When God Says “GO,” but Family Says “NO!”
There is a dilemma that numerous young adults in history have faced when dealing with world missions: What happens when God says “go,” but family says “no”? In Exodus 20:12, the Lord gives this command: “Honor your father and your mother.” This same command is repeated to the church in Ephesus. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ - which is the first commandment with a promise “ (Eph. 6:1-2). On the other hand, in Matthew 10:37, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Again, in Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple.” These words cannot be ignored. So how do you live between these two different commands? There must be a way to respect your parents and still follow God’s will over theirs.
First of all, you need to evaluate your relationship to your parents. Are they believers or non-believers? Are they closely involved in your life? Do you often include them in making life decisions? Do your parents trust you to make good decisions? Have they been interested in hearing details of your plans? What are their top priorities? Do they know what your priorities are now? While growing up in their home and/or depending on them for financial help, you are under their authority. Culturally, there comes a time when you gradually move out from under your parents’ authority and make decisions for yourself. For some it occurs when they graduate college and move into their own career. For others it comes with getting married. The timing is different for everyone, so you must discern for yourself where you are in relation to your parents.
The heart is deceitful, so it is important to realize that disapproval from family can be used as an excuse for not obeying the Lord. Some people will hide behind a negative answer as a way out. It’s easy to blame parents for something that you don’t want to do. To check these motives ask yourself: “How hard did I try to show my parents that what I’ve decided is from the Lord?” If you truly believe that your decision is in line with God’s will, you should be highly motivated to help your parents understand that as well.
Eddie Gibbs, a foreign missionary who has dealt with this issue, gives some ways to address your family in his article “Family: What to Do When Parents Say No”:
- Ask them to pray with you for a few months about your plans.
- Ask them why they feel as they do. (Seriously consider their reasons. Since they raised you and know your character better than anyone else, they may see some major problems with your plans that you hadn’t realized.)
- Seek counsel from an older Christian who knows your family.
- They may have some insight about how to approach your parents. Introduce them to a staff member of the mission agency, and let them ask questions (on the phone or in person).
- Express your gratitude for the things they have provided for you in the past.
- Show appreciation for the sacrifices they will be making when you go.
- Let your family know that you haven’t just dismissed their objections.
If you feel that you are still under the umbrella of their authority in this decision, you may need to wait for an opportunity at a later date. However, eventually “the point may come when you must go in the face of parental opposition” (Gibbs). Either way, the one thing you have control over is maintaining an honoring attitude toward your parents. Sometimes the greatest witness your parents can see is you fully obeying the call of God on your life.
John Mott's Story
In the late 1800s, John R. Mott faced the challenge of obeying God and his parents. As a college student at Cornell University, he had many options for his future. Mott is an outstanding example of how to honor your parents as you seek God’s will for your life. He kept them informed about what God was teaching him, so they knew that his decisions weren’t hasty or irrational. Below are some of the letters he wrote to his parents.
About his decision to go into ministry:
“Dear Father and Mother, The past week has seen a great change in my plans for life and it has not been a sudden change … since I have been here (Cornell) I have not been contented with my plans and there has been a constantly increasing impulse in me urging me to devote my whole life and talents to the service of Jesus … last Tuesday I went up to study with my friend … My conscience would say nothing but ‘consecrate yourself to My service’ … I prayed with faith … and God told me in reply that I must work the vineyard … My friend then read as follows the verse that occurred to him: ‘And He said unto them: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ …”
About a life-changing summer conference:
“I write tonight about a very important matter. Mr. Moody the great revivalist is going to hold a College Students’ Summer School during the entire month of July … Out of 150 members, they have chosen me to represent the Association (YMCA) … It was necessary that I make my decision at once… I thought and prayed over the matter a day; I was then convinced that it was my duty to go … I then went to my pastor and asked his advice. He told me to ‘Go by all means.’ … Dear parents, I have made the first decision of any importance, which I have ever made without your advice; but it was no matter of self; it was of God from beginning to end - and I do not think you will object to my decision.”
About the struggle he went through in determining his purpose in life:
“Dear Mother, I don’t want to leave you nor will I in this new work before me more than in any other field I should have entered … But I must not desert my Master who has even done more for me … I have a hard fight in my own spirit. My own spirit says, ‘you are gifted for the legal profession’ … Again the same spirit says ‘go into business.’ … That spirit, ma, is the spirit of flesh, of the world and of the devil! Am I wrong? On the other hand there is a still small voice saying, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature - the harvest is great but the laborers are few - he who would save his life shall lose it but he who would lose his life for my sake the same shall save it’ … It calls to mind how He has spared me among my sins - how He has placed intellectual advantages of rare type in my grasp - how He has prompted me to the work …”
John R. Mott was deeply involved in the YMCA during college and throughout his life. Through God’s leading, he went on to found the World’s Student Christian Federation, a worldwide fellowship of students and young people, and in 1946 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Overall, he was one of the most influential World Christians of his time, and his accomplishments still influence the world today.
Mott is one of many who have wrestled with the balance of obeying God and family. The issue of obeying parents is one that must be addressed. Parents play a unique role in the lives of their children - they teach us and guide us as we grow up. Keith Green said, “It is true that God wants us to honor our parents and love our friends, but He has also made it clear in His Word that this honor and love must not exceed our love and obedience to Him and His calling on our lives.”