Praying In Faith For Older Unbelieving Children


I?ve been reading Come Back, Barbara by C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani, about a family?s struggle to love and believe for the salvation of their daughter who rejected Christ.

Mr. Miller has a great insight into the challenge to pray in faith for those children who have rejected and sinned against their parents repeatedly:

?What goes on in the minds of battered [not literally, but by their children?s sin] parents when it comes time to pray? Often a sense of defeat takes over the spirit, a cloud that can descend even when the parents have forgiven the young person and have real love in their hearts. The problem is that parents often have a fixed negative image of the child. He or she is seen as unchangeable, an image that may be powerfully reinforced by the recollection of the adolescents many failings: repeated acts of rebellion, words of rebellion, and looks of rebellion.

The devil knows how to use this image to undermine effective prayer. He suggests to the unsuspecting parent that this image of cold resistance is the final vision of the child. ?This thankless child cannot be changed,? says the Master of Darkness. Listening uncritically to this voice, the praying father or mother then naturally lets the mind become fixed on the child’s stubbornness. Who can pray effectively when the mind is clouded by this picture of steely resistance?

To overcome this, simply shift the mind to the promises of divine grace found in the Scriptures. As a parent, focus your faith by meditating on a great biblical passage like Luke 15, in which you see the great images of faith. You discover the Father’s grace in action. ?Lost things do not remain lost; they are found. The dead come alive. The lost sheep is found by the shepherd, the lost coin by the housewife, and the lost son is welcomed home with almost scandalous warmth by a loving father. When you think about these things, you’ll realize that the Father loves even you, the parent, as a lost child that has been found. Will he not love your child the same way??

I agree with Mr. Miller?s advice. ?We must cling God?s promises, though I wouldn?t use the word ?simply? to describe the process of shifting the mind to God?s promises of grace. ?It?s a battle to believe God can change the hardest heart, bring glory out of devastation, and make rebels into servants. ?But God can do the impossible, even as he sought me when I was a self-centered, disrespectful, ungrateful, pleasure-seeking sinner and changed me.

Here are 2 promises (among many) to cling to and pray:

All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.? (Isaiah 54:13)

?And as for me, this is my covenant with them,? says the LORD: ?My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children?s offspring,? says the LORD, ?from this time forth and forevermore.? (Isaiah 59:21)

photo by repolona


  • Anam Cara says:

    And yet… that child still has free will….

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    True, Anam,

    And yet God can make us willing to believe as well. Someday we'll understand (or at least understand more clearly) the mystery of God's sovereignty and man's responsible choices…

    God bless you!

  • Jennifer V. says:

    I grew up watching family friends of ours raise two sons. One was obedient, came to know the Lord at an early age, became a Christian singer, and now works for Christian publishing house. He is the father of seven and loves the Lord. In that same family, the younger brother delved into drugs, stole tens of thousands of dollars from his parents for drugs (causing them to go bankrupt), and dabbled in homosexuality. God is faithful. The younger sons heart softened a couple of years when he was in his mid 40's. He now works for teen challenge, is drug free, married to a Christian spouse and just became a father of a precious baby boy. He has a strong walk with the Lord. I can't imagine how long that trail of watching their son for 40 years turn his back on the Lord and reject everything he had been taught. Wow, though I can't fathom the amount of joy that these parents have in seeing their son's walk and seeing God's faithfulness. I hope that this story gives hope to others. God works in amazing ways and even when we are tempted to give up on our loved ones…He does not.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    This is powerful, Jennifer. I got choked up reading it. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Lindele says:

    I got tears in my eyes, too. My 24-year-old son is indifferent to the Lord. He never rebelled in any outward way other than by gradually dropping out of going to church. His younger sister is passionately devoted to Christ. We homeschooled both of them through high school and it's a mystery why one goes one way and one the other. The hardest thing is probably seeing my husband's heartache at his only son's indifference to what is so, so important to us. Jennifer's story is an encouragement, as is this blog post.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Lindele, I know of no greater heartache for Christian parents than when their children do not serve the Lord. But we must remember that God is sovereign over our children’s salvation. He has a perfect plan for each of their lives. I think that often God takes parents through the trial of unsaved children so that the parents will rely on God and not on their parenting or their form of education or anything else other than him. He also gets at many other things in parents’ hearts, for example fear of man, craving approval, pride in their parenting, etc. He also stretches parents’ faith and causes them to draw near to God in desperate prayer. God greatly uses even this kind of trial to make his children like Christ.

  • Elane says:

    My older two children are not walking with the Lord either. My daughter is openly hostile to the things of the Lord. My son was like that also until recently. As I drove home from my youngest daughter's homeschool graduation on Saturday, I rec'd a text from my son: "Would you pick up a Bible for me?" There is always hope!!

    Thank you for this post. It was so encouraging and helpful. There are times when my heart is so heavy but I know God is using all this for His glory and my good. He has already shown me so many areas in my life where I needed to change. I was trying to do everything I could to bring salvation to my oldest two and have had to realize that I have nothing to do with it. It is all God and I know now that I can trust Him. He is sovereign and will do what is best.

    Thanks again for this post.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    You are so right, there is always hope. I'm so glad to hear about your son requesting a bible. So many of us parents can identify with you, Elane. We can do all we can to preach the gospel to our children and teach them the Word, warn them, encourage them, etc. but only Jesus can open their blind eyes and give them new hearts.

    I'm so grateful he encourages us to pray and that he promises that our prayers are powerful and effective.

    I'm also grateful the Lord would encourage you through the post. Thanks for adding your comments.

  • Manny Gonzales says:

    Very helpful.

  • Joe Bigliogo says:

    How can you be so emotionally self-centered? Have you considered how an unbelieving son or daughter feels if and when they out themselves as atheists? The wrath of vitriol and emotional blackmail as shame and guilt that are frequently hurled at them is an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Why is it so wrong to be honest about what we believe or don't believe? Why does our integrity sell for so little?

  • Joe Bigliogo says:

    How can anyone be so emotionally self-centered? Have you considered how an unbelieving son or daughter feels if and when they out themselves as atheists? The wrath of vitriol and emotional blackmail as shame and guilt that are frequently hurled at them is an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Why is it so wrong to be honest about what we believe or don't believe? Why does our integrity sell for so little?

  • Smy says:

    Amen and amen to Bethy’s prayer. .In times like these, they need an ahoncr. Lord in your grace and mercy please reveal Yourself to many who need to know Your assurance with them today. May they stay strong in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

  • Susan Van Laar says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Mark and Stephen! This is my heart… prayer for prodigals. Thank you for posting. You both continually BLESS us!!!!! My husband and I are on our knees for our prodigals, and we need all the encouragement we can get.

  • Melody says:

    Very interesting, have you seen Tullian’s blog today? Very interesting addition to this.

  • Brenda says:

    Thank you so much, Mark, for reminding me of Who is in charge. You have confirmed what I believe, which is that God is using my trials to teach me to utterly rely on Him or bigger yet, He is causing my trials for His glory and my good. My only three sons are not serving God even though they were raised to know Him. I am heart broken and I cry a lot, but “God is my refuge and my strength. An ever present help in trouble!” He is all love and all light. I can trust my sons with Him.

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