Let me set the scene: The team at Hosanna Revival received the following message that prompted this topic—perhaps you resonate . . .
“What do you do when your sibling doesn’t walk with the Lord and lives in the same house as you? When your relationship is distant and you feel hurt and sad for them? When you pray for them but it seems like the Lord is telling you to wait? And when you’re frustrated and wrestling between whether or not to do everything in your power to convert them so they don’t go to hell and waiting on the Lord to save them? How do you love them during this time? How do you restore relationship with them when you don’t want to talk to them?”
First of all, friend: If you’re asking this question, it speaks volumes to the care you already have for this dear soul in your home. You’ve begun with a good first step.
Assess: Who is your sibling?
Let’s think about our siblings. You may have a sibling who was raised in a Christian home but is slowly and subtly deconstructing their faith. Or a sibling whose after-school activity or adult relationship status makes you ache for their wholeness. Or maybe even a sibling who actively speaks against the things of the Lord and wants nothing to do with God.
Your relationship with said sibling may be outwardly sweet but inwardly chaotic, or it may be outwardly hostile and inwardly heartbroken. Or perhaps you two have no relationship at all.
Whoever you are, and whoever this dear soul is whom you have in mind—this article is for you.
Although I have chosen to remain anonymous because this topic involves real people near and dear to me, I can say that I have a few dear souls in mind as I write this and have asked the same questions above through many years of tears and prayers. My story so far is one of turning from callous hatred to being broken in the best way by the testimony of love and truth that our Savior walked out on this very earth.
So let’s turn first to see what Jesus actually did with those distant to him when he walked on this earth.
Scripture: Learn to love like Jesus.
Let’s read Mark 2:15-17 together:
Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”Mark 2:15-17 NLT
My heart has been broken in the best way by this phrase: “There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers” (Mark 2:15 NLT). Here we see Jesus sitting with people who don’t look “Christian” at all. His heart is magnetized to the broken. The lost find a safe space in him. Somehow, he can be the polar opposite of a sinner and still eat dinner with them.
I’m really good at not loving well, so one of my first prayers years ago was for God to crack open my own heart in love towards my sibling. That prayer has taken several years to move me to a space where I actually want to learn to love like him.
The best place to learn how to love your lost sibling is to start in the Gospels where Jesus literally walks this earth and interacts with real, broken people every day.
This is my first suggestion: Search the Gospels and dissect every interaction Jesus had with sinners. From examining his interactions with despised tax collectors, to his scoffing brothers, to self-righteous Pharisees, let yourself be immersed in his true character towards the lost.
Rapid-fire tips: Love your lost brother or sister like Jesus.
Now that we’ve ingested Scripture, I must be honest in saying I have nothing close to a perfectly-packaged three-point process about how to walk in love and truth toward your sibling. The reality of this topic is that it’s a whole lot messier in real-life.
I’ve chosen to organize my practical tips as a rapid-fire list of the Scripture-based actions that I’ve learned thus far in this ever-continuing journey towards understanding and walking out the heart of Jesus. Let’s begin!
- Don’t be surprised when lost people act like lost people. This quote pivoted my entire perception of everyone who doesn’t know Jesus. Don’t expect lost people to act like saved people. Don’t expect them to be able to maintain a holy life before they’ve met the one who makes them holy. This truth makes me think twice before berating a lost sibling for their unchristlike actions. Do I want them to simply act like a believer with no inward change? Not at all! Instead, I realize that encouraging my sibling toward getting to know Jesus himself is the only way the lost can be found. Relationship with God comes first, then the renewed life. So, instead of focusing on their sin . . .
- Repent from your sin. There is a hatred that can exist toward sin that comes from lostness, but sometimes it simmers over into a hatred towards the person committing the sin. The biggest testimony to the gospel might not be you calling your sibling to repent, but you repenting for your own sins before God and humbly walking that out before your sibling. On that note, one thing to take to heart as you repent is . . .
- Don’t treat your sibling like a project. Your sibling can see straight through that. While it is good to be concerned about their salvation, sometimes our urgency leads us to view their salvation as a checklist or mechanical process that demands an immediate response. This often ends up pushing our siblings farther away from Jesus. Instead of creating your own timeline and checklist . . .
