NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Disciple-makers know great joys. We also know great heartaches. But sometimes, it’s the people who bring you the greatest joy who eventually cause you the greatest heartache.
Perhaps you’ve been in my shoes. You led someone to Christ, and you faithfully sought to pour your life into them. You discipled them to the best of your ability. You welcomed them into your home. You sought to live an exemplary life before them.
But after a period of time, they turned around and went back to their old life. They left you and your church.
So you prayed for them. You pleaded with them. All to no avail. They fell back into their former worldliness and disappeared. And week after week, their absence shouts at you: “You failed them. You mistook their initial enthusiasm for true conversion. What kind of minister are you? You couldn’t keep them on the narrow path. See what happens when you open your heart and life to someone?”
Eventually, God brings another person along for you to disciple. But you find that — this time — it’s just a little harder to pour your life into them. It’s harder to give your all when it comes to their growth and discipleship. You don’t verbalize your thoughts, but your heart has them: “What’s the use of pouring your life into them if they wind up like the other? What if they let you down too? What if they are only here for a season?”
The ache you feel for your earlier disciple keeps you from fully engaging the next one the Lord has for you.
You are not alone. The Apostle Paul once counted Demas as a fellow worker. But in Paul’s last letter, he tells Timothy:
“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
It’s not hard to read between the lines and sense Paul’s sorrow. He wants to see Timothy (at least partly) because Demas has deserted him.
Of course, Paul’s biggest concern is that Demas’ soul is in peril. His former disciple’s love for the world is a demonstration of his lack of love for God. Make no mistake: Paul is concerned with Demas’ soul and destiny.
But that’s not all that grieves the apostle. Paul needs companionship, partnership and encouragement. So he tells Timothy to come to him soon. Paul is saying, “I need you, Timothy. Demas is gone.” In other words, “It hurts. Bad.”
Perhaps you’ve discipled a Demas before. If so, then you know the hurt that accompanies their desertion. You are deeply disappointed by their decisions. You can feel your spirit deflate whenever you think about where they are right now. You may even question your effectiveness as a minister.
In that moment of grief, you’ve got two choices. The first choice is to let your hurt turn into bitterness. The root of bitterness will keep you from giving yourself to the next person God brings your way. Bitterness constructs a wall around your heart in order to guard you from future hurt. Go this direction and you will never have another Demas to deal with. But you won’t ever raise up a Titus, either.
The other choice is to stay grounded in the Gospel, the only news that brings joy in the midst of pain. That’s what Paul does. He doesn’t turn bitter. He doesn’t deny his sorrow. Instead, he leans on other partners in the Gospel and tells them, “I need you.”
Armed with faith in the power of the Gospel and confidence that God’s plan cannot be thwarted, Paul moves forward. He keeps making plans. “Bring the parchments. Bring Mark too. Bring my cloak.” Hurt or no hurt, Paul maintains a steadfast joy in the sovereignty of God as he keeps on pursuing the kingdom and proclaiming the Gospel.
Pray for your Demas. Weep over him. Beg God for him. But don’t let Demas steal your joy. Don’t let Demas rob you of your passion for discipling others. God will continue to bring people to you. The reason you can keep working is because the Gospel never stops.
People like Demas will come and go. Yes, your next disciple may be a Demas. But it could be that the next one is your Timothy.
Trevin Wax is editor of “TGM — Theology — Gospel — Mission,” a small-group curriculum being developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, and is author of “Counterfeit Gospels” (Moody) and “Holy Subversion” (Crossway). He has served in pastoral roles in Baptist churches in the U.S. and Romania. This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com.