We sat in a prayer circle, each of us sharing one request that was close to our heart. The elderly couple next to me took no pause to mention theirs.
“Our sons—all three of them—are not serving the Lord. We saw other family members come to Christ last year. We’re waiting and trusting the Lord for our sons.”
As we prayed together, my heart was moved with compassion for this couple. They had poured their lives into church ministry and had taught their children the ways of the Lord. Now in their mid-seventies, they continued to be faithful examples of Jesus. And they continued to trust Him to work in their sons’ lives. In that moment, I could sense His loving kindness toward them as they waited.
Ministry to people requires a great deal of patience and grace. It’s hard to wait. We do all that we can to point others to Jesus. We pray. We speak the truth in love. We encourage them to get back up when they stumble. We share the powerful promises of God’s Word. We pray more. We catch ourselves worrying, and then we turn it over to Jesus. With our entire being we yearn for people to experience the fullness of Christ. We just want it to happen quickly.
Gregory Boyle (the founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles) refers to the slow work of God. Our Heavenly Father, who so loves His children, never stops His work of drawing them to Himself. Through people, circumstances, and inner promptings, He ceaselessly seeks their attention. He is eager for their fellowship and surrender, but He is patient.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Loving people is so much more than following a formula that leads to a specific outcome. Our human nature wants there to be a guarantee. We think, “If I pray and do and say the right things for the right amount of time, I should see people making the right choices.”
Sometimes I forget that only the Holy Spirit can change someone else’s life. He waits for permission, and it’s not my permission He needs. I find myself trusting in my own righteousness, which doesn’t change anything. I need to say “yes” to the Lord for change to happen in myself. Yet, I expect Him to operate differently with other people.
In the words of Boyle, “Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it.”1
As we wait, we are not doing nothing. We are still actively engaged. We shine the light of Jesus in the darkness. We love others, and speak to them with grace and truth. We trust God to use us to make a difference in this world, even when we may not see it. We don’t give up. We wait for the slow work of God.
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
Heavenly Father, You have given me a heart to serve people. Help me not to rely on my own strength and abilities, but rather trust You to work in their lives. May I cooperate with Your Holy Spirit and be Your representative in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), 109-128.