By May Patterson, Crosswalk.com
I’ll bet it’s happened to you, too.
You mention your faith and immediately, someone changes the subject.
You credit God for doing something good in your life, and there’s an awkward silence.
Your relatives act annoyed, or even offended, when you ask them to go to church with you.
Since you love your family, it’s only natural for you to want to share spiritual truths and blessings with them. But if they’re unreceptive, it can make you feel rejected and alone, even in a room filled with close-knit relatives.
Or, at least that’s how I once felt.
While some in my family are believers and some are not, I’ve learned that the Lord wants me to encourage them all. The Bible tells us to share the good news with everyone (Mark 16:15). And it also tells us to love and encourage each other in our faith, daily (Heb. 3:13).
But how can you do that if your family isn’t receptive?
I struggled with this question for a long time. Finally, after much soul searching and prayer, I’ve learned how to encourage my relatives in matters of faith in these 3 ways:
1. Pray Deeper
Once, a friend suggested that I write down my prayers for my family in a notebook. Soon, I noticed that I prayed mostly for their tangible needs, such as activities, jobs, and health.
My prayer list might have looked something like this:
Please heal Mike’s sore throat and my aunt’s knee.
Lord, hope you don’t mind my asking, but please let us win this week’s game!
Dear God, please help my nephew with his job interview on Tuesday.
Oh Lord, my twins need divine intervention on their math tests.
And while these are great things to pray for, I realized I was neglecting to pray for my family’s deeper needs—the needs of their souls.
So, I began praying differently. Every time I prayed for a tangible need, I also prayed for my family’s greatest need: that they would love the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and souls (Mt. 22:37). Occasionally, I wrote spiritual prayers for my family in my journal.
My prayers for their souls might have looked like this:
Please Lord, in your mercy, save my niece who doesn’t believe in you. (Jn. 3:16)
Lord please lead my family to worship with other believers this week. (Heb. 10:25)
I pray that my mother will never feel unloved. Remind her that your love is everlasting. (Ps. 136:1)
Make my husband a blessing to everyone at work, even to those who are difficult. (1 Pet. 3:9)
Lord, let there never be a day when my children turn away from you. (Jn. 8:12)
Praying for my family’s spiritual needs, as well as for their physical needs, has helped me love them more. It’s helped me gain a more balanced perspective of everyday issues. And it’s drawn me closer to God, as if I’m partnering with Him to encourage precious souls in their faith.
2. Love Deeper
The old saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” is true. In order to encourage your family spiritually, you must first love them well. And while that’s easy to say, it can be really hard to do. I find it helpful to think of loving my family on 3 levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Physical love may look like this:
- Bringing soup to a sick relative.
- Repairing your Mom’s leaky faucet.
- Steadying Granny as she walks with her cane.
- Cooking a special dinner for your family.
That’s pretty basic, right? And while we’re pretty good at physical love, we often struggle to love our families on a deeper level, such as the emotional level.
Emotional love may look like this:
- Acceptance: accepting your husband as he is, instead of how you wish he was.
- Respect: speaking respectfully to your mother, even when she gets on your nerves.
- Forgiveness: forgiving your daughter-in-law, even though she didn’t ask you to.
- Patience: being patient with your grandmother, even though she’s told that story about her square-dancing group a thousand times.
And then there is loving at the spiritual level, which is the deepest way you can love another person.
Spiritual love may look like this:
- Praying for your family’s deeper needs—the needs of their souls. (See my spiritual prayer list above)
- Encouraging your brother for any step he makes toward God.
- Telling your Dad, “I’ve been praying for you.”
- Talking about how the Lord has blessed you.
3. Encourage Deeper Faith
Years ago, I spoke at my first Christian conference with knocking knees and a shaky voice. It was a huge leap of faith for me. Huge. My husband encouraged me every step of the way. He fasted and prayed for me. He sat on the front row at the conference. And he wrapped me up in a big bear hug after it was over, as he rejoiced with me.
But honestly, most of my family was apathetic. They did little, if anything, to encourage or support me.
Over the years, my family has become much more encouraging, but they didn’t start out that way. I don’t want to be like that. I’m sure you don’t, either.
Wherever your relatives are in regard to faith, encourage each one to go deeper. Celebrate their good works. Show an interest in what God is doing in their lives. Support them in spiritual endeavors.
The Bible says, “encourage and build each other up,” (1 Thess. 5:11). That’s doubly good advice for families.
Spiritual encouragement may look something like this:
- Your aunt shows up at church after a long absence. Don’t judge. Instead, be warm and welcoming. Invite her to go to lunch.
- Your brother agrees to cook for a Christian youth retreat. Go help him, even though you don’t enjoy cooking.
- Is your husband serving in a ministry? Don’t let him do it alone! Pray for him. Find a way to help him. Tell him that you’re proud of him.
- Does your daughter-in-law volunteer at the homeless shelter? Ask her about her work. Contribute to the shelter. Send her a note, thanking her for helping the poor.
- If your wife is speaking, pray earnestly for her. Go, sit on the front row and give her a bear hug when it’s over. (My husband will never know how much his support means to me)
And while you can’t encourage everyone, all the time, for everything, what can you do to encourage your family, spiritually? Your spiritual love and support means much more than you know.
Recently, as I stood up to speak before a large crowd, I could hardly utter a word. There on the back row, I saw a large assortment of my relatives—even some who once resisted my witness—smiling back at me. And I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God had done a special miracle in our family. That night, I could feel the Lord smiling down upon us all.
If you feel alone in your faith around your family, please be patient. Sometimes, God’s work can seem pretty slow. And while some in your family may never change, change can happen. Trust the Lord to help you be a faithful witness for Him—for He can pull down walls, melt hearts, and open locked doors. I’ve witnessed it. So can you. Remember to go deeper as you pray, love, and encourage your family. Then leave them in the Lord Almighty’s hands.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/kieferpix
May Patterson has been writing and teaching Bible study classes for years. Recently she released her first book, “Seeking a Familiar Face.” Now, she has just released its companion Bible study workbook. May trained in small group dynamics for over ten years with Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for various magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, and is a sought-after public speaker. May is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. Read more from May by visiting: http://www.maypatterson.com.