Trying to reach and disciple your own immediate family can be one of the hardest things. The number of relational obstacles, woundedness, and confusion caused by unintentional hurt and sin can drive a deep divide in familial relationships. When we find ourselves in these situations, it is paramount that we do not move into judgment but rather remember that Jesus has been patient and kind with us.
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Kindness, Patience Leads to Repentance
I came to my senses about my judgment of my family at a Discipleshift1 conference in the spring of 2009. In my small group, a disciple-maker in my life asked me who I related to in the prodigal son story and why? The Holy Spirit overwhelmed me with conviction as I realized that I had become the older brother in the story, and quite literally. At the time, my relationship with my younger brother had become estranged. He was lost and spiraling into addiction, and I was the saved older brother who was a pastor, and I didn’t know how to save him. He never listened to me, and our conversations always led to a fight. My relationship with my parents wasn’t great either, as I was still processing the pain of their divorce. But then, the Holy Spirit entered. In that small group, I wept over the judgment of my family, the sin I had committed, and repented to the Lord.
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
My Part, God’s Part, Their Part
In that small group, I committed to two actions moving forward. First, I would call my brother right after the small group had ended that session; I would repent and ask for forgiveness from my brother. Secondly, after the phone call, I would engage with him relationally every week through text messages, phone calls, or face to face. My main objective on these calls was to start over with my brother. I would love him and wait patiently with kindness. I was no longer trying to fix him, trying to save him, no longer trying to get him to repent. I gave my brother to Jesus and allowed God to do His part. I was no longer going to be the Holy Spirit in my brother’s life. I had been doing that my entire life, and it wasn’t working. I was going to do my part, not God’s.
Nine months later, my brother started coming to church. Three months later, at a baptism service, my brother got up from his seat and handed his phone, keys, and newborn son over to one of our home group leaders on the stage. He got into the horse trough without changing his clothes and got baptized. That day has been one of the most incredible days of my life.
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Don’t allow the hurt you have experienced to lead you into judgment and cynicism. Instead, remember that Jesus has been kind, and patient and has a very long fuse with us. His kindness leads us to continual repentance, humility, and patience with ourselves and others that we disciple. We don’t have to do God’s part. We just must show patient kindness throughout our lives and trust Jesus with the results. Easier said than done, but Jesus is with us. He makes all things possible.