The rising star in your church could just as quickly be a crashing fireball that burns out in seconds.
But at some point you need to quit punching yourself in the jaw and pick up your teeth from the tile.
Unless you held a gun at their head, it’s not your fault.
I know you’re mad at them, just as much as you’re mad at yourself. They were the ones who attended everything, who served every time, who called you at midnight when they were in trouble. You texted and emailed and Facebook chatted every day. You prayed over them on your knees at night, hoping God would lead them in incredible ways. You spent more time and money and energy on them than even your own family.
All for what? For them to cut you off like you never existed.
You could’ve done more, probably. There’s guilt about how you lashed out, how you could’ve made the church more cool, how you could’ve called more, wrote more, spent more.
But he’s gone. She left. You can leave the ninety-nine to get the one, but after all: there’s still ninety-nine.
We know all the reasons. They regressed to their former state because some hot girl smelled better than the Bible, or the party scene swallowed them whole, or unforgiveness poisoned their heart, or the whole thing just got boring. You can make it your fault somehow, but it wouldn’t matter if you had the patience of Jesus and a hat like the Pope: they got carried away.
Trust me: it’s awkward for them, too. No matter how nice you were, you’ve become another one of those church people. They would rather now pay a stranger with a psych degree than talk to you over free coffee. They don’t want to hear the religious stuff. Having deep conversation is no longer an option.
Most of them will say they tried. I really tried to pray. I really tried the Bible. I did the whole church routine: revivals, retreats, Sundays, lock-ins, mission trips. I tried God. None of it worked.
But I never really believe that. Maybe they tried a bunch of external things like games and socializing and getting tips from the Bible — but Jesus? No. No one in the history of anything anywhere has ever “tried Jesus.” He doesn’t “stick” or “not stick.” They either got him or they didn’t. If they did, they were never left wanting. If they didn’t, they blame everything else.
I’m just tired of looking at prodigals as if they’re my walking mistakes of a failed ministry. I’m tired of people telling me, “That’s your guy,” as if I infected them somehow.
I look right into their eyes — those hollowed out, God-hating, zombie-like, empty-shell eyes — and that’s a choice they made. They’d rather talk about the weather or gonorrhea or shoe sales or the-book-is-better-than-the-movie — but Jesus, no.
I’m not saying we can’t do better for our prodigal brothers and sisters. We should. I know where I went wrong. But I’m so freaking tired of blaming myself. I’m tired of losing sleep over whether I preached this wrong or didn’t spend enough time with them or if I should’ve tried this newer model of ministry. I tried my damn best. I made mistakes because I’m human. I’ve asked for forgiveness. I’m more sorry than you could ever know.
But I’m not here to impress you. I won’t beg you. I’m just here for you.
You ever want to talk, of course the door is open. It’ll be awkward: fine. You need something: I’m there. You don’t like the truth about you or about God: okay. You want to talk about some shallow garbage: sure. But don’t tell me I can’t love you, bro. If I believe what I believe, then part of loving you is telling you the truth. So let me love you.
You can shut the door in my face, but not the one in my soul.
I’m still praying for you like it was yesterday, when you were this close to freedom.
To me, you’re still part of the ninety-nine.
And some of you are over here — you are busy with hundreds of religious activities, but if you were honest, there is no real love for the Lord. You’re trying to get love for the Lord with a bunch of business. It’s not working, and you’re exhausted, and I come across twenty year olds all the time who’ve bailed on Jesus when they’ve actually never tried Him. I’ve sat across many cups of coffee and heard, “Man, I’ve tried with all my might to do this. I gave it everything I had. I did this, I did this, I did this and it doesn’t work for me.”
So I always just want to point out, no, it’s like saying, “I tried to love this girl, so I looked at her Facebook page and I looked at all the music that she liked, and I listened to it. Then I looked at all the books that she liked and read all the books, then watched the movies that she liked, but man, it’s not going to work.” When actually you never knew her, never met her, never walked with her — you cyber stalked her. It’s not the same thing, but that’s what you’re doing. “I’m going to get all the information I can,” and instead of intimacy, you’re compiling information.
So I want to contend that many of you who think you’ve tried Christ simply have not tried Christ.
— Matt Chandler, An Astonishing Trade