In the last blog we spoke about praying for our relatives to come to personal faith. We shared our own stories and we started with the five most important lessons we’ve learned.
Lesson 1: Pray FOR our relatives and not against them
Lesson 2: Pray for patience; God’s timing is seldom ours.
Today – in the midst of this Christmas season – here are the other three. We hope these can encourage you to persevere in prayer for the people you love!
3) Pray for others to serve as sources of positive Christian influence. Often our relatives have a difficult time listening to us. Our parents see us as young and inexperienced about life. Christie’s parents didn’t understand her faith; they feared the intensity of her commitment to Christ. Paul had a hard time witnessing to his brother and sister because they knew firsthand the imperfections in his witness. Family members who see our faith sometimes resist talking about their own potential spiritual interest because they fear we’ll put too much pressure on them to become like us.
So we pray that God will bring other Christians into the lives of our relatives.
Paul’s brother’s girlfriend (who later became his wife) came into our family life after they met in a bar. They partied together, rode their Harley Davidsons together, and lived a fairly “wild” life. But God used her to bring spirituality into the marriage. Her initial spiritual interest focused on the occult and the spiritual “dark side” (they got married on Halloween!). But this spiritual attraction got her interested in issues of faith. One Sunday a number of years ago they went together to a country church where her distant cousins were singing in a Gospel group. When the invitation for salvation was given, she – to Paul’s brother’s surprise – went forward to receive Christ!
When Christie’s brother, a dentist, was acutely lonely because of an isolated job assignment with the U.S. Public Health Service, we prayed that God would bring other Christians into his life. He met a fellow dentist, a solid Christian, who befriended him, explained his testimony to him, and invited him to church. Although Christie had the privilege of leading her brother to Christ in prayer, this dentist planted and cultivated seeds that we could not.
4) Pray for opportunities to demonstrate love not pressure. We’ve found that pressing families for decisions often causes them to react or grow defensive. In the past, when they expressed a spiritual interest or curiosity, we typically reacted with great zeal. Our enthusiasm often caused them to recoil, retracting their interest. Why? Perhaps they felt that they were not ready to be as “into” faith as we are. Perhaps they felt pressured. If we got too excited and tried to prod them spiritually in an effort to further their faith, they went the other direction.
Christie’s Mom and Dad attended a Billy Graham Crusade with us almost twenty years ago. Her Dad seemed spiritually soft that evening. When the invitation was given, he actually went forward to inquire. We praised God, but were not quite sure what it meant. We took him out to breakfast, gave him some literature, and really wanted to push him along in his faith. The crusade organization was also zealous to follow-up with him. They sent literature and contacted a local religious leader from his neighborhood church (who actually ridiculed him for getting “saved”). Our enthusiasm combined with the actions of the crusade organization actually pushed him away from the faith.
As we evaluate things now, we realize that Christie’s Mom and Dad finally responded to Christ because of the faithful love that they experienced through her. A life of demonstrated love culminated in the latter years of their lives, when she devoted energy and time to their physical care. They responded to the love of Christ that they experienced in her.
Demonstrated love influenced our family members in a second way. We kept them informed about our practical service projects in missions. At times, we even got them involved. This allowed them to express faith on a level that they were comfortable with. It also showed them the real-ness of our Christian faith. This especially influenced Christie’s family – whose religious background gave them a tremendous respect for anyone who served the poor. Our involvement with ministries of compassion to the poor served to attract them to our faith.
5) Don’t lose heart. Luke 18 begins with the explanation that Jesus “taught them a parable that they ought always to pray and not to give up.” The implication? It’s easy to “lose heart” when our prayers are not answered as we’d desire. Jesus wants us to persevere, and indeed he rewards such perseverance
The story of Christie’s Dad illustrates vividly the need to persevere. With the exception of the “Billy Graham Crusade moment” cited above, he seldom expressed spiritual interest. He aggressively resisted Christian faith for years, citing the hypocrisies of the Church and the hard-to-believe content of the Bible.
On one occasion, we talked through the “bad news” aspect of the Good News – that people without Christ go to Hell. He resisted this message so strongly that he retorted, “If there is a God who allows people to go to Hell, then I don’t want to go to Heaven to live with Him. I choose hell.”
A few years later, after the sudden death of his 47-year-old son, her Dad again reacted belligerently. When we asked if he would like to receive God’s gift of eternal life, he snapped back, “Eternal life is a myth; there’s no heaven or hell. Just put me in the grave. The grave is all there is.”
This belligerent response made Paul lose heart. He said, “Let’s quit, shake the dust off our feet, and move on.” But Christie kept praying – tenaciously. Like the importunate widow, she kept pounding on heaven’s door on her father’s behalf. We called friends and asked them to join us in prayer for him. We marshaled the prayers of over 500 friends and associates (using email), asking them to join us in prayer for his salvation.
Two weeks later, her Dad’s heart softened. He indicated an interest in coming into a relationship with God. We invited him to pray a simple prayer – “Jesus, have mercy” – and he responded. For the first time in our lives, we heard him pray, “Jesus, have mercy on my soul.” His countenance changed. His striving was over. As we stood there hearing this simple prayer for mercy, it was hard to believe that God had finally answered Christie’s prayers of 29 years!
Her Dad died two weeks later. Christie didn’t lose heart in her prayers, and God opened the door of heaven for her Dad.
CONCLUSION. After we come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our first desire is to see our family members share with us in spiritual life. But we’ve learned that every person’s spiritual pilgrimage is individual. People do not come to Christ at the same speed. Their journey is their journey, and it often takes awhile. God calls us to stay consistent and involved in their lives. We continue to give them opportunities, but most of all we don’t close the door of relationship. And we pray – allowing God to bring the results in his time.
Where do the effects of our persevering prayer and the providence of God intersect? We don’t know. God doesn’t tell us. He only commands us to pray without ceasing – and our family members are where we start.
(This post is cowritten by Paul and Christie Borthwick).