Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Do you have people in your family and inner circle who don't quite get your Christian faith? You know the ones who look at you sometimes as if you are an alien. Or a Jesus Freak. They just roll their eyes when you say anything about Jesus.
It can often be the hardest to share our faith with those we love. Why? I think that is because they know us too well. They have witnessed us snapping and screaming and being well, un-Christian-like way too many times. So perhaps they don't think we are genuine.
Or perhaps they just aren't ready to hear the gospel message. Maybe we just need to show it to them.
I grew up in Pennsylvania in a Presbyterian church where no one in my circle talked about Jesus outside of church. Faith was a personal, private thing. Something you just didn't discuss. I have a family member who says they learned a long time ago there are two things you never talk about in a group - politics and religion. I used to agree with that. I no longer do.
I moved South out of college and I was very surprised how many people down here do talk about their faith. A lot of times it is in subtle ways - "I'll pray for you." "Bless you."... And I was one of the eye rollers back then. 'You can believe what you want, but please don't push it on me.'
I talk a lot about how I was an "Occasional Christian" for a long time. I occasionally went to church, occasionally said an air prayer if I needed God's help, occasionally thought about something spiritual. Was I saved? Was my eternity sealed? I had doubts. Actually I had a lot of doubts about the whole Christianity thing. I bought some of it, but definitely not all of it.
Decades later when I really finally got it and had gone from being skeptical to being a believer, I wanted to share it! But I was hesitant with my family and inner circle. They were not receptive to put it mildly. I learned however, that God's got this.
Let me tell you the story about my dad. His parents were very involved in their church. Every week growing up my dad had to go to church. Every week. After high school he joined the Navy, went to college and then got married. I think Dad pretty much stopped going to church after he graduated from high school. I remember when I was very little going to church sometimes. I remember laying on the pew with my head on my mother's lap during the service. I don't remember if Dad was there. But then we stopped going at all except for Easter and Christmas. When I was in middle school I joined the youth group at our church, took confirmation classes to join the church, went to PTL meetings with my friend and her family, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I was on fire for the Lord! My mom thought I had lost it and kept trying to get me to go talk to the church minister. My siblings mocked me. I don't remember my dad saying anything about my new faith. He may not have been aware of it because he and I didn't interact much.
My dad wasn't a loving father. Don't get me wrong - Dad was a good man in that he was hard-working, honest, provided for his family,...; but loving towards us, no. He expected us to behave, get good grades and to do chores perfectly. He had a way of going from 0 to 10 on an anger scale. We would be eating dinner and everything was going fine, someone would say something and that would set him off. His verbal anger would explode. (He never physically harmed us.) So we treaded lightly around my dad. We avoided him. We did what he said so as not to have him emotionally vomit all over us.
My mom died when I was 20 and my world fell apart. I turned away from the Lord. I rarely went home unless I didn't have anywhere else to go. Graduated from college. Moved South. I could deal with my dad when I went home because it was only for a couple days. If he started to seem like he was going to explode, my husband and I would just leave and take the kids back to my in-laws' house.
Over the years I did draw closer to my dad. He softened. I softened. We weren't around each other that much which made our reconciliation easier.
When I finally came back to Jesus, I wanted to share my faith with my dad. I was doing a Bible study about forgiveness and reconciliation and it got me to thinking if I had really forgiven my dad for everything he had done. (Christians are called to forgive.) I felt like I had. I read a book called The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents by Dennis Rainey and Dave Boehi. (Not sure what happened to that book. Can't find it in my bookcases.) The book is about the fifth commandment - honoring your parents. Going through the book, I realized that I really had long ago forgiven my dad. The book suggested you write a tribute to your parent and I wrote one to Dad, had it typeset, and framed. I gave it to him on his birthday and it meant so much to him.
After my mom died, I don't think my dad stepped foot in a church - not even for Christmas or Easter. I don't think he was a believer, but I can't be sure what was in his heart. There was no indication he had any relationship with God. I didn't share the gospel with him because I was afraid he would blow up at me. Or maybe because there wasn't a time I was alone with him to have a conversation. The kids and my husband were always around when we visited my dad.
