As we travel through life’s journey, it seems God is constantly bringing people in and out of our lives. While some encounters are brief or seemingly meaningless, others are life-changing. There are times we find ourselves inexplicably drawn to certain people for reasons unbeknownst to us at the time. For me, one of these unique encounters happened in Ms. Hester’s freshman English class.
As someone who really hated English, it was key for me to sit next to a peer I could tell was smart. While I may not have been a literary genius, I was bright enough to know I could get by “with a little help from my friends.” So that “friend” was going to be the quiet kid in the corner who never seemed to smile much. I could tell he was brilliant. In fact, by the end of the semester I told my mom there was no doubt he was going to be Valedictorian.
Over the next few years, while I had many close friends in my classes, I always chose to sit by him. We were from completely different parts of town and had two very different backgrounds, but my mysterious, shy little genius left me captivated with curiosity. An odd pair of friends to say the least.
It didn’t take me long to realize why he didn’t smile much. His mother had recently passed away from cancer and his home was broken by the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. In the midst of the usual teenage angst, he was also angry and confused about why he had to go through such pain. I knew he wasn’t a Christian and didn’t go to church on a regular basis. I also knew there was nothing more I wanted than to see him smile. He became my “project” of sorts and our friendship grew. Then came one particular moment that completely altered the path of our friendship …
As we sat in math class one day, my friend turned to me and simply said, “Why do you have so much joy?” It caught me completely off guard. Immediately I knew there was an obvious answer … JESUS!! He’s my Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. He’s what gives me hope and a future. But in that moment, I panicked. I blurted out something along the lines of, “I don’t know, I’m just a happy person I guess,” and changed the subject. It’s a moment my friend has since said he doesn’t even remember. But I remember. I remember the guilt it left with me, the pit in my stomach that wouldn’t leave. What a perfect, golden opportunity to share the Gospel with my friend who obviously needed to hear a message about God being close to the brokenhearted, and I blew it.
As the months passed, I was continually burdened by his question. I began inviting him to church with my family hoping that he would hear the Good News of Christ and receive it with joy. But time passed and nothing really changed. I prayed and prayed that he would surrender his life to Jesus, that he would find great comfort and peace in the God who created him, but still nothing.
My senior year I got a job, and with my very first paycheck, I bought a Bible for my friend. I knew Isaiah 55 said God’s Word never returns void but always accomplishes His purpose. The following summer I made sure he went to Young Life camp where he’d hear that Jesus died on the cross for his sins, because of God’s great love. But no visible signs pointed towards my friend’s salvation, and it was disheartening.
Graduation rolled around and low and behold, who was Valedictorian? My friend of course, just as I’d called it back when we were freshmen. The following fall he went off to Duke University and we kept in touch. He said he was going to church up there some, and I found that encouraging. I continued to pray for his salvation, but his eyes were just not opened.
Perhaps you have someone in your life like my friend. Someone you long to see made into a new creation through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Praying for these loved ones over the course of years and decades can be exhausting. At times it seems completely unfruitful and can leave us easily discouraged. But take heart, friends. Stay the course. Never give up on the ones God’s laid upon your heart. While it is not up to us whether or not our friends come to salvation, we must remember the men in Luke 5 who lowered their crippled friend down through a roof to the feet of Jesus. The Bible says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Miracles can and do happen every single day when we bring people before the feet of Jesus.
Eight years after our freshman English class, and six long years after he asked me why I had so much joy, my friend accepted Christ into his life. And much to my surprise, not only did I gain a brother in Christ, but down the road I also gained a Godly husband.
While I’m still praising God for his conversion today, I’m also thinking about all my other friends and loved ones who’ve yet to go from darkness to light. Some seem so far away from understanding the goodness of God that it would take an absolute miracle for them to be saved. But while the journey is long and the road is hard, I’m not going to give up on them. Nope. Because Jesus didn’t give up on me. And I believe in miracles.