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 STUDY ARTICLE 26

“Return to Me”

“Return to Me”

“Return to me, and I will return to you.”​—MAL. 3:7.

SONG 102 “Assist Those Who Are Weak”

PREVIEW *

1. How does Jehovah feel when one of his sheep is rescued?

AS WE discussed in the preceding article, Jehovah likens himself to a good shepherd who tenderly cares for each of his sheep. And he searches for any who go astray. Jehovah told the Israelites who had left him: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” We know that he still feels the same way because he says: “I do not change.” (Mal. 3:6, 7) Jesus said that Jehovah and the angels feel great joy when even one of His servants who has strayed returns to Him.​—Luke 15:10, 32.

2. What will we consider in this article?

2 Let us consider three of Jesus’ illustrations that focus on helping those who have strayed from Jehovah. We will discuss some specific qualities we need in order to help lost sheep to return to him. And we will see why it is worth the effort to support those who are weak.

SEARCH FOR THE LOST COIN

3-4. Why did the woman mentioned at Luke 15:8-10 search so carefully for her lost drachma?

3 We need to work hard to find those who want to return to Jehovah. In a parable recorded in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes how a woman searches for something valuable that was lost​—a drachma coin. This illustration draws our attention to the search itself.​—Read Luke 15:8-10.

4 Jesus describes the feelings of a woman who finds a precious drachma coin that was lost. In Jesus’ day, some Jewish mothers apparently gave a set of ten drachma coins to a daughter on her wedding day. Perhaps the coin was one of such a set. The woman assumes that the coin has fallen on the floor. So she lights a lamp and looks  around, but she sees nothing. Her oil lamp may not give her enough light to spot the small silver coin. Finally, she carefully sweeps the whole house. There in the dust she has collected lies her precious drachma, glinting in the light of her lamp. What a relief! She calls her friends and neighbors together to share the good news.

5. Why might it be difficult to locate those who have left the congregation?

5 As we see from Jesus’ illustration, it takes work to find something that was lost. Similarly, we might need to work hard to locate those who have left the congregation. Years may have passed since they stopped associating with us. They might even have moved to an area where the local brothers do not know them. But at this very moment, no doubt some of these inactive ones are longing to return to Jehovah. They want to serve Jehovah with his family of true worshippers, but they need our help.

6. How can all in the congregation be involved in the search for inactive ones?

6 Who can share in the search for inactive ones? All of us​—elders, pioneers, family members, and congregation publishers—​can help in locating them. Do you have a friend or a relative who has become inactive? Have you met an inactive one in your house-to-house ministry or while sharing in public witnessing? Explain to the person that if he would appreciate a visit, you would be happy to provide his contact information to the local elders.

7. What do you learn from the comments of an elder named Thomas?

7 What practical steps can elders in particular take to locate those who want to return to Jehovah? Note the comments of an elder named Thomas, * who lives in Spain. He has helped more than 40 Witnesses to return to the congregation. Thomas says: “First, I ask various brothers and sisters if they know where inactive individuals now live. Or I ask the publishers if they remember any who no longer attend meetings. Most in the congregation respond enthusiastically because they feel involved in the search. Later, when I visit inactive brothers or sisters, I ask about their children and other relatives. Some inactive ones used to bring their children to the meetings, and these children may have been publishers at one time. They too can be helped to return to Jehovah.”

BRING BACK JEHOVAH’S LOST SONS AND DAUGHTERS

8. In the illustration of the lost son, found at Luke 15:17-24, how did the father treat his repentant son?

8 What qualities must we have if we are to help those who want to return to Jehovah? Note some lessons we can learn from Jesus’ illustration of the wayward son who left home. (Read Luke 15:17-24.) Jesus explains how the son finally came to his senses and decided to return home. The father ran to meet his son and gave him a warm embrace, assuring the son of his love. The son had a troubled conscience and felt unworthy of being called a son. The father felt empathy for his son, who poured out his feelings. The father then took practical steps to assure his son that he was welcome back home,  not as a hired man, but as a cherished member of the family. To prove the point, the father arranged a feast and provided fine clothes for his repentant son.

9. What attitude must we have in order to help inactive ones to return to Jehovah? (See the box “ How to Help Those Who Want to Return.”)

9 Jehovah is like the father in that illustration. He loves our inactive brothers and sisters and wants them to return to him. By imitating Jehovah, we can help them to return. This calls for patience, empathy, and love on our part. Why should we display those specific qualities, and how can we do so?

10. What part does patience play in helping someone to recover spiritually?

10 We need to be patient because it takes time for a person to heal spiritually. Many formerly inactive ones admit that they responded only after repeated visits by the elders and others in the congregation. A sister named Nancy, from Southeast Asia, writes: “A close friend in the congregation helped me a great deal. She loved me like an older sister. She reminded me of the good times we shared in the past. She would listen patiently as I expressed my feelings, and she did not hesitate to give me advice. She proved to be a true friend, ready to help at any time.”

