It was a grim catch-up. My friend had lost his close friend months ago, and he’s been angry with God ever since.
I tried to comfort him and steer him back to God. The Lord has good plans for His beloved, I said (Jeremiah 19:11). We may not know why He has allowed this pain to befall him, but we know He is in control of all things—including His care for His people (Matthew 10:29–31).
But my friend was in no state to listen. He laughed when I said Jesus cares for his friend. “If He does care, then why did my friend die?” I realised he was consumed with his grief, and that was perhaps reason enough to turn away from the God he thought he knew.
Witnessing my friend rejecting the faith was soul-crushing. This was the same friend who had often shared wise insights during Bible study, who I thought really had a heart for God. The friend who sat by me when I went through a difficult diagnosis. The friend who, even when he gets angry, still loves me, encourages me, and walks by my side.
At first, I vowed to never give up. Never give up asking him to come to church, or read the Bible, or pray together. I resolved to mention God as often as I could in my conversations with him. After all, he was close to God once. Surely if I persisted in reaching out to him, he could come back to God again.
But before all this went down, I decided to talk to my parents about it; they have been believers for a long time and would have wisdom to share.
From our talk, I realised that pressuring him to come back to faith could backfire. It could make him even angrier at God, and at me for having the “agenda” to persuade him of something he didn’t care about during this difficult time.
When I went for my youth group that weekend, we discussed the question of whether someone who leaves the faith was a believer in the first place. Someone brought up the point that if a person renounces the faith, it could be that they never had the faith to begin with, yet it could also lead to something more hopeful: we never know when they’ll truly receive the faith.
Hearing this, coupled with what my parents had said, encouraged me. My friend didn’t believe now, but it didn’t mean he would never believe again.
Renewed, I started thinking of ways I could minister to him during this challenging time.
1. Keep showing God’s love
A friend who turns away from faith is no less in need of love than a fellow long-time believer, just like a sick friend needs love as much as a friend who is well. So it is important for me to keep showing God’s love to my friend (Proverbs 17:17), and the best example I can look to is Jesus, who ministered to all kinds of people during His time on earth, even though He knew that not all of them would receive His truth.
No matter where my friend is in his faith journey, love means that I be there for him when he needs company, mourn with him when he mourns (Romans 12:15), and show him the love of Jesus who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).
As I thought back to the day we talked, I realised that love wasn’t about arguing with him or even preaching to him about God’s love; that wasn’t what he was looking for. He only needed someone to listen.
So instead of saying all that, I could show him love by just lending my ears, along with a shoulder to cry on.
Love hopes all things and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). I hope that the love I showed him (and continue to show) may lead him in time to recognise again God’s great love for him.
2. Rally believers to pray
The session with my youth group made me realise that we are constantly facing a spiritual battle (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, 1 Peter 5:8-9). So, I asked permission from my friend to share his struggle with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, that we might pray for him.
To my surprise, he said yes, and that he appreciated me telling our friends that he was going through a rough patch.
So together we prayed, out of faith that Jesus came to call all sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31–32; 1 Timothy 2:1-6) and that He will not forsake His people (Psalms 94:14). We prayed that my friend might receive sure salvation and the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:21, 38).
We are still praying today.
We meet to pray once a week after youth fellowship, and we keep each other updated with prayer points over the week.
3. Entrust it to God
I’m still learning how to minister to my friend. It’s been months since he shared the news with me, and I am steeling myself for it to take years, even a lifetime, before his heart is moved to return to Christ.
It is possible that it may never happen. But I think to myself, “Isn’t that possibility all the more reason to keep on praying for him?”.
The devil wants us to be discouraged, and he will throw lie after lie at us to stop us from praying and wielding God’s power against his work. But God is on our side, and He already has the victory.
I take comfort in that God has a salvation plan for every believer (Romans 8:28), and He alone has the power to make it happen (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
I may not know what God has in store for my friend. But as long as He is in charge (and I know He always will be), I can entrust my friend’s salvation to Him.
A few days ago, I decided to write a letter to my friend:
I am writing to let you know you’re right: I don’t understand. I don’t understand what it must’ve been like for you, hearing your friend over the phone shortly before he died. I don’t understand how helpless you must’ve felt, how painful it must have been. I don’t understand how hard it is for you right now, struggling with guilt and grief, coping with the aftermath.
All I can say is I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this, and that it’s okay to grieve. I know no two people experience the same set of events in the same way. But I also hope that it comforts you some to know that you are not alone in experiencing such suffering.
I know you’ve mentioned that you don’t believe in God anymore: not in His goodness, His power, or His sovereignty. I’m curious to hear more. I want you to know I’m here for you. I may not understand, but I’m here to sit with you, to listen, and process these feelings and thoughts with you.
I’m here to help you carry this pain. To sit with you until, when the time is right, you are ready to get up again.
Talk to me anytime.
This article was first published on YMI and is republished with permission.