Then he had a heart attack. I spent a week with him and you think I would have said something to him then. I didn't. I think I was afraid to. But after his heart attack I started to really pray for him that he would come to know the Lord. I would occasionally give him a CD of a sermon or a book to read. No comment from him. I would talk on the phone about my church or my women's group. Silence on his end. He wasn't having any of it from me. Or perhaps I was planting seeds to get him thinking and I just didn't know it.
And I prayed. I prayed for God to give me an opportunity to talk to Dad about Jesus. I prayed that God would bring people into Dad's life who would talk to him about the Lord. I prayed and I prayed.
Then we got the phone call that Dad had been found lying in his apartment. He had fallen and laid there a long time. They found old and new blood clots on his brain and they airlifted him to Pittsburgh for brain surgery. There I sat in ICU with him for 4 days and never said anything about Jesus to him. There were others around and well, I didn't want him to think he was dying even though he was. And so near the end I whispered in his ear, "Jesus loves you." He died a few hours later.
Dad lived a long life. I don't think he would have recovered from that brain surgery. It was good he passed away.
But I was devastated because I believed he went to hell. And I blamed myself. Why hadn't I found the opportunity to share the gospel with him? Why hadn't I just done it? What held me back? 'Dear God, please forgive me!'
My aunt and I left Pittsburgh and drove up to Dad's apartment. We walked in and my dad's cleaning lady was there. We had never met her. She said she was there to wash the bed sheets and put out clean towels for us and clean up. How sweet. She told us how she had found my dad laying on the floor and called the ambulance. She went with him to the hospital. When they found out he had to be airlifted to Pittsburgh for brain surgery she was very blunt with him. She asked him if he knew Jesus. He said he wasn't sure. She explained the gospel to him. Then she asked if he was ready to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He said he had to think about it. Her reply was, "Ray, you are being airlifted to have brain surgery which you may not survive. You need to make a decision now. Promise me when you are in that helicopter that you will decide one way or the other if Jesus is your Savior and Lord." He promised her he would.
Now this just blew me away! Dad's cleaning lady did not know me. She did not know if I was a believer. Why within the first 5 minutes of meeting her would she tell me this?! It was such a God thing. I hugged her and began to just sob. I told her I had been earnestly praying for my dad to know the Lord ever since he had had his heart attack 3 years before. She told me she had been cleaning my dad's apartment for 2 years and in the whole time she would talk to him about Jesus. She said my dad was very receptive to her. That he told her about how he had been burned by the church. (I don't know how.) He asked her questions. He talked about his beliefs.
Honestly, God was answering my prayers and my broken heart and guilt. No, I hadn't shared the gospel with Dad, but God had it covered.
After the funeral, my dad's best friend came to the apartment and sat at the kitchen table with me. Out of the blue he started talking about how he didn't know why my dad didn't go to church or what his beliefs were. But Jim said he kept talking to my dad about Jesus! Jim did not know I was a believer either. This was God saying, "Oh, sweet child, I heard your prayers. I answered them. I had it covered all along." God didn't want me going through the rest of my life feeling guilty because I never talked to Dad about Jesus.
I do not know if I will see Dad in heaven. I don't know what he decided in that helicopter. Oh, I hope he repented from his sins and accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord! I think he must have. He laid on his kitchen floor for days before he was found. That was plenty of time to have a long conversation with God. But I realize it was his choice. And where he ended up, whether it is heaven or hell, is his deal. But I so hope it is heaven!
As much as we want our loved ones to know the Lord, we can't do it for them.
This was one of the most profound spiritual experiences I have had. I realized in a way I never had before that God is working in our lives. That He hears our prayers. That He answers them. That He loved my dad more than I ever could and wanted nothing more than my dad to be with Him for all eternity. God brought people into my dad's life to witness to him. God certainly gave my dad the opportunity for salvation.
I also learned an urgency to share with others. None of us know the number of our days. Our lives here on earth could be over tomorrow. Today is the day.
And for those people who shut us down and don't want to hear anything about it, pray for them. And have peace that God hears your prayers and He is working on their hearts. He has this! He is after all, God.