I recently bumped into a former classmate I hadn't seen in years. As we chatted on the commute home, she spoke to me about her elderly grandmother who is in a care home. Her grandmother isn't a Christian, but despite her old age and failing health, my friend and her family are hopeful that she will accept Jesus as her saviour before her death. Against the odds, following a health scare, her grandmother had been more active than she had for a long while. Her hope was that her grandmother wouldn't go until she accepted Jesus, and it was inspirational and infectious.
I asked how she was helping her grandmother come to Christ and she told me that she, along with others members of her family, was praying over her. "She won't get it here," she said as she pointed to her head. "She'll only get it here," she said while placing a hand over her heart.
One of the reasons I found my friend's faith so encouraging was that she really believed that it wasn't too late for her grandmother, and she was displaying the same kind of patience that God shows to us. Too often we can give up on our friends and family members who have yet to accept Christ, thinking that the time when they will turn to Christ will never come. In part it comes from our impatience, because of the fullness that a relationship with Jesus can bring there's an urgency that accompanies our actions, but it also signifies that we lack belief that through God all things are possible. Can we really proclaim to believe that continued prayer and guidance will eventually help others find God if we stop when we don't see results?
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him," (Luke 15:20).
The parable of the lost son is just one example of how God waits for us no matter how far we go from Him and how long we stay away. But we miss another important lesson if we limit our interpretation of the parable to how it is symbolic of our relationship with God.
It's also provides us with guidance on how we should treat one another. Just like the father in the parable, we too should wait in anticipation for the return of our loved ones who lose their way, and readily welcome them when they come back. It's not for us to place conditions on their return, and that includes imposing deadlines.
Sometimes we put off taking up a challenge because we think we're too old or that we've missed the opportunity. Returning to God following a period of absence, or even a lifetime of it, can present its own challenges and some people can find themselves uttering the same excuses, "It's too late", "I've done too much wrong". No matter what we've done or how long we've been away, it's never too late. God still waits for us. And so we should wait for each other.
That includes the ultimate wait of waiting on them to open their hearts to the Lord and patiently praying for them until they do so.