Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate….’ Not long after that, [he]…set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living…and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son….’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.… The father said, ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…” (Luke 15:11-24).
By John David Hicks
“As a parent, at some time in your life you will be the father or mother of a prodigal son or daughter,” Earl Lee said at a pastors conference some 30 years ago. He went on to say something like this:
“Every child must choose his eternal destiny. With some, it may come out in open rebellion like the prodigal son. But with others it may seem like you had no problem, the son or daughter was such a good child. Until years later you hear, ‘Mom, Dad, if you only knew what I was up to and what I did at that time, you would have been upset.’
“But they were ‘working out’ their salvation. They had to choose who they would follow. We tend to get upset at the prodigal, but both the prodigal and older brother were rebellious and had to choose.”
Raising children is not easy. That is why God gave you a promise from Jeremiah 31:3, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’”
Other translations add, “There-fore I have continued my faithful-ness to you.” God’s love and faithfulness is everlasting to you and your children.
In the September 2007 issue of Decision magazine, I read Abraham Piper’s testimony on how he came back to God when he was a wayward child. “When I was 19, I decided I’d be honest and stop saying I was a Christian,” he said. He pretended that his reasoning was high-minded and philosophical. But in reality he just wanted to get drunk, sleep around, and do his own thing. He wanted his freedom. After four years of this, he was fed up with himself—unfulfilled, confused, and depressed. Especially when he was sober or alone.
His parents were good Christians who raised their children in church. They were brokenhearted and puzzled at their son’s choice to reject their values and God. They felt that they had tried to raise their son right, so why was he so messed up now?
One Tuesday morning, Abraham went to the library to check his e-mail. He received a message from a girl he met a few weeks before. She quoted him a verse from the book of Romans. It got his attention. On the way back to his apartment he stopped to buy some beer and cigarettes. He forgot the verse, so he opened a Bible, smoking the cigarettes and drinking the beer as he starting reading Romans.
“By the time I got to chapter 10,” he said, “the beer was gone, the ashtray needed emptying, and I was a Christian…. God gave me a glimpse of ‘the true wonder of Jesus.’”
In the article, Abraham recognized that many parents are confused and brokenhearted over their unbelieving child. As he looked back over the years that he rejected Christ, he offered some suggestions that will help you reach your wayward son or daughter. Or they might help you before your child is wayward.
Here are 12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child:
1. Point them to Christ.
Abraham said the real problem with your child is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or porn or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. When we are in rebellion, we do not see the Lord clearly.
The best thing you can do for anyone in rebellion is to show him Christ. It may not be easy or instant, but the sins that are distressing you and destroying him must be dealt with by the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who can open his eyes to see Jesus as He really is.
Remember that only God can save your child. “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14). Your prayers make a difference. So ask God to reveal Himself to them in such a way that they can’t resist Him.
3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
When your child rejects the Lord, don’t make-believe that everything is fine. If you know your child is not a believer and you are not reaching out to him, start now. Don’t stop and don’t ignore the child’s unbelief. Ignoring it might make your holidays easier, but not eternity.
4. Don’t expect them to be Christ-like.
If your child is not a Christian, he will not act like one; it’s hypocrisy if he does. He has forsaken your faith, so he has little motivation to live by your standards. You have no reason to expect him to.
If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, there is little significance in his admitting that it’s wrong to get drunk or have sex outside of marriage, for instance. You want to protect him, but his most perilous problem is unbelief—not partying. Your child’s behavior proves his unbelief, but focus on his heart’s sickness rather than the symptoms.
5. Welcome them home.
“Man looks on the outward action, but God looks at the heart.” So don’t create many requirements for your child coming home. If there is any desire to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him
Be gentle in your disappointment. What concerns you most is that your son is destroying himself, not that he’s breaking the rules.
back to Jesus. Obviously there may be a time when you have to say, “Don’t come to this house if you are.…” But these times are rare. Don’t squish an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your son smells like an ashtray, spray his jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when he leaves, but welcome him home. If you find out your daughter is pregnant, take her to her 20-week ultrasound and protect her from Planned Parent-hood, but welcome her home. If your son keeps spending all the money you lent him on loose women and drugs, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, and don’t give him any more money, but welcome him home. If he hasn’t been around for a few weeks because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s apartment, plead with him not to go back, but welcome him home.
6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment. What concerns you most is that your son is destroying himself, not that he’s breaking the rules. Treat him in a way that makes this clear. He knows what he is doing is wrong—especially if he was raised as a Christian. And he definitely knows what you think, so he doesn’t need you to point it out. He will be looking at your response to his sin. Your gentle patience and sorrowful hope will show him that you really do trust Jesus. His conscience will condemn him when he sees your brokenness over his sin. Your role is to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that you want your child to return to you and the Lord.
7. Connect them to other believers.
Clearly, if your child is wayward, you are distant in your relationship; it could be geographical as well. Your relationship with your rebellious child is tenuous and must be protected if at all possible. This is the reason why pleading is better than rebuking.
But sometimes a rebuke is necessary. A rebellious son would do well to hear that he’s being a fool, but you’re probably not the one to tell him. So have other Christians keep in contact with him and encourage them to speak into his life. These friends can relate to your son emotionally in a way you can’t. So pray that God will connect your son with a believer who can point out his folly without getting the door slammed.
8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you’d honor any other unbeliever. Respect him—even if his relationship with others is founded on sin. Yes, his friends may be bad for him. But he’s bad for them, too. And nothing will be solved by making it evident that you don’t like who he’s hanging out with.
