Patient Hope for Struggling People
By Andy Stacy
I have been serving in various capacities in Olympia, WA for several years. In the last few years there has been a steady increase in homelessness and apparent drug use. Tents and RVs popping up out of nowhere, more and more people wandering around just looking out of their minds. I’m not one to see a demon under every bush, but I’ve watched people here scream and suffer and thought, “There’s definitely something demonic going on there.” It’s not the wild west here, people still have jobs, take their families to the park, normal things. But things are definitely getting worse. Like most regional problems, local ministries are affected. Friends and family succumb to a lifestyle of drug use and suffer the consequences. It touches everyone in our church in some way. And it’s not hard to understand. Without Jesus, I would be right there. To me, without Jesus, there is no reason not to live for the pleasure that drugs bring. So that’s the situation here. Some churches are doing well despite the problems, reaching people in various ways. Others are struggling. I live in a town where if you aren’t willing to attempt to make a disciple of Christ out of a heroin addict, you’re in the wrong place. Here are some things I’ve learned:
1. Pray without Becoming Cynical
When people share these requests in a Bible study or prayer meeting, our first thought is often cynical. Is it likely that so-and-sos cousin will get clean? Not really. So we settle in to offer a prayer, not expecting that the Living God is going to answer in a powerful way, but instead to minister to the grieving friend or relative. And we become cynical. Pastors especially struggle with this. Instead of focusing so much on adding other qualifiers to “the prayer of faith,” I wish we had more resolve to practice it. I confess that recently God has answered some cynical prayers that I prayed. I should know better because I was once the subject of many such prayers. So don’t be cynical. Trust that God is able to answer prayers for people that are in sin, and pray with that in mind.
2. Love without Compromising Purity
“We love you and we don’t want you to die.” That is one response I heard to a friend that was addicted to heroin. A believer who had been a role model, a part of a local church, and then a drug addict. How do we respond to people like that? When you are free grace, your response should be different than the normal church response. If the person is a believer, we are not absolved of our obligation to love him or her. In Lordship Salvation, drug user = unbeliever. But we know that’s not always the case. We should recognize our unique position to love a believer like that. We are also in a unique position to call such a believer to “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…” (Eph. 4:1b). Some may picture Free Gracers as soft on sin, but we should be more biblical about the awful consequences that come from sin. Graciously, God has removed the greatest consequence of our sin for the one who believes in Christ. And we can affirm that. We should also warn of the other consequences that will come, including church discipline, loss of eternal reward, and physical death.
3. Be Gentle and Patient
In 2 Timothy 2:23-26, Paul writes about how to approach believers that are trapped by the devil. Unfortunately, that does happen in the church. What approach should we take? Play the long game. God requires gentleness in correction and patience in the face of opposition. Don’t expect that they will change overnight. Even if we do start to see changes, we need to be realistic about how long it will take for them to be free. You may be most sympathetic if you think about how long the Lord has been working on you.
I must be a slow learner because the Lord has had to teach me this lesson more than a few times: have patient hope for struggling people. I look forward to some of you adding the lessons you have learned with your own FGA blog post.
With brotherly love,
Andy lives in Olympia, WA with his wife Sarah and their two little boys Peter and Jude. He pastors at Grace Redeemer Bible Church in Olympia, WA and works as a construction estimator at Emtech in Centralia, WA. He graduated from Grace School of Theology with a BA in Biblical Studies. He likes hunting deer and listening to talk radio. Andy is hosting an FGA Regional Conference on Saturday, Nov. 2nd at Grace Redeemer Church in Olympia, WA. You can find out more and register here.