I first met Gene when he wandered into the Midtown Cafe asking for spiritual guidance. With some help from volunteers and local pastors, Gene learned the gospel, placed his faith in Jesus, and got baptized.
He was on fire for Jesus and wanted everyone to know his story. Sometimes he stood up in the middle of the cafe and told everyone how God rescued him from alcoholism and helped him establish a stable home for his two daughters. On one occasion, Gene’s testimony inspired a homeless addict to cry out to Jesus.
Then Gene disappeared.
His cell phone number stopped working and he wouldn’t answer his door when we knocked.
We were distraught. After walking with him for over a year, Gene didn’t want to see us anymore.
We prayed for him in his absence, and eventually concluded we’d never see him again.
Then a couple of weeks ago, Gene showed up at our new location. He was smiling and laughing and gave each of us a big bear hug. He apologized for avoiding us and immediately started helping us move furniture into our new office space.
One of the reasons he started avoiding us was because he was ashamed. He had let a woman
move into his house after we warned him against it. She ripped him off and he had to have her arrested. He was embarrassed to tell us what happened.
I want to see Gene grow and mature in Christ. To come to a place where he doesn’t make mistakes like taking strange women into his house, yet also trusts his brothers in Christ to give him grace when he does make mistakes.
Discipleship is important, but I’ve learned I can’t just make that happen. Like me, Gene has to learn how to remain in Christ and listen to the Holy Spirit. I can tell him the truth every day of the week, but how he chooses to handle the truth is ultimately his responsibility.
So besides preaching at Gene, what can I do?
When the Apostle Paul heard about the blossoming faith of new Christians, he started praying for them.
This is what he wrote to them:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10, ESV)
What a way to pray for someone!
I hope people pray this way for me – not that I would start attending church on Sundays, or that I would find a good small group – But that I would grow in wisdom and understanding, able to please God with my works.
I am (painfully) learning that the best I can do for new believers is hand their growth and maturity over to Jesus. He knows what they need to grow – and he may ask me to participate. But my participation must start with prayer.
I love this quote, but for the life of me I can’t find out who said it:
“We have no business talking to people about God until we’ve talked to God about people.”
I agree, though it’s hard to put into practice.
Gene and I had a conversation about obedience and inner transformation. I value his insight into the dynamics of the neighborhood, so I asked him how we ought to be helping our neighbors know Jesus better.
“Love them.” He answered, “When I met you guys, you loved me, and that changed my life.”
A great way to practice loving someone is to be able to say, “I’ve been praying for you” with a clear conscience.