I recently had the amazing opportunity to sit under the teaching of The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship at their conference on “Loving the Wayward Soul.”
What comes to mind when you think of a wayward soul? Perhaps memories are dredged up over a particularly painful experience of a wayward friend leaving the church. Maybe your mind wanders to worry: will my loved one turn wayward? Will I?
Regardless of the images that come to the forefront of your mind, we all earnestly desire that the wayward would turn from sin and run back into the arms of the Lord. But how do I beckon, encourage (and even beg) him to return?
The Lord cares for his sheep, and his care for me motivates my concern for the sheep around me. I learned a powerful yet simple factor of the Lord’s care: it’s personal.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thess. 5:14)
Notice that the verbs in the verse above (admonish, encourage, help) that are followed by personal descriptions (idle, fainthearted, weak). The verb closely links with the description, in God’s personal, unique and specific method of care.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Think over this example: two students in your bible study aren’t spending time in the Word. The first believes that the Bible is too difficult to understand, saying that the bits about Levitical law are confusing and give her doubt about the Lord’s consistency. Did the same God write Leviticus as Romans? She’d rather wait until Sunday, when the right interpretation can be given from the pulpit. The second student stays up late after work playing video games long into the night. When his alarm goes off, he hits snooze, daily rejecting personal time with the Lord.
The faint of heart first student needs encouragement (The Bible can be understood! For God said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in your hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” — 2 Cor. 4:6). The idle second student needs admonishment (Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your heart! — Psalm 95:8). He needs a warning, she needs an encouragement.
Let me be clear: we are not the judge, jury and executioner. We don’t get to decide which types of the wayward soul are beyond saving. The action in front of each type of person is a gracious action. Admonishing is a warning to keep away from danger. Helping is a coming alongside for aid. Encouraging is a well-timed motivational speech to follow God. These grace-filled words are meant to be a specific, yet always grace-focused, call to action.
Closely related, the Lord calls us would-be counselors to be patient with each person. We need to remember that we’ve been the idle, we’ve had hearts that are faint, and we’ve felt too weak to be used by God. The Lord’s patience with us convicts us and reminds us to be patient with them all — even those who initially don’t seem to fit the mold of any of these descriptions in the verse!
You’ll notice that I’ve made the Lord the subject of each section heading. Why? Isn’t it you that is directed and commanded to exhibit a personal response, full of tender grace, with all patience?
Well, yes and no. The text continues with a reminder that God’s goal is the sanctification of his sheep. He is the true sanctifier — and he plans to use you for that purpose!
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24)
The Lord will surely do it. Will you let him use you? Likewise, I stand with Paul and urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.