this large and extended family was lost.
That son was so burdened for his family that he shared the gospel message every way he knew how, but time and time again the message was openly rejected. For some reason, he decided to make an audio recording just in case he died unexpectedly, so that he might have one last chance to make a plea. He told a Christian friend where the recording was located—just in case.
Fast forward a few years: that man died in a plane crash, and the recording was played at his funeral. Five of those siblings and their families, as well as his own wife and children, and even his own mother, were transformed almost immediately after hearing it. Each one made a profession of faith in Christ. Their lives were forever changed and they happily serve the Lord today. Only one brother and his family still reject the gospel. The family continues to pray earnestly for them.
Can you imagine what an ecstatically glad reunion there will be in Glory when that earthly family is reunited?
The first brother sowed seeds and did not live to see them sprout. But in God’s perfect timing, they burst forth and continue to bear much fruit! That fruit is above and beyond what he ever dared to ask.
Not only are we not in control but we sometimes vastly underestimate what the Lord has in store in his divine plan. One of my favorite quotes from John Piper is this:
“In every situation, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.”
Many parents of prodigals—beloved children who have turned away from the Lord—would likely admit that the massive weight of care they feel for their own lost children hinders their thankfulness to God for who he is. Whether they became Christians after their children were raised, or they prayed for salvation from the time their children were in utero, the pain of watching one’s own child reject the gospel is difficult to adequately put into words.
So here’s the plan: we pray without ceasing. We act like the one Jesus describes in Matthew 7, who is constantly asking, seeking, and knocking. Every time you think of those who are lost, pray for them by name instead of worrying about them.
Allow yourself to dream about what the Lord may be doing in their lives unseen to all at this very moment. Pray for people to be dropped right in their path. Read books about former prodigals whose testimonies are being used to reach those who are unlikely to listen to someone who has never known a stage of life away from the Lord.
But at the end of the day, this is a trust issue. Do we trust God, or not? Do we really believe that he created and loves every human being, and that he delights in saving souls through the shed blood of his Son?
We must take immense encouragement as we trust the Lord with our lost ones. Their stories are still unfolding in ways we cannot see. In our finite understanding, we have no way to see what God is preparing. So, we keep on sharing the good news, keep on praying, and keep on trusting the Lord for the results.
This article originally appeared on thegoodbook.com. Used with permission.
Mary K. Mohler serves in ministry as the president’s wife at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and as the founder and director of Seminary Wives Institute, an academic program for student wives at Southern Seminary and Boyce College.
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