Over my 37 years of ministry with collegians, I've seen God rescue so many. And my heart is filled with gratitude to watch God grab the heart of a collegian in the throes of young adulthood. However, I've also experienced the other side: the heartache of those who have walked away from Jesus. Several former students (whom I still love) come to mind. My heart grieves for them (they wouldn't want to hear that, I know), for they have turned away from the source of real life.
What is a Shepherd to do with his heartache over lost sheep who won't return? Years ago I heard a quotation, attributed to the great theologian Jonathan Edwards, which has sustained me through many heartbreaking moments in ministry. It goes like this:
"I am convinced of two things in this life. First, every person should give themselves completely to Jesus Christ. And second, even if no one else does ... I will."
Bingo. I cannot stop loving the sheep who've left the Shepherd, but their decision is fundamentally not my decision. Life is not about what others will do with Jesus – whether they'll assess Him to be Treasure or Trash. For me, life's question is this: "when all others turn their devotion elsewhere, will I keep my eyes on Jesus?"
In the Gospel of John, Jesus' teaching became unappealing (difficult) to the crowds, as many disciples decided to take a (permanent) hike. It's recorded in John 6:66 (an ominous verse number, indeed):
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Of course, Peter's answer to Jesus is just like Jonathan Edwards' words. Where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God. For sheep who have found Jesus to be Treasure, they simply cannot leave him. It's too awful to consider.
So, even if no one else will stay with Him, will I? Will you? My fellow sheep, will you nuzzle up to your Shepherd, today?