Christians can be so hard-nosed and bull-headed sometimes about returning to fellowship with Christ. I know – I’m one of the worst offenders in this regard. You can see a brother or sister in the faith struggling to win out over temptation and sin or simply walking in it, regardless of the consequences. You can plead and urge and cajole, and still they will not be moved. Their choices, their actions, their decisions can inflict deep pain on those they love and do great damage to the cause of Christ, and still they will not be shaken from their lifestyle of sin. And then one day, it all changes suddenly, and they fall on their face before Almighty God, repent, and return to the fold, leaving those who pleaded with them for so long in confusion as to what finally made the difference.
Part of the answer to this question is that the individual must _want_ to change and must want it enough to be open to answers and to facing their own inward ugliness. It’s one thing to want to change just a little bit, yet still not actually change because you have not yet come to the end of yourself, have not yet completely hit bottom. And it’s one thing to want to change enough to start making changes but then quit when the going gets rough because you are not relying fully (or even partially) on the power of God to work.
I have a theory about another part of this answer, and you can tell me what you think about it. I think that part of this, maybe even the biggest part of it is that some of these people have not yet encountered something that fully meets their need. For instance, say that a particular believer has fallen into habitual sin. This individual desires a life-altering change and has, in fact, attempted to change at several points in the recent past. This individual has been unwilling or unable to completely yield control of their life to God, for whatever reason, and has had trouble letting go of the sinful indulges they have been seeking out. Yet, this individual is miserable and wants something to change. In short, this individual feels stuck, unable to move forward in their spiritual walk. This individual also knows all the Scripture verses that apply to their situation, has heard all the traditional responses by church folk, such as “Give it God,” “Get on your knees and pray for forgiveness and God will rescue you from your sin,” “Get some good biblical counseling; that’ll help,” and countless other bits of wisdom. This individual tries all these things at some point or another and yet sees no change in their heart or their life.
Then this individual encounters something new. Maybe it’s a personal encounter with a friend or a respected elder. It could be a seminar that presents truth in a different light. It could be a song that speaks powerfully into this individual’s situation. Whatever it is, it speaks directly to this individual’s need, to the emptiness in their own heart, to the longing that the individual tried to fulfill in their pursuit of sin. It is the sort of thing that might tell them something they already knew but through an entirely fresh, new, and clean perspective that addresses the longing of their heart exactly and completely. This, then, makes all the difference in the individual’s life. It is like being able to get a cold, crisp drink of water when you have been dying of thirst. It’s like a cool breeze that suddenly springs up on a scorching summer day. It soothes the burning itch, the searing passion, the smoldering need in that individual’s heart that nothing to this point has been able to quench or satisfy. It is, in fact, the Holy Spirit’s arrival via this unique message at exactly the right moment in this individual’s life when they are ready to receive it. It is the combination of the seeker seeking ((and yes, I believe that even Christians can be seekers, albeit of a different kind.)), the heart softening, and the message arriving at the right time and in exactly the right way to meet the innermost need of the individual. It is a wholly beautiful event that brings the lost lamb back into the fold and imbues the lost-now-found one with an excitement, energy, and richness of faith that was once thought lost forever.
Some Christians never experience this, choosing rather to follow their own desires ((at which point one has to question whether or not they were ever truly a follower of Christ to begin with.)) or endlessly pursuing solutions that never fully or completely speak to their need. To some extent I think that the Church’s lackadaisical attitudes these days has contributed to the problem of lost sheep who cannot find their way back to the fold. We have carved out too many cookie-cutter answers that allow us to keep our distance from other people rather than getting intimately involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters and tailoring answers to their needs that speak powerfully to their hearts. I can only hope that we will soon shake ourselves of this indifference and begin to do more to minister into the lives of our brethren than we have in recent days. I cannot do anything about anyone else, but I know that I will strive to shake free of my own indifference and aloofness and allow Christ to speak powerfully through this vessel. May it ever be so.