Looking back over three decades of diapers, playdates, carpools, music lessons, and sports events, I realize that motherhood is a lot of ordinary days interrupted by unparalleled joys and sprinkled with unwanted sorrows. Some of those sorrows run deep. If you have a child who, by words or deeds, refuses to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord, then you know just how deep this sorrow can be. If the apostle John believed there was no greater joy than to hear of his children walking in the truth (3 John 1:4), could there be any greater sorrow than to see a child walk away from that same truth?
My sister did just that thirty-five long years ago. It broke my parents’ hearts. They were confused and troubled. They loved their Savior, who saved and kept them. And they loved their daughter to whom they had given their lives. Together, we cried and prayed and learned to love her in different ways.
Praying for the salvation of a loved one over the course of a lifetime without losing hope is hard work. It takes spiritual muscles that many of us haven’t used. It takes perseverance. We persevere in the hard work of praying for unsaved family members and friends by anchoring our prayers in the truth of Scripture and the character of God.
Persevere with Honesty
As a young pastor’s wife, I was often asked to pray for someone’s child who “wasn’t walking with the Lord.” It was nicer than saying her child was wayward. It still assumed the child’s salvation wasn’t in question—just that she wasn’t where she should be spiritually. I understood the conflict. Admitting that your child is unsaved and not spending eternity with God is very difficult. Only God is the judge. Only God knows whether there has been genuine conversion in the heart of anyone. We dare not pronounce judgments that are his alone. We acknowledge this in our prayers.
But we also must acknowledge the serious and precarious place of a person who “isn’t walking with the Lord.” In our culture of tolerance and the fear of speaking the truth, we can forget the eternal and spiritual—even emotional and relational—consequences of rejecting Jesus. Scripture reminds us that those separated from Christ have no hope and are without God in this world (Eph. 2:12). It also says that those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus … will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:8–9). My unbelieving loved one is in genuine need in this life and for eternity. This honest evaluation keeps me on my knees in prayer for her.
Persevere with Hope
We can persevere in praying with hope because our salvation is a gift of mercy and grace! It isn’t earned by any sacrifice or good behavior. It doesn’t require that my loved one clean up her act. Salvation is a gift from God for the undeserving. It’s also not dependent on any work I do. It’s so easy to unknowingly begin to think that I’m responsible for the salvation of my loved one. We often carry false guilt, thinking that we must pray hard enough, long enough, or in the right way with the right words for our loved ones to be saved.
The Bible tells us that salvation is God’s work, not ours. I pray that God will do for my loved ones what he has done for others in the past: Deliver them from the domain of darkness and transfer them to the kingdom of your Son (Col. 1:13). Forgive their trespasses according to the riches of your grace (Eph. 1:7). Awaken them so they may have love for you and belief in you and that they may rejoice with inexpressible joy filled with glory (1 Pet. 1:8). The angels rejoice when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). Praying for an unbelieving loved one isn’t a duty. It’s a cry of hope. And with this hope, I pray.
Persevere with Humility
Many times, I’ve wanted to give up praying for unbelieving family and friends under the weight of it all. I prayed for my aunt and uncle for decades, and I have no positive evidence they ever came to believe in Jesus. I have no guarantee that my sister will repent. Praying for unbelievers isn’t for the faint of heart. Meditating on the character of God allows me to lift this weight off my shoulders. I’m not the sovereign of the universe. I don’t make the decisions. I don’t have to even understand the decisions that he alone makes—I just need to know and trust him.
How does God most often describe himself? “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8). God is the righteous and true judge. “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just” (Rev. 19:1b–2a). Like the apostle Paul, I end up saying, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:34–36). I can persevere in prayer as I humbly submit to God’s sovereign will and ways.
My parents went to heaven without knowing my sister’s final faith story. Oh, how I would love to see her praising God for his mercy before I die. What a joy that would be! What a party we would have! You might even hear me singing with the angels (Luke 15:10). Until that day, I will pray with honesty, hope, and humility, knowing my loving Lord hears me.
Meet the Author
Lois Krogh is the author of the Pour Out Your Heart Prayer Journal: A Planner for a Life of Prayer. For additional information, video content, and group discussion, join the Pour Out Your Heart Facebook group. Lois has been in mentoring and discipleship ministries for almost four decades as a homeschooling mother of six, grandmother, and wife of a pastor and missionary. She developed a Titus Two mentoring program and currently leads workshops on the practice of a lifetime of prayer. She and her husband, Steve, live in Sharpsburg, Georgia. They are founding members of Christ Church of South Metro Atlanta, where Steve is an elder.