Back in 2007 I was a student in Minneapolis and able to attend the Desiring God Pastors Conference. William Mackenzie, the director of Christian Focus Publications, was one of the speakers that year. During one of the sessions he shared an analogy that has continued to be of help to me over the years. To preface his illustration, this question was asked: What are we doing when we share biblical truth with our unbelieving children? If they do not have hearts of flesh, but hearts of stone, are our efforts to teach them the truth of the Bible pointless or making them hypocrites?
Then he shared this image, which I have recounted here in paraphrase:
Imagine a frozen lake [which was not very hard to do in Minneapolis in January]. When we teach our children God’s truth, it’s like we are sliding frozen rocks out onto the ice. True, we have no power to break the ice ourselves, but we slide the rocks out onto the ice nonetheless. We know that when the sun eventually melts the ice, all those rocks will sink all the way to the bottom of the lake. The sun is the Holy Spirit. When he melts the ice of our children’s hearts, all of those lessons we have imparted will sink in. It will not have been in vain.
As a father of three now, I’ve often remembered this image as we plod through yet another bedtime routine of reading the word, singing, and prayer. Will my children ever have soft hearts to these things that we have shared with them a thousand times? It’s not uncommon for these times to feel like we are spinning our wheels, or for homeschooling to be the most stressful and frustrating part of my wife’s day.
We also have Central Asian friends like this. The sheer amount of believing friends and gospel conversations these individuals have had is, frankly, ridiculous. We keep bringing up Jesus to them, they keep not becoming believers, yet they keep coming around. What should we do with these types of friends? We need to prioritize those who are open to the gospel, yet we also don’t want to cut off these relationships, unresponsive though they seem. We hold out hope that in some way, if we keep sharing the gospel with them and they keep being open to our friendship, then they may be open to Jesus after all. Our practice has usually been to have some kind of regular communal/relational time where we can invite friends like this. That way we can prioritize meeting with those who are responding to the word throughout the week, but still stay in touch with those whose metaphorical lakes are still frozen, yet brimming with rocks. “I’m sorry this week I’m so busy, but why don’t you come to this open meal/coffee-tea gathering we have every week? I’d love to see you there and catch up.”
My dad came to faith as an adult and he used to tell us how grateful he was that we were being raised in a Christian home. “You’ll be so much further along than I was.” My dad was raised almost completely unchurched and I think he was getting at the dynamics I’m discussing here. He longed for his children to be raised knowing the word of God. True, we do not know when (or ultimately, if) the wind of the Spirit will blow and produce the miracle of the new birth. But when the word of God has been relentlessly imparted to the children or friends of believers, it waits, dormant and ready for the life-giving touch of the Spirit, like some kind of sleeper cell, waiting for the signal to overthrow the corrupt illegitimate tyrant with a new government of justice and truth – with the true king returned.
What are we to do with the hard hearts in our children or unbelieving friends? Keep teaching and keep praying. Keep sliding those rocks. We keep going in patience and faith, believing that the spring sun will come and melt the ice, sooner or later. And when he does, it is our intention for those frozen lakes to be positively covered with rocks.