I can’t make someone love God more. I can’t make someone love their spouse more. I can’t even make myself do those things. That power belongs to God and God alone.
So what can we do for the people we love? Pray for them.
I know—you already know that. You understand prayer is important and it’s something we should do for those we love. But are you doing it? Are you actually praying for the people in your church or community by name? Actually begging God to change them?
For a long time, I wasn’t.
It wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was because I didn’t really know how.
Maybe that’s where you are. You love the people in your life and genuinely want them to change. You’d like to pray for them, but every time you do it seems like you’re bringing up the same minor details about their lives and asking God to make them a little bit happier.
That’s what it used to feel like to me. But one day God, in His grace, brought me to the book of Ephesians and showed me what it looks like to pray for the people I love.
Forget all the discipleship books you’ve read. Forget all the conferences you’ve attended and blueprints you’ve adopted.
None of them matter. Not really.
What matters is how Jesus made disciples. So how did he do it? What was his strategy?
At first glance, it might appear that Jesus didn’t have a strategy. His strategy “is so unassuming and silent that it is unnoticed by the hurried churchman,” writes Robert Coleman in his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism.
Yes, Jesus had a strategy for making disciples. And “when his plan is reflected on, the basic philosophy is so different from that of the modern church that its implications are nothing less than revolutionary,” says Coleman.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).
With these words, the Apostle Paul challenges his young protégé, Timothy, not to grow weary or weak as he endures for the sake of the gospel and the church in Ephesus. The church at this time was experiencing heavy persecution from the Ephesian culture around it, which had little interest in the gospel. But the church was also facing pressure from inside in the form of false teachers. The church, and Timothy, was pressed on all sides.
Put yourself in Timothy’s shoes. Your mentor, who happens to be the Apostle Paul, is in prison and about to be executed for the sake of the gospel. You’re about thirty years old, which was when you would begin ministry in those days. You’re being asked to guard the true gospel, to reason against false teachers, and to teach the people of the church in patience and wisdom, even when they don’t want to hear from you.
A couple of weeks of that and most of us would want to quit; just walk away and let someone else deal with it.
Paul knew Timothy would face this temptation, so he told him to draw strength from the only lasting source—the grace of Jesus.
Books with well-written stories have the power to unlock a child’s God-given imagination and create deep bonds between the child and their parent—even if that parent is behind bars.
In Prison Fellowship’s Storybook Dads program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, incarcerated men have the opportunity to connect with their children by recording and sending audio of them reading aloud to their children. The program started in 2008 as part of the Prison Fellowship Academy. Prisoners operate the program with the oversight of staff and volunteers.
Here’s how Storybook Dads works. Men enter a recording studio inside the prison at a scheduled time, choose from one of the many donated children’s books, then sit down in front of a microphone and read with enthusiasm. The dads are coached when necessary and encouraged often. Volunteer prisoners man the sound equipment and later enhance the recordings with sound effects.
Brandy’s father died when she was 12, leaving her mother to raise Brandy and her sisters alone.
“She was away a lot, just trying to cope with my father’s death,” Brandy says. “That left us [kids] to figure things out on our own.”
Brandy used that freedom to explore drugs, drinking, and rough crowds. She was in and out of romantic relationships, many of which became abusive.
After several moves around the country, she ended up in Michigan in her late 30s, where she gave birth to her daughter Amanda*. Brandy got involved with notoriously violent motorcycle clubs and began dating a man who belonged to one. This pairing proved to be the most dangerous in a string of bad relationships.
The man’s violent tendencies “started escalating quickly,” Brandy says. The abuse came to a head that fateful day when he pointed the gun at her face, and she turned it on him.