11. Why do we need empathy to soothe hurt feelings?

11 Empathy is like a powerful ointment; it can help to heal hurt feelings. Some inactive ones have struggled for years with bitter feelings toward someone in  the congregation. These feelings have stifled the desire to return to Jehovah. Some may think that they were treated unjustly. They may need someone who will listen to them and understand their feelings. (Jas. 1:19) María, who was inactive at one time, says, “I needed a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a helping hand to guide me.”

12. Illustrate how Jehovah’s love draws inactive ones back to his people.

12 The Bible describes Jehovah’s love for his people as a cord, or rope. In what sense is God’s love like a rope? Consider this illustration: Imagine that you are drowning in rough seas and someone throws you a life vest. Surely you would appreciate the help because that may ease your struggle to stay afloat. But a life vest will not be enough to keep you alive. The water is cold, and you will not survive unless you can reach a lifeboat. You need someone to throw you a rope and to pull you toward the lifeboat. Jehovah said about the Israelites who had gone astray: “I kept drawing them, with the cords of love.” (Hos. 11:4) God feels the same way today about those who have stopped serving him and who are drowning in problems and anxiety. He wants them to know that he loves them, and he wants to draw them to him. And Jehovah can use you to express his love to them.

13. Relate an experience that illustrates the power of brotherly love.

13 It is important to assure inactive ones that Jehovah loves them and that we love  them too. Pablo, mentioned in the preceding article, was inactive for over 30 years. He says: “One morning, as I was leaving my home, a sweet, elderly sister met me and spoke to me in a loving manner. I began to weep like a child. I told her that it seemed that Jehovah had sent her to speak to me. It was at that moment that I decided to return to Jehovah.”

LOVINGLY SUPPORT THE WEAK

14. According to the illustration found at Luke 15:4, 5, what did the shepherd do once he found the lost sheep?

14 Inactive ones need consistent support from us. Like the lost son in Jesus’ illustration, they may be emotionally scarred. And they are likely weak spiritually because of what they experienced in Satan’s world. We need to help them rebuild their faith in Jehovah. In the illustration of the lost sheep, Jesus describes how the shepherd puts the sheep on his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. The shepherd has already spent time and energy finding the lost sheep. But he realizes that he will need to carry it back to the fold because it will not have the strength to return on its own.​—Read Luke 15:4, 5.

15. How can we support weak ones who want to return to Jehovah? (See the box “ An Invaluable Tool.”)

15 We may need to invest time and energy in helping some inactive ones to overcome their weaknesses. But with Jehovah’s spirit, his Word, and the publications provided through the congregation, we can help them to become spiritually strong again. (Rom. 15:1)  How can we do this? One experienced elder says, “Most inactive ones need a Bible study after they decide that they truly want to return to Jehovah.” * So if you are asked to study with an inactive person, why not welcome the privilege? The elder also says, “The publisher who conducts the study needs to be a good friend, someone in whom the inactive one can confide.”

JOY IN HEAVEN AND JOY ON EARTH

16. How do we know that we can count on heavenly support?

16 Many experiences indicate that the angels are working alongside us to help us find inactive ones who yearn to return to Jehovah. (Rev. 14:6) For example, Silvio, from Ecuador, earnestly prayed for help to return to the congregation. While he was still praying, his doorbell rang. Two elders were at his door. During that visit, they were happy to begin providing him with the help he needed.

17. What reward do we receive for helping the spiritually weak?

17 We will find much joy in helping the spiritually weak return to Jehovah. Note what Salvador, a pioneer who pays special attention to inactive ones, says: “At times, I find it hard to hold back tears of happiness. It pleases me so much to think that Jehovah has rescued one of his dear sheep from Satan’s world and that I’ve had the privilege of cooperating with Him in this work.”​—Acts 20:35.

18. If you are inactive, of what can you be sure?

18 If you have stopped associating with Jehovah’s people, you can be sure that he still loves you. He wants you to return to him. You will have to take some steps to return to him. But like the father in Jesus’ illustration, Jehovah is on the lookout for your return, and he will gladly welcome you home.

SONG 103 Shepherds​—Gifts in Men

^ par. 5 Jehovah wants those who no longer associate with the congregation to return to him. We can do a lot to encourage those who want to accept Jehovah’s invitation: “Return to me.” In this article, we will consider how we can help them to do so.

^ par. 7 Some names have been changed.

^ par. 15 Some inactive ones may be helped by studying portions of the book How to Remain in God’s Love, whereas others have benefited from reviewing chapters of the book Draw Close to Jehovah. The Congregation Service Committee will determine who is best qualified to conduct such a study.

^ par. 68 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Three different brothers provide help for a brother who wants to return. They do so by keeping in contact, assuring him that he is loved, and listening to him with understanding.