One of the most painful experiences a believer can endure is watching believing friends wander (Psalm 119:10) in their theological convictions or obedience to Christ. Even more painful is watching those who once professed Christ walk away (“went out from us,” 1 John 2:19) from the faith altogether because they were never truly believers. How do we, who identify as being in Christ, respond and pray for those who have seemingly drifted away from where they once were spiritually? Whether it be a friend altering their views on sexuality and marriage or a friend outright denying the faith, we all respond in some way but not all of our responses are equally helpful and God-pleasing.
When I hear the news of a friend repositioning within, or even away from, the faith my response is typically one of frustration. Even when it is a person whom I do not personally know I tend to feel betrayed along the lines of, “How could they do this? I thought we were in this together!?” To some degree I think these feelings are legitimate and appropriate. At the same time though I want to move beyond this response of feeling betrayed to a response that is redemptive and inwardly honest.
Led by Psalm 123
The Scripture which weighs on my mind through this process is Psalm 123. There are two parts which make up Psalm 123 and these parts revolve around the words “eyes” (vv.1-2) and “mercy” (vv.3-4). First, the anonymous Psalmist states that just as the eyes of servants are fixed on their master and the eyes of a maidservant are fixed on her mistress, so are his own eyes fixed on the LORD who is enthroned in the heavens. Second, in a world filled with scorn and contempt the Psalmist prays that he would instead experience and feel God’s mercy. These four verses guide us both in how we think about and pray for others and also how we think about and pray for ourselves.
The primary obstacle between those who have wandered or walked away from the LORD and the LORD Himself is spiritual before it is intellectual. Often those who alter their moral or theological commitments voice these changes as stemming from struggling with inadequate answers to lingering questions or a deeper and more enlightened exposition of the Scriptures. While honest questions and searching of the Scriptures may be at play there is always another component at play: the heart. When we talk about our ‘hearts’ we are talking about what we feel, desire, and love. Our hearts are relevant to the issue at hand because we are incapable of thinking thoughts which are uninfluenced by our hearts.
So, when we pray for those who are in some way far from the LORD our prayer is that the eyes of their hearts would be turned by the LORD to the LORD Himself through faith in Christ. Regardless of whether we are praying for the one who is having a momentary lapse in their faith and is wandering or the one who has walked away due to the fact that they were never truly saved we pray the same – “LORD, turn their eyes to you and you alone.”
We also pray that the LORD on high would be merciful to them. The world is a hard place to live especially for those who choose to live in this world far from Christ or without Christ. Even more pressing though is the reality of the possibility of someone spending eternity separated from God. As a result we plead for the mercy of God for our friends. We pray that God would not leave them alone in their distance or isolation from Him. We pray that God in His mercy would either keep them close if they already are His or that He would draw them to Himself if they are not yet His.
Those of us who are truly in Christ will remain in Christ, safe and secure (1 John 2:19). This truth does not negate the present and continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us safe and secure. In Psalm 119:10 we read, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” The Psalmist simultaneously recognizes that he is currently in a good place spiritually speaking and that he needs God to keep him from wandering. Sin is deceitful and is in the business of hardening Christians hearts (Hebrews 3:13). If I (we) are being inwardly honest then we have to humbly take serious the danger before us. We journey as pilgrims with humility recognizing our continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us from wandering.
One last word of encouragement is that when a friend wanders or walks away from Christ we must not grow weary in prayer. Our prayers are patient because we are not privy to God’s timetable. His ways are mysterious and our understanding of God-sized things is infinitely ill-equipped. By God’s grace may we be found faithful in our pursuit of those whom God has put in our lives.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.