“I’m not a Christian, and I’ll never become one. And I don’t want you to ever talk to me about this again.”
I was stunned when Mom stated her feelings so strongly. What do you do when you cannot talk to your mother about God? I had no other choice. I talked to God about my mother. Yet it seemed so unlikely that Mom would respond. It seemed virtually impossible.
Praying for your family may be the most daunting task you will ever undertake. We find it easier to pray for people who we do not know than to pray for our families. We know the deep problems of those so close to us. We know where they have messed up, and often it seems like an impossible situation. We forget that God specializes in the impossible.
It was easy for me to become discouraged as I prayed for my mom. She was a self-made woman. She taught me I could do anything, go anywhere, and achieve whatever I set my mind to. However, that same strength was what made it so difficult for her to understand what transpired the night I gave my heart to Christ.
My mother’s rejection
I will never forget that night as long as I live. I walked into the Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as one person and came out as a completely different person. I had never experienced such love in all of my life. After I prayed and invited Christ into my life, I felt like a ton of bricks lifted from my shoulders.
Even though my parents did not attend church, I thought Mom and Dad would be excited about my decision. I certainly did not expect their reaction when I told them.
“You’re going to do what?!” Mom shouted. “You’re going to throw away the opportunity to study law to become some preacher? Well, you’re not going to live in this house if you’re going to be a preacher.”
I was shattered. I did not know what to do. I went to some of my friends who also had become Christians during the church service and wept. “What do I do?” I asked. They did not have an answer for me. They just prayed.
Over the years, God has used my mother’s rejection to bond me to the people to whom I minister. He also worked slowly but surely in her heart. Ten years before she died, I received a surprise phone call from her. “Sammy,” she said desperately, “I need God. I need Jesus. I need help.” I prayed with Mom on the phone, and she gave her heart to Jesus.
When I first became a Christian, it seemed so impossible that Mom would ever give her heart to Christ. Yet I learned many great principles of praying for my family because of my relationship with Mom. It is those lessons that have become the very foundation of what I want to share with you about praying for your family.
The first and greatest principle that God taught me was that He deeply loved my family. He is a good God. I know that sounds very basic, but it is also deeply profound. Without a conviction about the goodness and love of God stamped into our hearts, we will become weary and cease praying for our families.
God loved my mother and had a plan for her. Although I never understood what had transpired in Mom’s life to produce the kind of bitterness she displayed when I became a Christian, God knew. Moreover, He understood her. He loved my mom. He knew everything about her, and He knew how to gently draw her to Himself.
When Jesus opened the door of prayer and invited His disciples to step inside, He placed their focus on the character and attributes of God. He wants you and me to know and experience Him intimately. I am convinced I would never have known God in the depths of His love without having gone through those tough times with Mom.
There is a second important truth—praying with faith. Jesus said, “And all things, you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22, NASB). Faith energizes us. It gives us the ability to come into His presence continually. Faith brings us back to the goodness and greatness of God. When we see Him, faith rises in our hearts.
What role does faith play in the salvation of our families, and how much of their salvation depends upon God’s sovereign grace? That is an impossible question to answer. All I know is that our salvation is 100 percent God’s doing. God saved us by His grace and His grace alone. I cannot force a person to become a Christian—even through my prayers.
Prayer is a part of His great plan and His wonderful mystery. It is the meeting place—where the Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man intersect. It is the place where faith rises and moves mountains that have stood in the hearts of our families for generations.
The third principle was patience and persistence. We live in a generation that demands instant gratification. We learn to wait upon Him in two ways: over a long period and with a deep-seated belief that He will answer our prayers. I prayed for more than twenty years for my mom before I ever saw an answer.
We wonder why the answer does not come immediately. Perhaps it is because God longs to have fellowship with us and mold us into His image. Waiting upon Him is an act of dependence upon Him. As I look back on the time of praying for my mom, I realize God used that to build a sense of dependence upon Him that was extremely healthy.
Prayer opens hearts. It throws doors open wide. It brings you to places you would never have dreamed and arranges circumstances that would be impossible to produce by yourself. When you learn to wait in His presence, He works in unfathomable ways. That is why the Psalmist said, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:5).
Finally, God taught me to pray with a humble, repentant heart. I was praying for Mom’s repentance, but the greatest need was deep repentance in my heart. When I look back upon those years of praying for my mom, I can clearly identify a moment when things began to change in her. She began to change when I began to change.
One day when I was having a time alone with God, the Holy Spirit opened the hidden parts of my heart and began to search them. One of the things God made known during those moments was an attitude I had not been willing to face. I had been an ungrateful son. I had never expressed to my parents my love and appreciation for all they had done for me. Selfishness was the root cause of that attitude. I never saw what their needs were because I was so wrapped up in my problems and myself.
When God opened my eyes to see my sins, I was broken. After mustering some courage, I called Mom and told her what God had shown me. Her response, once again, took me by surprise. “Son,” she said, “I can’t tell you how much that means. Thank you so much.”
Wow! Everything changed in my relationship with Mom from that moment on. She was much more open to hearing what God was doing in my life. It was a defining moment in our relationship, and it seemed to allow the Holy Spirit to begin to tenderize her heart.
I did not think that phone call would ever come when she said, “Sammy, I need God.” However, after twenty years of praying, that incredible moment came. My brokenness softened the soil of my mom’s heart. My repentance made the ground fertile.
Develop your relationship with Him
The greatest encouragement I can offer you about praying for your family is to ask God to search your heart and show you anything that needs removing from your life. The release of God’s Spirit upon their lives begins in your heart and soul. Find a time and place to meet with God. Get to know Him as “our Father.” See how mighty He is in heaven.
As you develop an intimate relationship with Him, faith will rise in your heart and patience will rest on your soul. God will change you more than God will change the person for whom you are praying.
Wait upon the Lord.
Adapted from Praying for Your Family © 2006 by Sammy Tippit. Used by permission of Sammy Tippit Ministries. All rights reserved.
Sammy Tippit is an international evangelist and conference speaker who has ministered in more than 80 nations and authored 12 books. He and his wife, “Tex,” have two children and three grandchildren.