Never Give Up
I looked out into the congregation and there he was—the man who could have been my father’s double! I tried not to stare at him as I finished my presentation but the resemblance was startling. Strangely, that same week, I saw two more look-alikes” for my unbelieving dad as I continued my speaking tour in other churches.
I’ve been a believer for 20 years and I’ve yet to see any family members (except our children) come to faith in Yeshua. In fact, the subject doesn’t come up so often anymore. Do I get discouraged? Yes, I do. At times I hear about other people’s relatives accepting Jesus as Messiah and I wonder if it will ever happen for my family. I may even go for a while without thinking about it. Until something happens…like seeing three “look-alikes” of my father in various churches—nothing big or cosmic, but it sparks my imagination. Maybe someday my dad really will sing Yeshua’s praises with a group of believers, really will sit and listen to God’s Word and maybe even share Jesus with others. And I am challenged to renew my hope, to pray more fervently and faithfully, perhaps even to enter a new round of “testing the waters.” Maybe this time they will be open to the gospel.
What about you? Maybe you’ve shared your faith with your family and have also seen the months and years pass without any change. Perhaps you also wonder what more you can do. Maybe sometimes you even feel like giving up. Don’t.
We should never give up hoping, praying and witnessing to our families. After all, we want them to know God’s love in Messiah Yeshua. We yearn for them to open their minds to His Word, to show some desire for spiritual truths. Most of all, we long to know that they will be with us in heaven.
Yet many of us are painfully aware of our mistakes. We remember failed attempts to witness. It seems like doors have been shut for some time. Maybe our prayers begin to drop off—a signal that we’ve lost hope either in God’s ability or in His desire to save our family. As our prayers diminish, so does our alertness for opportunities to share a word of story.
So now what?
First, let’s remember that God has not given up. All day long God has stretched out His hands to stubborn people that have walked in a way that is not His, to people who walk according to their own thoughts (Isaiah 65:2). He loves with an everlasting love and draws people with loving-kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). He wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
The only reason we have faith is because God never gave up pursuing us. We weren’t looking for God, He was looking for us! In his poem “The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson describes a man running from God, fearful and lost, not wanting to hear anything redemptive. Yet God—the Hound of heaven—does not yield:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears…
Still with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace
Came on the following feet, and a Voice above their beat:
Naught shelters thee who wilt not shelter Me…
We can trust God, who never gives up. He works invisibly, yet relentlessly in people’s lives, and that includes our families. God admonishes us to be relentless as well: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). Even as God stretches out His hands all day long, we are charged with “holding fast the word of life” to people (Philippians 2:16).
I want to encourage you, don’t give up! “This time” just might be different. How? First, lives are constantly changing, so while family members might not have been open to the gospel before, new circumstances around them and inside them can change that. Second, you don’t know who else might have been witnessing to your family since your last attempt. God has been at work in their lives continually since the last time you tried sharing your faith, and they might be more ready to respond positively.
There is another important reason why this time might be different—and that is that you are different. You are not the same person you were yesterday. You have changed since last week, month, year or whenever it was that you last tried talking about your faith with your family. If your walk with God is a healthy one, you have grown in wisdom and sensitivity; in faith and obedience. You have probably grown in your ability to share your faith effectively. As new opportunities arise you are more and more equipped to handle them well.
What if it seems that opportunities are not arising? Here are a few suggestions you might prayerfully consider to open up opportunities.
Try asking a family member to explain your own beliefs to you. You might say something like, “Mom, I know that you would rather I not talk to you about God, but it’s such an important part of my life that I really need to know that you understand what it is that I believe. Would you humor me and just take a few minutes to tell me what you think I believe about Jesus?” Then listen without interrupting. Afterwards you might say, “It seems like I haven’t done such a good job explaining when it comes to ___________. Can I take five minutes and explain what it is that I really believe?” Or, “I think there is one part I must have left out. It would mean a lot to me if I could take five minutes to try filling in that missing piece.”
A similar suggestion is to ask a family member to help you do better at explaining your faith. For example, “Dad, I know you and I disagree about Jesus but I can’t help wondering if I’ve really done the best job of explaining my faith. I don’t want to argue, but maybe you could tell me specifically your biggest objection. Whatever it is, I’d really like to think it through and have the opportunity sometime to present a logical five or ten minute reply. It may not make a difference in what you think, but maybe I’ll learn something.” Then listen to the objection without defending your position and prayerfully prepare a godly reply.
As always, talk to the Lord about your family before you talk with them about Him. Then watch and listen for opportunities.
Another suggestion is to get other people involved in witnessing to your family. Encourage your Christian friends to reach out to them. And pray that God will enable others to have a role in preparing your family’s hearts for the gospel.
When I had to undergo serious heart surgery, my wife Laura and I invited our friends to come to the waiting room. We needed the sense of community and support to uphold Laura, but we also wanted our friends to be a light to my unsaved family as they waited with her. I wish that I could have been there, but unfortunately I was busy in the operating room! Laura tells me that over 20 people came, many of whom stayed all day. The room was filled with a sense of hope and joy. My parents and sister didn’t always know what to make of it, but they were very moved by this display of support from Christian friends. Some of our friends were able to share a word of story with them. As a result, my parents have chosen to have further contact with some of our close friends, and so the witness will continue.
I am so thankful that I am not the only one witnessing to my family. Whether I ask friends to reach out to my family or God surprises me by bringing believers into their lives, I’m thrilled.
We don’t need to force anything or to push ahead of God. But trust that He is working in your family members’ lives and that He desires to use you in that process.
“Walk in wisdom toward [your family], redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5,6).
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.