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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Removing the Barriers Between You and Your Prodigal Child

Removing the Barriers Between You and Your Prodigal Child

When someone you love makes poor choices in their lifestyle, relationships, or moral decision-making, there IS hope! Phil Waldrep provides concrete steps to removing any barriers that might stop your prodigal child from coming back to the Lord.
Original Air Date: November 23, 2022

Jim Daly: This is Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family. And before we get to today’s broadcast I want to mention a couple of things that are right in front of us right now in the culture.

One is the tragic shooting here in Colorado Springs at the gay nightclub. That breaks my heart that people have to lose their life for something like this. And this suspect, I believe, is not a stable person. We’re going to learn more over the days and weeks ahead but I want to make sure people hear me clearly that everyone is made in God’s image. Everybody deserves respect. And yet in a culture where we have pluralistic views, we’ve got to be able to voice our opinion.

So, with that said, I also want to make you aware of something that’s going on in the Senate that’s critically important. It’s called The Respect for Marriage Act. And they’re going to be voting on this probably next week. And it has the potential to really change the way religious liberty is expressed in our country.

Today, I’ve asked Kelly Shackelford, my good friend, he’s president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, to join me by phone to shed some light on everything that this bill entails. Kelly, welcome to the program.

Kelly Shackelford:  Thanks, Jim. Happy to be on.

Jim: All right. I wish it were better circumstances. Quickly. What is this bill about, Respect for Marriage Act? What does it say and how will it affect us, especially the Christian community, businesses, churches, the like? If it is passed?

Kelly:  It’s proposed as a… just something where people can be pro marriage between a man and a woman. But that’s not true. What it does is it actually weaponizes. It even creates a private cause of action where people can bring lawsuits against individuals or groups who take a different position. And so it’s really dangerous.

And there’s an attempt by Mike Lee, Senator Mike Lee, to offer an amendment that says you cannot use anybody’s beliefs on marriage, uh, their religious beliefs in any way to be punished. And if they were to accept that amendment it would take away all the danger. But they have not taken that amendment. And therefore, this is going to be a weapon that’s going to be able to be used to attack people and religious liberty in numerous circumstances.

Jim: Right. In fact, with that amendment that Mike Lee has proposed the other side has said it’s too aggressive. It’s too radical. Right? I mean, think of that. Just to affirm that we have a right to believe what we would like to believe based on Biblical principle. They’re saying that’s out of bounds. I mean, that… that right there is chilling.

Kelly:  It is. And again, this is, this is not just some statement that the federal government is now in favor of marriage between, you know, a man and a man or a woman and a woman. This goes further. It allows the Justice Department to go after people. It creates an ability to file lawsuits against people who have different beliefs. So this this is a whole new level of really weaponizing this whole battle of, you know, marriage to be used against people and their religious freedom and their beliefs on these issues.

Jim: Well, and without that special amendment that Mike Lee uh, has proposed, there’s some that are saying that the IRS, with their new 87,000 agents, will be cut loose to strip away 501c3 status for religious organizations like Focus on the Family, for churches, for others who have it.

Kelly: Yes.

Jim: Again, a different perspective, that they’ll use the power of the IRS to silence people, in essence.

Kelly: Yeah, that’s the argument. And if you, if people remember back when the argument was going on in this Supreme Court on the same sex marriage case, the Obergefell case, the Solicitor General in the United States who was arguing for the Obama administration answered that question when he was asked by one of the justices, “Hey, if we do this, could this be used for the IRS to take away the tax-exempt status of people who believe in marriage as a man and woman? Churches, nonprofit organizations?” And he said that could be an issue. And that is not taken away in this legislation.

Jim: Well, Kelly, I just applaud your efforts along with ADF and other organizations that are, you know, trying to defend religious liberty in this country. I mean the lawyers on the Christian side are also working. And I so appreciate your part of the battle there and being involved and doing what you do at First Liberty to help the cause.

Kelly:  Well, I, I… you know, Focus on the Family is the hero of the family. And we’ve got to stand together now that it’s under attack in a real specific way with this situation.

Jim: Well, thank you. Thanks for being with us for a few minutes to give us more insight. Thank you so much.

Kelly: Happy to do it. Thanks, Jim.

Jim: Well, here at Focus on the Family, we want to certainly encourage you to pray for the country. Pray for the decisions being made in the Senate. And I want to ask you to be very specific and call your Senators in your state.

We’re specifically looking at five senators. Senator Sullivan from Alaska, Senator Ernst from Iowa, Senator Young from Indiana, Senator Capita from West Virginia, and Senator Loomis from Wyoming.

We need to have you call them and say, “Don’t support The Respect for Marriage Act, and to consider and to vote positively on Mike Lee’s amendment,” if that’s possible.

And let me give you the number. It’s H.R… The bill is H.R. 8404. The phone number is (202) 224-3121. That’s (202) 224-3121.

