Mrs. Margaret Laning, wife, mother, and grandmother in Hull Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa

“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.

“To thee I stretch my hands,

Let me not plead in vain;

I await as weary lands

Wait for refreshing rain.”

(Psalter #390, “Earnest Desire and Supplication”)