I was recently on a long car ride with my husband and two kids from Illinois to the northern woods of Minnesota. Anyone who has traveled that kind of distance with younger children before knows it can be rather challenging to find fun ways to break up the ride, without extending the road time.
I had recently learned an idea from another mom that I was eager to try. I had wrapped some coloring books, crayons, sticker books, toys, and foam airplane kits, and handed them out to my two boys along the way. They quickly became newfound treasures.
As my 4-year-old graciously shared one of these treasures with his 2-year-old brother, I unfortunately (or not) had the opportunity to teach them about Ephesians 4:26 (“Be angry and do not sin”) and Ephesians 4:32 (“Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”) as his younger brother tore his treasured foam airplane in half right before his eyes.
Of course, my 2-year-old did not do this maliciously—it was an accident—but nevertheless, the tears welled up and overflowed as my eldest son took in the sight of his treasure being destroyed. My mommy heart broke for him. He had entrusted something he treasured with someone he loved, and instead of this treasured gift (and trust) returning to him in the same condition he had shared it in, it was destroyed.
I can’t help but think that God feels the same way when believers share our “treasured” truth of Jesus’ love with others, and sometimes it doesn’t return to us in the same way.
Sometimes it is accepted, and sometimes it is ripped up—like that foam airplane—with rejection from that person’s past hurts or broken trust. And just as my heart broke with my son’s, God’s heart breaks for people to believe in Him and have eternal life.
As I tried to carefully tend to my son’s hurting heart, I thought about how God tends to our hearts when we are in similar situations—the occasions when we share the treasure of His love with others, but instead of joy, peace, and love, we find ourselves met with a harsh and bitter reality of opposition, rejection, or even betrayal.
Although the rejection of the gospel message is not necessarily an occasion for ‘forgiveness’, we need to be able to move past that rejection in a healthy way so that we continue to grow in our understanding of evangelism and God’s work in the lives of others. We also need to make sure we don’t take this rejection or opposition personally. So let me offer a few suggestions for when others have rejected the gospel message you have shared.
When Christ-followers are faced with opposition and rejection to the treasure we hold so dearly as we share Jesus’ love with others, we can:
Respond with words seasoned with salt—words that “build up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). For instance, don’t respond on the defensive, but take time to practice active listening without pressure or judgment.
Remember that the battle is not against flesh and blood: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
For instance, what someone shows on the outside is a mirror to his or her heart. Perhaps he or she has past hurts, broken trust, or doubts churning about within him or her. Satan comes to kill and destroy, but Jesus came to give life and that in abundance. It takes relational equity to get to that place where you can serve in rebuilding those bridges. Be wise both in how you share and when you share.
Refer to the Lord—take it to Him in prayer: “…pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). For instance, ask for permission to pray for someone and if he or she would like you to do so with him or her at that moment. Some people are more comfortable sharing something you can pray for than they are holding your hands and joining you in prayer. (But you can still pray in your heart for them as they share!)
Reflect God’s character as we wisely “put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness” (Ephesians 4:24). For instance, be the aroma of life to someone—living in such a way that makes him or her wonder why you are different. Live in a way that he or she can feel safe around you to ask you tough questions without fear. Remember where you were before you were walking with the Lord and the love story God wrote in drawing you closer to Him. Allow God to write his or her story without judgment or reprove.
Just as my 4-year-old son chose to continue to share with his brother (but more wisely) his newfound treasures as he unwrapped them during that car ride, we must continue to share our treasure of Jesus’ love with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and with all the sincerity and passion that overflows from our hearts.
In our responses to those who may reject, oppose, or even betray us for sharing this treasure with them, we must reflect His character and refer to His leading, remembering His great love for us and those yet to know Him.