December 1 Issue of the Standard Bearer Preview
Reformed Free Publishing Association
An article by Mrs. Margaret Laning
Praying for our prodigals
“We lift up our child in prayer, Lord. Help us, for we do not know what to do. Our child is walking in sin, will not meet to talk with us about it, and is listening to and giving in to spiritual enemies. We cry out for Thy mercy. Thou alone hast power to change the heart….”
Such is a prayer of Christian parents who have a wayward child. Who else can set such a one free? “Bring thy son hither…. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father” (Luke 9:41-42).
Oh, the power of Jesus to do the impossible! Only He can release prisoners out of bondage and darkness. Our prodigals are in deep trouble, besieged, yet unwilling to discern who the enemy is. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers…” (Eph. 6:12). We pray our dear children, for whom we now mourn, be brought to repentance. How we desire to rejoice as that father!
In God’s inscrutable wisdom, He sees fit to give some Christian parents a prodigal. Such a one was baptized in the name of our triune God and instructed and brought up according to His Word. Such a one has a loving Christian family and faithful church. Yet, the child wastes it all to serve sin.
If you are such a parent, I am so sorry for your deep pain. Remember you are not alone. Your congregation and others who support you surely uphold your family in prayer. Most especially our merciful heavenly Father cares exceedingly and powerfully. He is compassionate, saving each tear we cry to Him. He alone can change the hardened heart.
So we ask His blessings upon our vastly imperfect labors to help our child—our expressions and acts of love, brotherly scriptural admonitions, and reminders of God’s merciful forgiveness. Most importantly, that He kindle in our hearts a holy zeal in our prayers. Even if our child cuts off all ties, we still have that.
James points out that Elijah was a man of prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b). He prayed in faith earnestly, fervently, and with energy. His prayers were not just going through the motions, mind-wandering, sleepy kind of praying. Though he was a sinner like we are, he was focused, persistent, and zealous. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit in us.
“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (James 5:17, 18).
At first glance, Elijah’s prayer concerning rain seems an unlikely example in the book of James. Surely he prayed for what seems impossible, even undesirable. Yet, as we read in I Kings 17 and 18, Israel was walking in some very serious sins. Elijah lived in a time of great apostasy, including Baal worship promoted by the likes of King Ahab and Jezebel. In obedience to Deuteronomy 28 and II Chronicles 6:26, 27, Elijah prayed that the rain would stop. For three and a half years a famine swept over the wasted land.
Centuries later, we hear of another famine. This one in the parable of the prodigal son told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32. “Prodigal” means waster and he was a waster of so many things. He left his faithful father to pursue sexual sins and drunkenness. He wasted his father’s inheritance, squandered all his money, and despised the gifts and talents God gave him for the service of others. In God’s providence the son found himself in the throes of famine, living in a pigpen.
Such is the misery of sin. To make things worse, most prodigals listen to all the wrong people and receive bad advice. Meanwhile, they might block communication with their Christian family and other believers or at least demand no speaking about sin. Caught in a seemingly impossible situation, we pray that our wayward one be as the prodigal who “came to himself,” desiring the good counsel of the Lord once again. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:1, 2).
I dare say, it is not most parents’ inclination, nor mine, to desire our children to go through extremely tough times. Parents are protectors, always ready to fix problems. Yet our heavenly Father always knows what is best, even if the rain must stop. We trust Him to use the means He chooses, commending our dear children to His care. If He sees fit to send a dearth or any sort of trial for a season, perhaps He will use it for a prodigal’s repentance.
There is a joyful second half to both these stories. The Holy Spirit worked through means, through prayers and famines, pricking hearts. Sometimes God’s people can be so hardened in sin that nothing seems to work. Yet desperate times serve to be shocking and sobering, dampening fleshly lusts. When God shows tough love to His people, it is a mercy.
Blessed be our God who works in the heart true repentance. The prodigal son’s life changed far more than turning from a certain sin. He turned to God. He realized just how much his father loved him and how blessed he had been in his father’s house. We understand the earthly father in the parable represents our heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit brought to his heart and mind God’s unconditional love for him. With spiritual eyes open he repented and once again experienced God’s favor, forgiveness, and sweet communion.
Bear with me, I think there is an application here for earthly parents of wayward children. It is good to keep communication lines open as much as possible. We do not want them to forget our love and the blessed life at home. Your love is a sure warrant for your repentant wanderer to dare step through your doorway once again.
Augustine’s widowed mother, Monica, would not give up on her prodigal son. When he ran off, she followed. When he came home, she exhorted him. All the while she prayed. The Lord blessed her labors. After many years of living in sin, Augustine repented and served the Lord with all his heart. Truly, he is an example of this verse: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). He included in his book Confessions his early life and the important role his mother had. For roughly 1,600 years she has been an encouraging example for Christian mothers all over the world.
As parents, we stand in need of prayer, not only our prodigals. We can become discouraged and our prayers wane. We cannot allow bitterness to take root, nor pride. God is sovereign in salvation. We do not know whether our child is an elect or reprobate. There have always been Cains and Abels, Jacobs and Esaus since the Fall.
We are undeserving of having any believing children. Yet we pray for them as long as they live. God is so gracious. We cannot lose sight of all our undeserved blessings and salvation in Christ. In humility we pray, “Thy will be done.” Our confidence rests in Him for the good of His people and for His glory.
Parents of wayward children need an abundance of peace. Keep having frequent devotions, meditating on God’s goodness in the Scriptures. It is easy to become so overwhelmed that getting adequate sleep is difficult. Before bed think upon comforting verses, such as: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Put away damaging fear and worry, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). Life cannot come to a standstill— spend time with your spouse, family, and friends in Christ. Look for opportunities to be a witness for Christ in the lives of others. Pray for an extra measure of His Spirit, trust Him, and as a sister in Christ reminded me, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). We have work to do—not that God needs us, but that He has called us. Take care of yourself and one another while we wait on the Lord with ready open arms.