If I sent out prayer advisories, the following would be an urgent one regarding the members of your family. Yes, your family.
I know that I’m a religious fanatic because if we are just meeting, I’ll ask you: Are all of your family members saved?” I am not asking to satisfy my curiosity. To me, the goal of this life is to be saved, sanctified and serving God.
Many parents say: “My children professed Christ at an early age, but are not walking with the Lord.” Stop, look, and listen! Even Christians are subject to self-deception, and sometimes we grasp at strands of wishful thinking. The world, the flesh and the devil conspire, either to keep us from praying or to have us pray amiss.
One way that people pray amiss is to ask that adult children come back to the Lord when they have shown no interest in Him since early childhood.
I don’t mean that childhood conversions are not genuine or that there are no backslidden Christian offspring, but Christian parents or relatives need to face the possibility that their loved one simply may not be a believer. My urgent advice is: Don’t pray for them to come back to the Lord; pray for them to come to the Lord. You can’t revive what is not alive.
Some Suggestions for Prayer
Step #1. Pray that God will give you the strength to endure and to undertake this prayer as a regular burden. Sometimes it is difficult to bear the burden over the amount of time that God may take to answer.
Step #2. Give your loved ones over to God, that God might speak to them in whatever way He chooses and in whatever circumstances it takes to bring them to Him. Sometimes God uses times of trouble and pain to show people their need for Him. When they encounter illness, mishap and disappointments, pray that God will use these things for their spiritual benefit.
It may help you to contemplate the verse, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Or to paraphrase it, “How healthy can a person be, even though they have no observable illness, if the sickness of sin keeps them from God?” God will not allow the one He is seeking to have more pain than she or he can endure. Often it is in the pain of life that we realize how much we need God.
Likewise, if you pray for God to work in the lives of others, and they then experience pain or adverse circumstances, it doesn’t mean that you brought these things upon them. It means that God is answering prayer, and doing things His usual way. God, who knows the soul, knows how to move people. God, who knows the spirit, knows how to motivate people. If you really want to see families saved, you have to be ready to share the suffering that may come about.
Step #3. Do not try to persuade them. It is not up to you to try to drive them towards repentance. If they understand the gospel, it is not up to you to do anything except be there for that family member, whether it be a parent, child, sibling or cousin. Be there to rejoice in their salvation when they take that step of faith. Be there to reinforce the reality of their faith. They don’t need information or motivation—they need the moving of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Step #4. Be clear about the term “Christian.” A Christian is a follower of Christ, not someone who happens to celebrate Christmas instead of Hanukkah.
If they ask you, “Do you think that I’m not a Christian?” be brave enough to tell them, “There has been nothing in your life to say that Jesus is your motivator and mover. If the goodness that apparently comes from you is from Jesus, and you never give Him credit or mention, it seems to me like you don’t know Him.” But say it lovingly.
Remember, telling a person they’re not a Christian is not an insult. Christianity does not speak of one’s merit. Those of us who are truly Christians have recognized our complete lack of merit, and have to count on the merit of Christ.
Step #5. Repeat step #2 and trust your loved ones to the Lord. Be ready to accept His timing and His method of reaching them. Remember that He knows your heart. If you can keep them in prayer and regard them prayerfully and hopefully, God is not going to let you down so far as your loved ones are concerned. Scripture says that the believer sanctifies the unbelieving mate, so do not doubt your sanctifying influence on your loved one (1 Corinthians 7:14). Through our care, through our prayer, God will reach them, and we must believe that because He told us He would.