By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Years ago, my husband and I were friends with a couple for many years. We spent many weekends with them and considered them close friends. However, our relationship became strained when they walked away from their church. As pastor and pastor's wife, not only did it break our hearts because two fellow church attendees left, but also because they were our friends. Our relationship was never the same because we never quite knew how to get over the barrier of them leaving and still maintain the same intimate relationship we once had. Although that relationship was very rewarding for much of our early lives as Christians, it was difficult to lose that relationship. Our faith and ability to trust people again was strained because of that situation.
Good relationships with friends can have a mutually beneficial effect for both parties. However, when friends walk away from the faith, it can be difficult to maintain that same friendship. Christians must walk a fine line between pushing their faith and allowing their friends to be humans who wrestle with their own beliefs. How do we remain friends with people who have lost their faith yet keep the relationship intact? Here are some ways to reach out in healthy ways rather than manipulative or controlling ways:
It may sound simplistic, but prayer is the biggest weapon we have for reconciliation in any situation. God is a God of second chances and can turn around any situation as he chooses. We can trust God will do great and mighty things through our relationships if only we will ask him to do so. If you are in a strained relationship with friends who've walked away from the faith, bring the situation to the Lord. Be open and honest with God about your struggles regarding the situation. Bring to him your deepest fears, concerns, and sadness over it. More than likely, you are grieving because of the loss of your friends’ faith and entering a new season of friendship. Ask God to turn around the situation. He can do big things on our behalf if that's his will.
2. Take a Stand
It may be tempting for you to tiptoe around your faith because your friends have lost theirs. The best way to honor both God and your relationship in this situation is for you to gently but firmly explain that you will not stop talking about God, your church, or other elements of your faith simply because your friends don't believe anymore. It is tempting to avoid the situation altogether because you're afraid of losing that relationship or offending someone. Yet, your friends didn't take your feelings into account when they walked away from their faith. Therefore, it is important to state that your faith will still be an integral part of your life even if your friends choose not to have God at the center of theirs. Simply not talking about something doesn't make the faith element any less true in your life. Furthermore, you may still lose that relationship simply because your friends feel convicted since they have lost their faith and you have maintained yours. Don't mistake grace for cowardice. Take a stand and let them know you'll still be talking about the same parts of your faith as always.
3. Have a Meeting
If you're finding your relationship is strained because your friends lost their faith, reach out and have a meeting to discuss things. Although there are different friends for different seasons of life, if you consider these friends good friends, then you owe it to them to have this conversation regarding their struggles. Allow them to express all their doubts, fears, and questions regarding God and faith. Don't try to convert them or debate with them, but allow them to simply speak, and you listen. God will still be God at the end of the conversation. He doesn't need defending, and he doesn't need his followers to try to convince someone else to follow him.
God wants people who want to want him. He gave us free will to choose openly whether we want God or not. Honor their decision, but be there for them in case they have any biblical reasons for walking away from their faith. For example, church hurt can be a big reason why people walk away from the faith. Whether it's a scandal that rocks the church or leaders who fail to handle a situation properly, this may be enough for people to walk away. Yet, it is not a biblical reason to walk away. See the situation from both sides and do your best to help them understand the church's point of view. Allow them to see that they only know part of the story. God knows the whole situation and knows how to give justice when it is due. Remind them that God is the God of justice and that he is the ultimate judge when it comes to right and wrong, sin and righteousness. Encourage them to have a grace-based mindset even if they walk away from their faith. Encourage them to see people as humans who make mistakes and sin just like they do. Remind them that they have made mistakes in the past as well and that they want God's forgiveness and grace just as much as the people who have hurt them do. At the very least, get them to forgive those people in question if church hurt is at the root of their loss of faith.
4. Send Them Messages
God is at work every day in our lives. We must be in tune to see where God is at work. If we are giving a situation over to God, more than likely, he is using not only you but also others to speak to his people. For example, if your pastor at your church gave a wonderful sermon that you think they may want to hear, kindly send it over to them by text or e-mail. Let them know you were thinking of them and that this might resonate with them. Do this in love and with generosity. If your friends ask for you to stop, honor their request. You can still post in your own social media feed or send it out to other friends for you to discuss freely. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you regarding them. Ask him to speak specifically to their situation. If what you hear from the Holy Spirit is in line with what you believe about the situation, kindly pass the information along. They may do nothing with that information, but it's just nice to know someone cares. It also helps them to realize that God is real and that even if they're not practicing their faith, God still loves them and wants to welcome them into his family.
It is easy to have Christian friends because we know they act, think, and feel the way we do. However, having friends who were once Christians and now are not will always be a difficult relationship to navigate. Ask the Lord for his help. Don't compromise being who you are, but send messages their way and let them know you care. Your friends may never come to faith again, but you can rest in knowing you've done all you can to help them in this situation. Above all, be a kind friend by lending a listening ear and applying biblical principles to your life so you can be the ultimate example of Christ to them. Exemplifying the fruits of the spirit will always demonstrate Christ-like behavior in your lives and be an example for your friends to follow.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AntonioGuillem
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.
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