This post is a personal and spiritual departure from the usual trivial prattle on my blog. (You have been warned!)
I believe God’s desire is that we should pray and intercede on behalf of those who are alienated from him. There are several people in my extended family for whom I need to pray, but lately I have been struggling with what to ask for in their lives. A colleague recently lent me a book titled Praying Prodigals Home by Quinn Sherrer and Ruthanne Garlock that has given me comfort, hope, and practical prayer strategies.
The early chapters of the book suggest four main reasons why people leave the Christian faith:
1. Because they have troubling, unanswered questions about their faith. "Unwilling to ‘just believe,’ they opt for ‘intellectual honesty.’ To do this they believe they must leave their childhood faith behind in order to find real answers in the real world."
2. Because their faith isn’t working for them: "Disillusioned with the church and their fellow Christians, and ultimately disappointed with God these believers go through painful emotional and spiritual meltdown that leaves them unable to think or function as a Christian. They leave by default; they simply can’t do it anymore."
3. Because other things in life become more important than their faith… preoccupied by business, pleasure, material ambitions, personal problems or other hard realities…their faith, which was once primary, becomes secondary.
4. Because they never personally owned their faith: "… they conformed to the spiritual expectations of others, especially parents and church leaders. But they never consciously and wilfully embraced Christ and the way of the cross for themselves."
The authors maintain that people who scramble around trying to manufacture their own light and comfort apart from God will “only find hurt and sorrow at the end of the trail”. Like the prodigal son in the Bible, those who leave the Father's home are soon abandoned, forsaken, rejected, and ruined. “What seemed like the right way has as its end the ways of death.” However, the prodigal found mercy in the heart of the father when he returned. “The Father's love is stronger than the prodigal's pain.” It is the same outcome for every other fugitive son of the Father. “No returning runaway has ever been rejected, or will be…The Lord is in the business of restoring broken homes and healing damaged families. He is the God of redemption and new beginnings… God’s arms are always extended… His love will never stop calling the prodigal home.”
The authors encourage readers not to allow shock and hopelessness to overcome us when our loved ones run away. Instead we should retaliate with prayer strategies to reclaim them and draw them back home. “God is greater than rebellion,” reads one chapter “and the Holy Spirit can run down any fleeing family member.” The book recounts numerous personal testimonies about the power of prayer. Here are some statements I have taken to heart:
- Praying until change occurs takes commitment and humility. And sometimes the one praying has to be willing to change. (sigh)
- God always has a plan, and his plan is always powerful.
- God’s concept of time is different from mine.
- God has bigger, better plans than I know to ask for.
- “No tear shed in burdened intercession for others is ever forgotten by God, unrecorded, or in vain. Intercession watered with our tears is one of the most powerful forms of prayer known.”
Praying Prodigals Home highlighted some “new” Bible verses for me, full of encouragement.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed. Isaiah 55:13-14
This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. Jeremiah 31:16
Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes. Nehemiah 4:14
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands. Psalm 138:8
I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. Isaiah 45:3
I will heal you, lead you, and give you comfort, until those who are mourning start singing my praises. No matter where you are, I, the Lord, will heal you and give you peace. Isaiah 57:18-19
After reading the book, I still have a few questions that will take time and much soul-searching to answer:
Prodigals want to be accepted at face value for who they are, not because they measure up to keeping rules or adhering to behaviour Christians expect of them. So how can I become a godly influence in the life of my loved one without being self-righteous, preachy, or judgemental?
How can I express my love and concern for my prodigal in creative ways?
Am I prepared to say to God, "Use anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, to bring that lost soul to you"?
Can I steadfastly trust God’s faithfulness, whether or not I see with my eyes the answer I am praying for? Our human tendency is to wait until we see our prayers answered, and then offer praise. But that requires no faith. When we offer praise to God, focusing on His mercy, love and power, it reinforces our faith and sends confusion to the enemy. By praising and thanking Him before seeing the answer, I am declaring God’s victory over the evil one.
In order to set aside more time for praying for the prodigals in my life, I will not be posting on this blog for a few weeks … a sort of “fast”, if you like. I have typed up the following prayer to help me focus on its specific points. I hope it will help you if you are in a similar situation with a loved one…
Dear Lord, Thank you for sharing my heartache. I pray you will bring fruitfulness out of this place of desolation. Help me not to dwell on all the negatives I see. Help me not to be a party to dissention and strife. I know I must surrender every aspect of my loved one’s life to you. Forgive me for the wrong things I’ve said or done that only added to the problem. Give me your strength to help me change from feeling helpless to believing you are able and willing to intervene in ______’s life. Show me how to extend love and forgiveness to ______ and pray more effectively. Lord, give me the ability to communicate your love to ______ no matter what the circumstances may be. I forgive ______ for hurting me and disappointing me; please help me to love _______ with your love and to walk in continual forgiveness. Please send people into _______’s life who will have a positive influence on him/her. Keep _______ from discouragement and depression. Give my loved one peace despite circumstances. Please help me to relinquish ______ completely into your hands. So often I rehearse in my mind all the sordid details of how bad the situation is. Help me let go and give my loved one to you unreservedly. I know I can trust you to bring back ______ in your way and in your time and through whatever circumstances you see fit. Woo him/her with your divine love. I stand in the prayer gap for _______, asking for your mercy, forgiveness and favour. Thank you for your promise that _______ can never escape your love and care. In Jesus’ name I pray all these things, Amen.