“They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.”

“They’re ruining their lives.”

“I’ve told them a million times.”

You’re probably familiar with the pain and frustration of watching someone you know make decisions that they’ll regret in the future…especially when you’ve told them where their decisions are leading…and especially when you’ve made the same decisions yourself.

I met a guy like this years ago when I was a youth pastor. He reminded me a lot of myself when I was in middle school – lack of respect for authority, struggle with porn, desire to please people. I can’t count how many times I sat him down in my office and shared my story with him, counseled him, rebuked him, and even times that I took a softer approach and just hung out with him. Sometimes it seemed like we were getting somewhere, other times were really frustrating. His mom would call me and set up appointments for him to come see me. He hated those “surprise attacks.” We tried lots of things and nothing seemed to help. He was the ONLY student I gave my number to out of hundreds of kids who asked. We even counseled through text messages at times – sometimes at 2am, when temptation had really set in or something rough had happened at home. Eventually, he moved on to high school and things got much worse. The peer pressure that came with that certainly didn’t help. After counseling, befriending, encouraging, and rebuking him for years, the day finally came…

I gave up on him.

I know it sound terrible. Pastors aren’t supposed to do that; but I did.

I don’t know the day or what finally caused it, but I know I gave up on him. I became convinced that he’d just continue the downward spiral into all of the issues I’d warned him about: drugs, porn, alcohol, disrespect for parents… He’d never get better. He’d never repent. I should spend my time with someone who would actually listen. All of those were wrong conclusions, but that’s what I had convinced myself.

Apparently things got much worse after I moved here to Tennessee last summer. He got deeper into sin and continued living for himself and the world…just like I figured.

I honestly hadn’t thought a lot about him till last night around 9pm when I got a text message from him. When I first saw his name on my phone, my first thought wasn’t very optimistic. I figured for sure it was some of the same old stuff. To my surprise (and joy), this text was far different from the one I had received from him in the past.

Here’s part of the text he sent me:

“…Around October or November, me and [a friend] became accountability partners, something that we had done in the past but had neglected for quite a while. Since then, I quit looking at porn, quit weed, gave up drinking, stopped smoking, and I’m working on not cussing any more…”

Then the opportunity arose for him to help lead a small group at a recent youth group event…

“…I prayed about it and God said that I’ve been cleaning up and saying I want to live for Him and it’s time to prove it. For the first time in years, I had my hands up during worship…and I broke down and cried. I’ve never felt so unworthy…”

Here’s the part that rocked me…

“…I guess the reason I’m telling you this is because during one of his teachings, our guest speaker posed the question, ‘Who do you consider your spiritual hero?’ You instantly came to mind. It took a while but I think aaaalllllllll that stuff that you and me spent endless hours discussing is finally sinking in, and I honestly want nothing more right now than to try and steer other guys clear of that long way around that I took, and a big part of that is thanks to you. So I guess I just wanna convey my insane gratitude for caring enough to spend so much time with me. I love you man…”

So, when I say, “Don’t give up,” I say it to myself as well.

To every youth pastor that tried to talk to a kid but never got through: DON’T GIVE UP!

To every pastor that’s dealt with a situation that is just taking too long to resolve: DON’T GIVE UP!

To every parent with a kid who’s heading in the wrong direction and you’re ready to just be done: DON’T GIVE UP!