Many people have experienced the pain of a child who has walked away from Jesus. Just recently I received a message from a mom who is heartbroken over the choices of her grown child. The following article was written by a dear and godly friend of our ministry, in response to someone who asked how she prayed for her son throughout his years of wandering. I think it will be of great encouragement to Christian parents who are grieving over and praying for their prodigal children. —Randy Alcorn
If you’re reading this and have a prodigal child in your life, I’m sorry for the heartbreak you are likely experiencing. Your child is very blessed to have someone like you who is willing to significantly invest in their life with prayers on their behalf before a compassionate and merciful God—a God who hears and answers prayers.
I’ve been asked how I prayed for my prodigal. I’d like to also share some thoughts about my journey through these prodigal years, as these trials are used by God to not only bring about change in the prodigal but also in the lives of the parents. He can use these trials to grow us in Christlikeness and to bring Him glory, if we are willing.
Having a prodigal child has been the worst trial that my husband and I have experienced in our lives. It was a very painful and heart-wrenching time for us with a lot of emotional stress, anxiety, and loss of sleep. Early on we tried to talk with our son, reason with him, and plead, but to no avail. His heart was bent on following his friends and the ways of the world. We chased after him and also protected him from some of the consequences. We eventually learned that we needed to let him have the total burden of the consequences.
Telling others about our prodigal was difficult for many reasons. I soon realized that we needed others to come alongside of us to pray for him and to help us carry our burden. I asked God to provide those who would have a heart to pray for him. We were blessed to have some who actually prayed for him every day and many others who prayed for him regularly too. We are so grateful for all who have prayed.
At some point we realized we couldn’t change our prodigal’s heart—it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about permanent change in a person’s heart, which results in changed behavior. We also realized that the most important thing we could do was to support him with unconditional love and persistent prayers and to persevere and not give up because of weariness. We made an effort to keep communication open by trying to have regular conversations with him and encourage him whenever we could. We also made an effort to connect by expressing love with our words, touch, and hugs, as well as speaking truth into his life. Certain expectations and guidelines were put into place that he had to live by to remain in our home (having a job or being enrolled in school, showing respect, not using drugs and alcohol, etc.) and, if he chose to reject them, then he was choosing to find a different place to live.
There were times during the eight-and-a-half-year journey that it seemed impossible that he would ever surrender his life to Christ. We learned that when we had our eyes on our prodigal it seemed impossible, but when we had our eyes on God everything changed to being very possible because of God’s power. We entrusted our son to Jesus, “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). When I would become burdened and overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, I would pray and sometimes picture myself laying him at the foot of the cross or on the altar before God.
Even when we don’t see much visible evidence of change happening in our children, I’m reminded of something that John Piper said at a conference I attended: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life (or others), but you may only be aware of three of them.” God is sovereign and He is working. Thank Him for what He’s doing, that you can and can’t see in your prodigal’s life.
I found that reading stories of other prodigals who returned to the Father was of great encouragement to me. Stories about Andrew Palau, Franklin Graham, Augustine, and others demonstrated how God powerfully answered the prayers of their loved ones and how He used the prodigal’s life for His glory.
It wasn’t long into our journey before I realized that God was calling me to also pray for other prodigals and their parents. I began by praying for my son’s friends and their parents and added others as I felt God’s leading.
It’s a spiritual battle, not against human beings but a battle against spiritual powers of evil. Ephesians 6:10-20 says we are to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. We need the power of God to stand against the evil forces of darkness using the armor of God.
When I read and study Scripture, I love to pray back to the Lord what touches my heart. When the Spirit brought my son to mind while in the Word, those were precious prayer opportunities that I really cherished.
I like what Al Mohler has to say about the key to effective prayer: “Although the Bible offers a great deal of guidance on how we can deepen our communication with the Creator, effective prayer has more to do with the one doing the praying than it does with how we are to pray.” Scripture says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and the, “Eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12; Psalm 34:15), and, “The prayer of the upright pleases Him” (Proverbs 15:8).
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat called his people to pray and fast when a vast army of enemies was coming against him. He inquired of the Lord and sought His help, realizing he had no power to face the enemy. He cried out to the Lord in their distress to save them and said, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” They praised God for the things He had done and what He can do because of His power. “Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” The Lord said to them, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” So they worshiped God and praised Him with voice and song. The Lord set ambushes against their enemies, and they were defeated. My husband and I have used this idea in seeking the Lord related to our son or other major things in our lives. We have also set aside one meal a week to pray and fast for our children and grandchildren, as well as other things and people we are led to pray for. (This idea came from Dr. James and Shirley Dobson.)
When we focus on God’s character and power through praise and worship of Him, it’s amazing how our focus changes and worry and fears flee away. Praying and singing praise songs was helpful in this way too.
The following verses were meaningful to me through these years and encouraged my prayers.
“You have kept a record of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. They are already in your book. Then my enemies will retreat when I call to you. This I know: God is on my side.” (Psalm 56:8-9)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
“God works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
What the Lord will do:
“Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.” (Psalm 107:19)
“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)
“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” (Psalm 107:6)
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Faith and Trust in Him:
“Turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” (Psalm 37:5)
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9)
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:3)
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Dependence on the Lord:
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, emphasis added)
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)
“Pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD, lift up your hands toward Him for the lives of your children.” (Lamentations 2:19)
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Some Bible verses that greatly encouraged me, and I have prayed for prodigals:
“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Those who have been forgiven much, love much.” (Luke 7:47)
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” (Galatians 1:15-16)
The above verses from Galatians are Paul’s testimony when he’s preaching the gospel. He tells the people that God set him apart from his mother’s womb and called him by His grace when He was pleased to reveal His Son to him. Before God called him, he was zealously persecuting the church. When I heard this verse shared by someone in light of God’s perfect timing in bringing people to Christ, I was struck that God may even bring prodigals to a surrendered life after a season of rebellion in His sovereignty and perfect timing for His purposes. This gave me peace.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)
“He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains.” (Psalm 107:14)
And finally, Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Lost Son, was a great encouragement.
Prayers for Prodigals: 90 Days of Prayer for Your Child by James Banks was the prayer guide that I used the most.
I loved it because he uses Scripture-based prayers. He says, “Prayers for Prodigals will help you pray and remind you of the power of God to answer prayer for your prodigal child. Some of God’s best lessons are His most challenging. When we come to the end of our own strength, we learn to rely on His. Through prayer He takes us by the hand and leads us to fresh places of grace that we never have seen if the challenges had not come.”
May you experience closeness to God, and His comfort, strength, hope, and peace as you pray for your prodigal!
For more related to parenting with grace and truth, see Randy’s book The Grace and Truth Paradox.