Praying for Your Prodigal, Part 1
April 17, 2006
I received an email with a heartrending question:
I have a daughter that I don’t believe is saved. I pray for her but often times I can’t. I suppose that I’m angry she isn’t responding and feel incapable of helping her. What can I pray for on a daily basis so that she will come to Christ? At times I feel such sorrow, thinking she might go to hell.
This parent speaks for mothers and fathers everywhere who pray for their prodigal children, often for years, with seemingly no results. I do not doubt that praying parents must at some point feel like giving up, and it must be hard not to get angry when you see your children repeatedly making bad choices or showing no interest in the gospel. What do you do then? How do you keep believing for your own prodigal son or daughter?
I think it is good to consider this on the day after Easter. We need to be reminded that an astounding miracle lies at the heart of our faith. We believe something absolutely incredible–that a man who was dead came back to life on the third day. That “God raised him up.” Now if God would do that for his Son, indeed if God has the power to raise the dead, who are we to question God’s power to change the hardest hearts?
In thinking about hard questions, it’s crucial that we start in the right place. Nowhere is this more important than when we pray for our prodigal sons and daughters. Because we have so much invested in them, we may be tempted to give up because the pain of praying when nothing seems to be happening finally becomes overwhelming. We must therefore start with God who can raise the dead, not with the person who is spiritually dead. After all, if you went to the cemetery and stayed there waiting for a resurrection, you’d wait a long time. You’d see a lot of funerals and no resurrections. The odds would seem to be against anyone rising from the dead. You can’t start with what your eyes see or with what you can figure out. And you can’t trust your feelings in something like this because your emotions can play tricks on you.
If it is God alone who can raise the dead, then our focus must be on God alone. Take these two verses and use them as the basis for your prayer:
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV).
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18 NASB).
The heart has eyes. Did you know that? When Paul speaks of “your heart,” he’s not referring to the organ in your chest that pumps blood throughout your body. The term “heart” refers to what we might call “the real you,” the place inside where the decisions of life are made. The heart is the place where you decide what values you will live by and what direction you will go and how you will live your life each day. Every important decision you make is made by your heart. And your heart has eyes that can be open or closed. When the eyes of your heart are closed to the light of God, you stumble blindly through life, making one dumb choice after another. You fall into sinful patterns, you break God’s laws, you end up driving into the ditch, you make the same mistakes over and over again, and you enter one dead-end relationship after another. Why? Because the eyes of your heart are shut and you lack moral vision. The light of God is shut out of your life. That means you can see and be blind at the same time. That is, you can have 20/20 vision with your physical eyes, but the eyes of your heart can be blind to the light of God. There are lots of people like that in the world. Physically they can see but spiritually they are totally blind. We see this principle at work when we witness to those who don’t know Christ. After sharing the gospel with them as best we can, sometimes they will say, “I just don’t see it.” That’s not an excuse. They truly don’t see it. That’s why you can talk to a lost person until you are blue in the face and it will do no good. You can quote Billy Graham, Josh McDowell, Francis Schaeffer, and if you’re creative, you can throw in some John Calvin and Martin Luther. Quote Abraham Lincoln and Mike Ditka if you like. It will do no good. You can quote Scripture all day long and the lost will still be lost. Until their eyes are opened, they will not “see” the truth about Christ.
What is the answer? We must pray for the lost that God will open their eyes, give life in place of death, enable them to hear, create within them a desire to understand, give them a hunger for Jesus, and then grant them faith to believe the gospel. In short, as we prepare to share Christ with others, we must fervently pray that God will go before us. When we pray for the lost, we are saying to God, “You go first! If you don’t go first, all our efforts will be in vain.”
If you have a prodigal daughter, pray like this: “Lord, open the eyes of her heart so that she can see Jesus.” That prayer is so simple and yet so profound. Apart from God’s grace, we all have the same problem. Our hearts are closed and we cannot see the truth. Only God can open the eyes of the heart. When God opens those eyes, she will see the truth and light from heaven will come flooding in. Do not focus on her going to hell. Focus your prayers on God and his power to change her heart. Ask our Father to do what only he can do—open the eyes of her heart so that she will come to know him.
When you pray for a loved one who seems hardened against the Lord, pray that the eyes of their heart might be opened so that the light of God can come flooding in. And if that seems hopeless, at least it puts the hopeless case at God’s doorstep, which is where it belongs. On Saturday night there was a “hopeless case” in the Garden Tomb. On Sunday morning the whole world changed. You never know what God will do, so keep on believing and keep on praying. God specializes in impossible situations, and he loves to prove that hopeless cases aren’t hopeless after all.