At What Point Is Enough Enough?
When you’re in ministry helping people work through their problems, you’re occasionally tempted to give up on the more difficult cases. That’s it. I’m done with that one.
There can be a lot of reasons to justify such a thought. Perhaps they’ve made promises and haven’t followed through on any of them. Perhaps they’ve been abusive in some regard. Perhaps they’ve been disrespectful, or have stolen, or lied, or played us as fools. I’ve talked several times about how Jesus always wants us to forgive, but this does not mean we automatically grant trust. And some people seem to be very adept at taking advantage of and hurting others.
Recently, we got a letter from someone I’ll call “Carol” that prompted me to write on this subject.
Well, I was lucky enough to find your address. You may not remember me, but my name is Carol. I was the black girl, short, who came to church and Bible studies sometimes. Well, I’m in jail. I’ve actually been here since December. I can’t explain what a blessing this time has been, but I can tell you it hasn’t been like a jail sentence at all, but much more like a discipleship vacation.
I asked God to show me how to love properly. Be careful what you ask for, because now I’m a big blubbering baby! It’s ok though. I’d rather feel this all-encompassing love than the fear, rage, and hopelessness I used to.
I just wanted to take this time to thank you for everything you guys have done for me. You’re amazing people. Thanks so much again.
“Carol” was someone our ministry was having trouble with. The letter doesn’t reveal much about her past, but there had been a history of anger, rebellion, and victim mentality in her interactions with many of us. But reading her letter about how God had transformed her reminded me why we are never to give up on people, no matter how hopeless it’s looking. God never gave up on me. And he clearly never gave up on Carol either. Even when someone is pushing us to the point where we start to believe they are a lost cause, they’re not. Only God gets to decide that.
You may recall the section in Luke where two criminals are being crucified with Christ.
39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:39-43 (NLT)
Anytime I read this passage, I can’t help but scoff at the scoffer. Things can’t get much worse for him. He’s a criminal who has been nailed to a cross to die. He’s out of options, out of hope, and soon will be out of life. What does he stand to lose by going along with the person next to him asking Jesus for mercy? If anyone is a lost cause, it’s got to be this scoffer, right?
But the truth is we don’t know. No definitive answer is given as to what became of the scoffer’s soul. What if... even after the man scoffed at Jesus, in his last few breaths, he said, “I was wrong. Please have mercy on me. Please remember me also when you come into your Kingdom.”
Do you think Jesus would have responded with “Too bad scoffer, You scoffed one too many times for my liking. I’m done with you.” Or would he have responded with the same mercy he had shown to the other man?
It’s not easy to minister to difficult people. It’s not easy to treat them and respond to them as Jesus would all of the time. There will be times when boundaries will have to be set but that doesn’t mean we give up, which reminds me of a quote from Oswald Chambers.
“Jesus Christ never trusted human nature, yet He was never cynical nor suspicious, because He had absolute trust in what He could do for human nature.”
But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people.
John 2:24 (NLT)
Healthy boundaries are a healthy expression of love. We can do this without giving up. Forgive, pray for them, let them go, but never give up. God doesn’t, we shouldn’t.
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