Our service in the church includes praying for each other and pleading with each other. We pray to God on behalf of one another. We plead with each other on behalf of God. Praying keeps us in the truth. Pleading comes in when someone wanders from the truth.
At the close of the book of James (5:19-20) we are called to extend our mutual prayer-care to recovery-care. We are to go to a brother or sister in Christ who has wandered from the truth and help bring them back. We are to add pleading with the wanderer to our praying for all.
We are much more comfortable praying for people than we are pleading with them. Praying can be private. When we pray for someone we don’t have to talk to them. The awkwardness of asking a person about their beliefs and behaviors can be avoided if we just pray for them.
But pleading with people is different. Going to a person who has wandered from the truth feels invasive. The possibility of a confrontation is real. So how can we think about helping someone return to the truth so that we move toward them in love? If a Christian in our circle of friendships or church community wanders from the truth, here are four questions to ask ourselves.
1. Are they really wandering from Christ, or are they struggling with ongoing temptation or just different than we are? Wandering from Christ, his truth and his church, is not the same as wrestling with the temptations of the self-life. In temptation, we need to encourage and pray for one another. And just because a Christian doesn’t see certain discipleship, cultural, or political issues the way we do does not mean they are walking away from Christ. We need to be clear that a person is walking away from the truth, the gospel, and the kind of life that all Christians are called to live before we plead with them as wanderers to return.
2. Are we trying to help them or control them? Mutual discipleship is not conforming people to our thinking. Congregations are not helped by a culture of policing people’s beliefs and behavior to make sure no one steps out of line. It is God who saves and keeps people by his grace. He uses us to help each other, but only as servants, never as lords. We need to be honest about what is motivating us to move toward others.
3. Do we love people? Most often, it is fear that keeps us from calling a person who has stopped attending church, or meeting with someone who has walked away from the faith, or questioning someone who has taken on a clearly sinful lifestyle. It is love that overcomes our fears. And it is love that determines the tone of our engagement with others.
4. Do we believe in the power of God to restore? By calling us to help each other if someone wanders from the truth, James puts before us the promise that God forgives and restores the wanderer who returns. No one is out of the reach of God’s power and grace. Believing this puts feet to our love and leads us to help the wanderer home.
Let us always pray. If necessary, let us plead. God’s grace is sufficient.