- Follow the Holy Spirit. This is not a cop out but rather a lifeline. I cannot be the Holy Spirit in your life. You might need to speak truth, or you might need to stay silent. He knows better than anyone, and he is your real-time companion to provide that guidance. Here’s what this looks like:
- Seek to embody Jesus here and now. Be his hands and feet to your sibling. You get this honor that no one else has in quite the same way—to be physically present in your sibling’s life and be a tangible, little taste of who Jesus is to them. How do you figure out what this looks like?
- Pray. Sow into consistent prayer. When you’re looking for guidance, ask through prayer. When you’re tempted to lose hope, pray Scripture. What if you’re the only one praying for your sibling? What an honor and sacred call to be the only one interceding for them before the Lord! Or what if you’re joined in prayer by a family member, friend, or your church? What could Jesus do?
- Trust that Jesus can do what he does best: Save. I’m going to say that again: Jesus saves. He’s the only one who can save your sibling, and he’s one who does it best. Remember . . .
- It’s not your job to save your sibling. Don’t become the savior. Working out of your own power can lead to emotional exhaustion and an inability to see the small ways God is working in spite of your efforts. So, if this isn’t your job, what is?
- You might just be a seed. And that’s okay. Pray for more seeds to be planted by others surrounding your sibling. And on that note . . .
- Be the friend to others that you want your sibling to have. Sometimes your own family truly is the hardest one to love and share the gospel with. So, if your own sibling won’t let you be the light you want to be, extend that to another one’s sibling. If you’re doing this already, from the bottom of my heart: thank you. And while you’re at it . . .
- Find support, BUT don’t share your sibling’s journey with everyone. Find safe spaces to ask for prayer and advice, but apart from that remember your sibling’s story is not yours to tell. Consider whether your motive for sharing is right for the moment or subtle gossip. In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy, there’s this beautiful line when the boy asks about his friend’s experience meeting the great Lion Aslan, a representation of Jesus. The Lion responds, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”1 Honor the privacy of your sibling’s story. Speaking of support. . .
- Be a safe space for your sibling’s hard and unholy questions. Each generation brings their own set of questions and hot topics to the table. Instead of being fearful of these questions or providing drag-and-drop answers, take the time to listen and wrestle deeply and genuinely with these questions as you bring them before Scripture. And as you engage in these deep and oftentimes heavy conversations, remember:
- You’re not alone: In the book of Mark, Jesus enters his own hometown in which his very brothers question his sanity (Mark 3:21). Our Savior understands what it is like to have those near and dear to us not align on what matters most. Draw near to him in your questions and prayers and know that he empathizes.
Overall: Lean into the character of Jesus and how he holds the balance of love and truth.
This isn’t black and white. This isn’t finding a rulebook of how to treat your sibling. This is drawing near to the One who is the Way.
As we saw in our passage at the beginning, Jesus ate with sinners in a way that appalled the religious. Some of the most beautiful examples I’ve seen of friends loving a lost sibling is watching deep and welcoming relationships cultivated in spite of the sibling’s distance from Jesus. Lean into relationship.
Relationships are built through the small things, the consistency, the care to build a bridge. It’s sending a text to your estranged sibling even when you know you won’t get a response, FaceTiming at a late hour to talk about pointless everyday things, listening to what matters to them because they matter to you. Dear friend, trust that God is working.
Through all of this, remember that love and truth are quite simply the very person of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Extend Jesus to your sibling.
Application: Love your sibling here and now.
- EXAMPLES: Who are people in real life around you who love their lost siblings well? What specifically do they do? How does their example show you how Jesus loves?
- READ: Choose a story in the Gospels of Jesus interacting with someone who’s lost. Imagine your sibling in that person’s place. What can you learn about loving well from the way Jesus interacts in this account?
- REPENT: Ask God to reveal ways in which you’ve wronged your sibling or lacked love toward them. Write them down, bring them before the Lord, release them to him, and accept his forgiveness. Then ask if you need to repent directly to your sibling.
- PRAY: Let’s get straight to what will last long after you leave this article. I want you to pray for your sibling(s) right now. Write down their name(s) and intercede for them before the Lord. Tell Jesus what hurts, tell him what you long for, and ask him what he wants.
1 C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 1994), 202.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
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