Helping other people to find and follow Christ is a very rewarding experience. There is no joy like being part of someone’s life as they mature in their faith, even when they weather the tough times because it displays God’s grace in amazing ways. But it’s equally heartbreaking to see others take for granted what’s been invested in them and go their own way.
We want the best for people but we can’t make them: live for God, make wise choices, or respond the way we want them to. Scripture describes the different conditions of people’s soil (hearts): deterred by the enemy, discouraged by difficulty, distracted by life, or determined to grow (Matthew 13:1-23). While we aim and hope for the latter, we need to be ready for the first 3 options.
This literally means to burn, having a corrosive effect, or destructive to living tissue. While, yes, God loves them intensely, they can actually be more trouble than they’re worth. Everyone needs someone to believe in them, give them a chance, take risks on them, even when it’s unpopular. But we must also think of the potential for disruption and divisiveness that the CAUSTIC can stir up. This isn’t to say they’re bad or insidious people, but many times their issues and baggage prevent them from maturing emotionally and advancing spiritually. Here are several ways to recognize the CAUSTIC:
- Ask for our advice, then do what they want to do, often times the opposite of wise counsel.
- Don’t want to be told what to do. “I know!”
- Struggles turn to self-pity and inaction.
- Run from their mistakes.
- Serve to win approval.
- Boastful about their knowledge.
- Eager to perform.
- Shrug off the “process.”
- Only call on us when they need something
- Ministry is burdensome.
- Critical of people and disdain for ministry.
- Focus on numeric growth.
- People pleasers.
- Drain us of energy and joy.
- See people in authority as being too restrictive and as dream squashers.
While we give some people our best, it might not be enough because their hearts are pursuing something different. Even the great Apostle Paul discovered this the hard way. He mentions deserters of the Gospel, those who are shipwrecked in their faith. Depending on the timing, his added concern was that they betrayed him when he needed them the most, leaving him shipwrecked. One of the people mentioned was“…Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). The Greek word for deserted is egkataleipo which means to abandon, leave in straits, leave helpless, utterly forsaken. He talks about Phygellus and Hermogenes who bailed and turned away from him (2 Timothy 1:15). Paul then reveals his pain in having to stand alone while on trial (2 Timothy 4:16).
Causes are grounds for action; a principle aim because of a deep commitment. It can also be something or someone that a person is prepared to defend or advocate. We have a cause as our central ideal in following Christ: helping others to follow Him as well. Many times we will find ourselves fighting for them so they have a chance to live for God. This will require sacrifice, time, prayer, tears, etc. It won’t always be convenient, clean, or simple. But it’s worth it. Here are some qualities of people who need to be on our radar:
- Seek us out for mentoring.
- Ask for advice.
- While they struggle, they progress.
- Learn from their mistakes.
- Serve to meet needs.
- Quietly ponder instruction.
- Eager to grow.
- Realize change takes time.
- Depend on God.
- God’s calling is a privilege and people are precious.
- Focus on individual growth.
- Humbly honor God.
- Energize us.
- Respect authority figures as God’s umbrella of protection and value their input, even when they disagree.
While we reach out to everyone, there are a select few that God entrusts to us for special attention and affection. They are the people with the natures of Silas (the faithful brother, 1 Peter 5:12), Timothy (the spiritual son, 1 Cor. 4:17), and Titus (the colleague and ministry partner, 2 Cor. 8:23).
We must be careful and be led by God’s Spirit. Following Christ’s example, and for the most part Paul’s, we pour into people everything we’ve got. We’re passing on to others what’s been planted in us. But remember this: Jesus made it difficult for people to “get in” (Matthew 19:24) but made it easy for them “to leave” (Matthew 19:22). We get this mixed up and pursue people…who obviously don’t want to be bothered.
- We invest not for a return (from people) but a reward (from God).
- Obeying and serving are our motives.
- There is no wasted investment…only squandered ones.
- We must look for the best in people, not zero in on their flaws.
- Only God can change people’s hearts.
- Don’t let the CAUSTIC distract you from helping the CAUSES.
- People are not implements to build our self-worth.
- People’s foolish decisions are not our failures.
As far as I know. Jesus never gave up on anyone…even Judas. The betrayer was allowed a seat at the Last Supper which was a very intimate moment for Him and His best friends. Wishing to exemplify His life message and drive home the point, Jesus stooped down as a servant to wash the feet of those who were as close to Him as His own brothers. John 13 tells us that He “finished washing their feet…” That means all of them, even Judas. Jesus loves us all with an enduring heart like none of us could ever imagine. It may seem naive to us, but He’s ever the optimist who wants and hopes for the best in all of us.
I was asked recently by a colleague and dear friend, “How do you know when to give up?” I told him we NEVER give up on people. We ALWAYS leave the door open…but we also need to know when to back off…so we don’t get burned.