What Should I Do?

by Jason Overman

A friend, a loved one, a church member has strayed off course, going their own way, neglecting or rejecting the good they’ve known. How can I help? What should I do?


Every pastor, parent, and person will at some point be faced with this challenge. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve asked these questions in thirty years of pastoral ministry. The impulse to act and aid is always clear, but specific answers to what to do and how to do it do not come as easy. Every person and situation is different. Sometimes we’re just not sure. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula.


But we need not be immobilized in the face of such crisis. Jesus left simple examples that prepare our hearts and expectations, and lead the way forward. When I’m faced with the challenge of knowing how to help, my mind goes back to three parables recorded side by side in the Gospel of Luke.


Luke 15 is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible. There we find the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. All are variations on the same gospel theme. A shepherd has 100 sheep but one is lost. He leaves the 99 in safety and goes after the one until he finds it. A woman has ten coins but loses one. She searches her house carefully until she finds it. A father has two sons. One leaves home in rebellion and is lost in depravity, but finally comes to his senses and returns repentant. Father has been waiting and runs to meet him. His exclamation summarizes the teaching of all three parables: “for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (v. 24, NASB).


These parables are about the lost being found, and each one tells of great rejoicing when those who strayed have come home (vv. 5, 9, 32). They all declare the relentless love of our heavenly Father for a lost world, and how that love was made flesh in His Son, Jesus Christ. These parables are the gospel message plain and simple, and those religious folk short on joy and long on criticism about Jesus ministering to sinners needed to hear them (vv. 1, 2).


How can we best deal with those who have gone their own way or are lost in sin? These three basic lessons ready us for the challenge.


First, when our hearts yearn to help restore such people to the fold and the family, it is a sign that God’s power is at work. This is the sure foundation on which we base our hard questions “What?” and “How?” knowing that our Father is already working to rescue and receive in the face of our best intentions and real limitations. God gives us hearts to help; we trust Him to see it through.


Seeking the lost also takes grace and fortitude. The shepherd and woman set out to find the lost until he/she finds it (vv. 5, 8). This commitment to search “until” is made because of the inherent value to its owner of what is lost. Restoring the stray may be quick and easy in some cases, but in others, it may take time and effort. Be patient and resilient.


Lastly, just as God is an active and determined seeker of the lost, so should we be. We learn this by observing a curious difference among the three parables. In the first two, we find active seeking after the lost. In the last we see active waiting. Our first inclination, like Jesus’, is to reach out to rescue.


But the beloved parable of the prodigal speaks wisdom too. In some cases, usually recognized over time and after much pain, the thing to do is to let go — let go and let God. This isn’t giving up but turning over so the person may leave and learn while you remain watchful, waiting, and hopeful. This takes a special kind of love that is brave, enduring, and trusting.


Other New Testament texts build on these basics, enjoining us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to restore in meekness (Galatians 6:1). Yet with all this, the road to recovering the lost, the stray, the loved one who goes their own way, is never straight or level. It takes profound faith in God’s grace to guide and heal. And most of all, if we’re to be fruitful, we need love and joy through the One who would bring life from death in us all, the lost and found.