So, be hospitable. When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again—be hospitable. She’s also someone’s wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.
9. E-mail them.
This technology will help you stay in touch. When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple of lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation—better than any correction—is for them to see Christ’s joy in your life.
Don’t get stressed out by trying to compose something profound. Speak from your heart. Just whip out a note and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s Word is never proclaimed in vain.
10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don’t let your only contact with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but Abraham said that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God and use the opportunity.
It may almost feel hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but be sure to do it anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you’re a moron? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking. God will give you the gumption.
(Here’s a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won’t feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father’s invitation—even as a surly 19-year-old.)
11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Because your son is purposefully rejecting Christ, the way he spends his time probably disappoints you. Nevertheless, find the value in his interests, if possible, and encourage him. You went to his school music programs, plays, and soccer games when he was 10; what can you do now that he’s 20 to show that you still really care about his interests?
Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and He wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to your son’s CD release show. Encourage him and never stop praying that he will begin to use his gifts for Jesus’ glory instead of his own.
12. Point them to Christ.
This can’t be stressed enough. It’s the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help him know Jesus.
The goal is not that he will be a good kid again. It’s not that he’ll get a haircut and start taking showers. It’s not that he’ll like classical music instead of deathcore. It’s not that he’ll vote conservative by the next election. The goal is not for you to stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study or even for you to be able to sleep at night, knowing he’s not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for wayward sons and daughters, welcome them, plead with them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Jesus Christ.
And not only is Jesus the only point, but He’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He Himself will replace the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the sex that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only His grace can draw them from their
Without a doubt, I know that if they could see how much God loves them, they would be motivated to give their lives to Jesus. But it is still “whosoever will, may come.”
Cry out to God in prayer. “Be faithful and don’t give up,” says Abraham.
I believe that you must see this as spiritual warfare. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
My desire to see each of my children and grandchildren choose to be Christian involves a spiritual battle. My wisdom on this subject is still being tested. But from my own experience and the understanding I have received from praying with pastors for their wayward children, I have come to some conclusions. I think Abraham Piper’s 12 ways of loving a wayward child is an excellent starting place.
But in spiritual warfare we acknowledge to a great extent that evil is the result of human sin and rebellion, and the work of Satan who is called the ruler of this world. Until Christ returns, I believe God is victorious over Satan on earth to the degree that Christians and His Church manifests His power and authority through obedience, faith, holiness, and biblical truth. Until the Second Coming when every knee is made to bow, there will be a struggle for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Through your intercession, example, and teaching, you can help your kids return to Christ when they stray. I became a Christian at 14, but no one in my family was saved. Then I read in Acts 16 that when the Philippian jailer became a Christian, his whole family did. I asked God to do that for me. In the next few years all my family committed their lives to the Lord.
But I also know, with fear and trembling, that God will honor our kids’ free choice. I know that God desires that all would be saved. But, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Without a doubt, I know that if they could see how much God loves them, they would be motivated to give their lives to Jesus. But it is still “whosoever will, may come.
- Here are some ways I pray for a wayward child without asking for something that requires God to violate his freedom of choice:1. Lord, will You destroy every deception and lie of the enemy. Bless every bit of Your Word that has been hidden in their hearts. Don’t allow them to deceive themselves regarding sin and rebellion. Make them clearly see the reality of their sin. Let them see all the consequences of their sin, immediate and eventual. Do not let Satan, the god of this world, blind them.
- Lord, let them experience all the ugliness of sin now rather than later. Take from them every pleasure of sin and shorten the season of sin’s pleasure. Let sin taste like ashes in their mouths. Make the taste of the prodigal’s cornhusks unbearable. Let the emptiness of sin and the world gnaw at their stomachs until they long for the true bread of life and water of eternal life that only Jesus can give. Let them get caught in their sins.
- Lord, fill the quiet moments of their lives with Your voice. Speak to them through everything they see and hear. Let the song of every bird and the fragrance of every flower call them back to You. When they “consider the lilies of the field,” let them hear a call back into Your kingdom. Let the memory of Your love and goodness create a holy homesickness for their true home in Christ.
- Lord, surround them with people who intentionally or unintentionally will point them back to You. Bring about divine encounters with Christians at unlikely times and in unlikely places. Open the door for me and other Christians to establish loving relationships with their friends and effectively share the gospel.
- Lord, let the Holy Spirit faithfully convict them of sin. Keep their conscience tender and alive to right and wrong. Let every sin that grieves You sadden their own hearts as well. Cause them to long to be cleansed of sin, guilt, and fear.
- Lord, protect their lives from death, accident, and injury, and have mercy on them. Keep them from foolish decisions whose consequences will have lasting and tragic consequences. Guard their lives from Satan’s attacks and surround them with Your mercy.
- Heavenly Father, be unrelenting in the pursuit of Your purpose for their lives. Permeate their daily lives with Your presence and reality. Let Your call be ever before them.
Each of these prayers can be supported with Scripture. God’s Word says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Child-training involves directing a child’s behavior toward godliness and away from evil. The way your Heavenly Father trains you is by example, by words, by discipline, and by rewards. You should do the same with your children.
If the Holy Spirit shows you that you have failed in your parenting responsibilities, confess your sin to God (1 John.1:9). Ask His forgiveness, then by faith accept His forgiveness and thank Him that He has forgiven you and will not hold it against you.
Ask God to guide you in making right decisions regarding your children. Trust Him—He is in charge—and praise Him for your present circumstances because it allows the Lord an opportunity to work (Romans 8:28-29). Remember, God answers prayer.