Despair. I don’t despair in God, but I am sometimes shattered by despair for those I love. Free-will is alternately exhilarating and terrifying. Of course, Christians have been divided over free-will and salvation. Some take comfort in the idea that those God has predestined to be saved will be saved no matter what. I, however, don’t know how this idea doesn’t also terrify us with the crushing possibility that those we love deeply have been predestined to hell—however we understand it. I am not objecting to the justice of God, but I would find it hard to say aloud, “God is love, and has, in his love, decided before time began to send you into everlasting torment.” So, I believe we are saved by grace and yet must respond to God’s free gift of salvation with faith in Jesus. But the free-will of those for whom we pray means they are free to resist God’s grace and harden their hearts to the voice of His Spirit. Here is where despair destroys me. Some are so hard.
Angels. Recently a friend praying over the phone with me said (I paraphrase a little), “God, you have more than one angel and more than one way to reach the heart of the lost.” The phrase “more than one angel” even though it states the obvious, helped me in the midst of my despair. Because my love for lost friends and family seems so ineffective, I am tempted to think God’s love is too. But God has more than one angel. My comfort is not in a kind of fatalism that God in the end gets His way—and somehow all is good. My comfort is in the infinite resourcefulness of a God who loves and pursues us. God, who doesn’t wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” is unrelentingly seeking the salvation of those we love even when we falter and despair.
Tongues. We can only pray for a thousand tongues to praise Him, but God has a thousand tongues to speak into the hearts of the lost. This is the promise of tongues at Pentecost—that God speaks the language of every heart through the voice of the Holy Spirit. Where my eloquence fails and my words fork no lightning, God’s voice can speak perfectly and powerfully. The smile of a child, the sun on a leaf, or the sound of a jay rejoicing in the dawn can become the language that awakens a prodigal son to the love of the Father. And we know from Scripture that God’s truth can come rolling out of any mouth: Balaam’s ass, shepherds, fisherman, the king of Persia, or some wise guys from the east.
Memory. When a prodigal seems to have forgotten every taste of God’s goodness, God can bring the memory of His love and goodness. God can make the memory of His reality inescapable and can plow through the lies cobbled together to deny His goodness. Memory of His Word and his promises can come alive on a starry winter night or gentle spring morning.
Judgment. God can use circumstances to awaken the hearts of the lost to their need for Him. The consequences of sin can be so bitter that the lost soul cries out for living water to wash away the taste of ashes. Both the kindness and judgments of God can lead us to repentance. It is better to respond to His kindness, but God’s judgments are drenched in His mercy, powered by His love.
Prayer. And our prayers matter. God bottles our tears (Ps. 56:8) and pours them out as blessings on those for whom we weep. God is moved by our intercession when we are helpless. Our prayers, in the hands of God, are a powerful weapon against the enemy seeking to destroy those we love. This side of heaven we will never know how much evil has been stopped by the prayers of the saints.
Krav Maga. Like Imi Lichtenfeld who developed this martial art used by the Israeli Defense Forces, God is a streetfighter. The emphasis of Krav Maga is real life effectiveness and the use of anything at hand as a weapon. God used pigs to awaken the heart of the prodigal son. God will grab anything and use it. I have a brother who, while far from God, randomly chose to see a play in San Francisco—a play called Godspell. The play began with the sound of a shofar and a song “Prepare, Ye the Way of Lord. At that sound, God’s Spirit ambushed my brother and called him back to his faith in God. God does not fight fair, and it is hard for kids to escape the intercession of their parents and grandparents.
Hope. So, hope breaks through my despair, and I keep praying. I pray because God has more than one angel and more than one angle. God is a street-fighter whose wild love pursues those we love. I trust Him.