By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Every kid who has ever grown up in a Baptist church probably can repeat the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. It’s a story that was real when Jesus told it and it’s still real today.
The issue of prodigal children as it relates to ministers and their families is told here, but it goes far beyond just being a “minister’s problem.” Baptists love to talk about the “rowdy” preachers’ kids but the fact of the matter is that the children of the deacons, the Sunday School teachers, the missions leaders, and the list goes on are all alike.
I have no data to back this up, but I strongly suspect that many “unspoken” prayer requests in churches today either are for wayward children or grandchildren. They are unspoken because most people don’t want the world to know they aren’t perfect. They are unspoken because the sin of pride gets in the way.
I am going to be candid. I speak from experience. My wife Joyce and I dealt with a “prodigal son” for about eight years. They were some of the hardest times of our lives. We love our son Daniel dearly but at times we didn’t like him. And, the feeling was mutual.
During the “worst” of those times Joyce and I felt like we were the only couple who had a prodigal son or child. We know that was not true, but it seemed like it at the time.
We would sit in Sunday School and hear a parent or two talk about how great their kids were. We sat there and remained quiet. Both Joyce and I know now that we really had nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. We raised Daniel and Joanna in church and taught them right from wrong. Both children accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Ultimately, our son chose to make some really bad choices and he has dealt with the consequences of those decisions over the years. He rebelled against his parents and God.
Children aren’t always going to do what their parents want them to do or think they should do. It’s that simple.
When a child becomes a prodigal it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Normally, it means the child allowed Satan to gain a stronghold in his or her life.
Ever hear of Billy Graham? I would daresay he and his wife Ruth were excellent parents. Their son Franklin, however, readily admits he was a prodigal. Look at where Franklin Graham is today. He leads a worldwide ministry (Samaritan’s Purse).
So, how did we handle it?
First, we prayed. I’m convinced that God honors prayer, especially those from a mother and dad. Daniel will never fully know how many tears and prayers were lifted up for him by his parents during those turbulent years. And, it wasn’t just us. Though we might have been hesitant to state it publicly, we didn’t hesitate to ask people in private to pray for Daniel. We especially relied on our family and closest friends and then we extended it to include others.
Some of God’s greatest prayer warriors in Tennessee and South Carolina (and other states as well) have been lifting Daniel up in prayer for years. I have participated in a Thursday morning prayer group for more than a decade. Those men who have been a part of that group have prayed countless prayers (and still are for that matter) for Daniel as have others over the years. I suspect one day in heaven people will come up to Daniel and tell him they are glad to see him because they prayed for him when he was a teenager.
Second, we relied on our faith and trust in God. That’s the only thing we had to hold on to for many years. God promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Truthfully, we had doubts at times, but God carried us through. There were literally days we just wanted to give up. We could not have made it without Him and His grace.
As I have talked with people all over this state I know now we were not alone then and people who are dealing with it today are not alone either. Prodigal children will be among us until Jesus returns.
It’s okay to admit it. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to seek help. We did that – on all counts. I’m not going to mislead you and tell you everything will immediately turn out wonderful if you do all that. As I said before our journey lasted for years before we began to see a change in Daniel’s life.
Is Daniel where he should be today? No. While he is more receptive to God than he has been in years, he still doesn’t go to church as regularly as we would hope. He still makes decisions that his mother and I don’t agree with, but there’s truly a difference in his attitude. A few years ago I could never have written this column because I knew he would object. Yet, when I asked him if I could share his story this week as a companion piece to the prodigal article, he gave his approval. That would not have happened even a year ago.
We are so indebted to God. By all accounts Daniel probably should not be alive (he was in a terrible car accident at one point), but God spared him. He moved back with us for a short while but God blessed him with a good job and today he is a homeowner. God has poured out His amazing love and grace on our family.
So, is Daniel still a prodigal? Yes, but so am I and I daresay there’s a little prodigal element in all of God’s children. With a few exceptions, I doubt there is anyone who truly is where he or she needs to be in his or her relationship to God. We are all works in progress. The good news is God will not give up on us.
If you’re dealing with a prodigal child or grandchild today, don’t give up hope. Rely totally on God and pray and don’t be ashamed to enlist others to pray as well. Shout out that prayer request in your Sunday School class or small group even if Penny Perfect’s mom or grandmother is sitting beside you. Don’t allow pride to rob you of the fruits of prayer.
God honors prayers from His children. Just remember, the answer will be according to His timetable and not yours.