Don’t Give Up On People. God Doesn’t.

There’s probably someone in your life that you’re tempted to give up on spiritually. Someone who you’ve tried to influence toward Jesus to no avail. Someone who has been exposed to Christianity, maybe a good church, and maybe even shown some interest from time to time but now they are headed decidedly away from the gospel and you’re ready to give up and stop praying and move on.

Don’t.

There are gobs of biblical examples of God changing the heart of an unlikely convert. Think no further than Saul, the persecutor of the church, turned Paul, the Apostle.

Then there is the more personal reality that if God can change my heart (or your heart) he can change anyone’s.

This morning, instead of unpacking those important motivations to not give up on people, I’d rather tell you a story about Tyler.

I first met Tyler when my wife and I were newly married and were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called CRU). One of my tasks was to go into some of the fraternities and see if I could start some sort of Bible Study. Not knowing a soul, I wandered into the Phi Delt house asking to speak to the pledge trainer. (If you’re not familiar with the Greek system, the pledge trainer in fraternities oversaw all the freshman pledges and would alternate from being their advocate to their tormentor.)

I had a simple question: “Could I start a Bible Study with the pledges during their study hall?” I expected a simple answer: “No.” And once I had received that “No” I would be able to move on with a clean conscience and look for an easier group to start a ministry with.

Much to my surprise, in what I still deem a miracle right up there with the parting of the Red Sea, the pledge trainer said, “Sure.” The pledges were required to attend a nightly study hall in a room on campus and once a week they could escape it for an hour to come to a Bible Study I led. There were about 35 pledges that semester and probably 8-10 came each week. I didn’t think guys coming to the study was much of a miracle because remember they were getting out of study hall.

Some pretty cool stuff happened in and through that study and God changed lives but some of that will have to wait for another time. Today is about Tyler.

For whatever reason I really liked Tyler. I didn’t know it at the time but he was a guy who lots of people would like over his years at Mizzou. While he was there, he was a leader in his fraternity but also all over campus.

Tyler showed some spiritual interest. He’d come to the studies pretty consistently and we’d talk outside of that from time to time when I’d see him around the fraternity. But after his pledgeship was over and coming to Bible study didn’t mean skipping out on study hall, I didn’t see him much. Every once in a while we’d run into each other, and when we did he was always polite, but it was clear that he was heading in a different direction with his life and he wanted to keep a safe distance from me.

Fast forward 15+ years and a friend of mine who goes to The Crossing works on projects with Tyler who now lives in St. Louis but makes occasional trips to Columbia. They realized that I knew both of them and invited me to lunch a few times over the past couple years and I enjoyed catching up with what was happening in his life. Then recently, Tyler and I got to talk by ourselves for an hour or so in my office and I got to hear more.

After he left Mizzou, God took Tyler down a familiar road to show him that there’s nothing in this world that will give him what his soul longs for. That road led to spiritual awakening that came not only to him but also his wife and kids. Tyler is a leader in a great church in the St. Louis area. He’s investing in his relationship with God, his family, his church, and other guys, all while running a successful business.

I wish that I could say that I never gave up on Tyler but always prayed for him asking God to change his heart and make him into the man that he wanted him to be. I wish I could say that but it isn’t true. While I never said it in so many words I pretty much gave up on him when he was a college student committed to his own way rather than God’s.

I gave up on Tyler but God didn’t. The person that you’re tempted to give up on and write out of your life may have a story that God is still writing.

When we were sitting in my office Tyler thanked me for investing in him back when he was at Mizzou. It felt silly because I had done so little and with even less faith. There might be people you’re investing in spiritually right now that aren’t showing much promise or aren’t making the kind of spiritual progress you’d hope for at this point. Maybe they are even wandering away like Tyler did.

Don’t give up. Keep praying. Keep being a friend. Trust God with their life. You never know how it will turn out. Decades from now the most unlikely people might be thanking you for the spiritual investment you made in their life.

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