Hope When Your Children Stray

But though nurtured in a spiritually and theologically solid environment, I ran from it—to spiritual darkness and sin—as fast as I could.

Not long after my conversion, people often asked me to reach out to their own children who were living prodigal lifestyles. I started to realize a few things as I brought the gospel to young adults strung out on pharmaceuticals, cocaine, acid, crack, meth, and MDMA. First, I realized how true my Calvinistic beliefs really were (unless the Lord—in sovereign mercy—redeems, all is hopeless); and, second, I realized most parents were at a loss to know how to pursue their rebellious child.

 

Of all the painful experiences I’ve faced in nearly a decade of ministry—the death of a mother, couples enduring miscarriage, strife, abuse, divorce, scandal—walking with godly parents through a child’s rebellion may be the most difficult. Perhaps it weighs heavy on my heart because I was a rebellious child raised in a Christian home. But though nurtured in a spiritually and theologically solid environment, I ran from it—to spiritual darkness and sin—as fast as I could.

Not long after my conversion, people often asked me to reach out to their own children who were living prodigal lifestyles. I started to realize a few things as I brought the gospel to young adults strung out on pharmaceuticals, cocaine, acid, crack, meth, and MDMA. First, I realized how true my Calvinistic beliefs really were (unless the Lord—in sovereign mercy—redeems, all is hopeless); and, second, I realized most parents were at a loss to know how to pursue their rebellious child.

Today when I’m counseling the parents of a rebellious child, here are five things I tell them:

1. Pray explicitly for your children’s salvation.

Incessantly ask the Lord to extend redeeming grace to your children. While their rescue ultimately depends on his sovereign mercy, the prayers of godly parents often play an vital role. Such was the case with Augustine of Hippo, who attributed his conversion to the Lord answering the prayers of his mother, Monica. That account has been a constant source of encouragement for Christian parents.

2. Pray God will surround your children with strong Christian friends.

Through all of my years of rebellion, I knew my parents were asking the Lord to bring godly people into my life—and that’s exactly what he did. I’d often find myself working with Christians who reached out to me with Scripture and the gospel. My sister introduced me to new believers who’d been saved out of similar lifestyles of rebellion. I’ll never forget how, on one occasion, a biker at a bar witnessed to me and asked if he could pray for me in front of my unbelieving friends. That experience will forever be etched in my mind as a direct answer to the prayers of my parents.

A month before I was brought to saving faith and repentance, I met my best friend, Stephen. I saw something in his eyes—the joy and satisfaction in Christ for which I longed. Stephen tried to get me to go to church with him one Sunday night. I went—but left immediately before the call to worship. Still, I remember thinking, I wish I had what he has. A month later—after the Lord gave me a new heart—I called Stephen. Stephen was a direct answer to my parents’ prayers and efforts to surround me with strong Christians.

3. Pray God will do what it takes to bring your children to himself.

Though no one likes the thought of asking God to “do whatever it takes,” this is a prayer we should all be willing to pray for our children. The Lord often brings individuals to rock bottom in order for them to see their need for the Savior. When the prodigal son finally hit rock bottom, he “came to himself” (that’s shorthand for “repented”) and returned to his father (Luke 15:17).

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