Also, you can stay informed on important developments in the news through our Daily Citizen, which is basically an electronic magazine that’ll come to you every morning.

You’ll find the links from our webpage. Also, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. That’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. We’ll have everything listed there for your benefit. So please, call today.


Pastor Phil Waldrep: You can be the world’s perfect parent and still have a child that becomes a prodigal. So, the question is, what did I do wrong? I did the research. You probably did nothing wrong.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Well, if you have a wayward child, today’s speaker has encouragement for you. Welcome to Focus on the Family. Uh, your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, our guest, Phil Waldrep, is a pastor and author who has worked with a lot of heartbroken parents who have prodigal children. And the message you’re about to hear is the result of research he did with 30 prodigals, half of whom had recently returned to the Lord. And I think you’ll be impressed with his insights.

John: And there’s a lot more in his book, which is called Reaching Your Prodigal. We’ve got that here at Focus on the Family. Uh, stop by the website to get your copy. With that, here now is Phil Waldrep.

Phil: If you have a prodigal, I want to share with you tonight six things you need to do that, uh, the Lord can use to help bring your prodigal back to Him. The first step you need to take is the one you can start practicing tonight. You need to overcome the guilt. You need to rest in the Lord and ask Him to help you to get over the guilt. You see, when people ask that question, “What did I do wrong?” Here’s what they’re saying. “Apparently, I failed as a parent. Apparently, I made a mistake. Because if I had done it right, my kids would turn out right. So, if my kids are not walking with the Lord, then apparently, I did something wrong.”

But before I answer the question, can we stop and ask why do we feel guilty? Well, the enemy wants you to feel guilty, because as long as you’re walking in guilt, he has control of the situation. And if you as a parent or grandparent ever start walking in victory, he will have first experienced defeat. So, he wants you to feel guilty. So, what does he use to make us feel guilty? Well, I have discovered there are two sources of our guilt.

First, we forget something about our kids and our grandkids that we know, but we never apply it to our children. All of us are sinners. All of us are bent toward sin. To put that another way, if all of us do what is natural for us to do, all of us become prodigals.

It’s not taking away from the seriousness to say that when your child chooses to walk away, they are doing what is natural for them to do. But there’s a second source of our guilt, and it comes from a misunderstanding of a verse in the Bible, because people always say, “But Phil, what about that verse that says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he’s old, he will not depart from it?’” Now, that says if you do it right, they turn out right.

Can I tell you something tonight? You cannot find me three Old Testament scholars who understand Hebrew who will tell you that verse properly translating says, “You do it right, they turn out right.” There’s a school of thought that if you read books by Dr. Warren Wiersbe, for example, who’s a great Bible teacher, he says that proverbs are principles, not promises. But others say, and I tend to agree, when you understand the- the Hebrew words, the original language, the phrase, the rearing of a child referred to the growing of a tree, and it has the idea of the bent of a tree. That if a- if a tree was then in a certain direction, if you applied pressure against it, it would break and it would begin to die, which simply meant nothing about parenting, except that if we have children who have an interest in something, if we encourage and train them in that interest, they will pursue it for the rest of their life.

For example, if you had a child who loves music, and you give them music training, they will love music the rest of their life. On the contrary, if you have a child who doesn’t love music, or isn’t musically inclined, and you try to force them to love music, they probably will hate music the rest of their life. Uh, and I see that played out in my own life.

Uh, I remember one day when my mother came home, and she said to me, “Phil, have I got news for you.” I said, “What is that mom?” She said, “Mrs. Smith has an opening, and you’re gonna get to take piano lessons.” And I said, “Mom, have I got news for you. I don’t wanna take piano lessons.” And my mother says, “Oh, you don’t understand. You’re gonna go. You’re gonna love playing the piano.” I went to Mrs. Smith, who was this wonderful lady, went to her house, 30-minute lesson. That was the longest 30 minutes of my life.

I have no musical interest. I love music, but I have no interest in playing, but my mother said … I said, “Mother, I didn’t like it.” She said, “Oh, you’ve got to go two or three times.” Well, I went two or three times. And after a month, I’m praying, “Dear God, please can I have a root canal, so I don’t have to go to piano lessons.”

But you see, in defense of my mom, she had a dream. Because in her family, there are no musicians. However, in my father’s family, there are many musicians. Now, my father wasn’t, but my grandfather, I’m told, could play 12 different instruments by ear, and my mother knew I had my father’s genes. And if she could just bring that musical gene to the forefront, then I would be the first musician in her family.

So, for nearly four long years, I went to piano lessons. And finally, after four years, my mother looked at me, tears in her eyes, and she said, “Son, I don’t think you’re enjoying taking piano lesson.” A little slow, but she gets there. But that’s an example.

You see, that verse would say to my mom, he has no interest. He’s not bent that way, so he’s not gonna pursue it. On the other hand, if I had musical interest, and was taught, I would pursue it. But I said all that to say that verse does not teach, if you do it right, they turn out right.

If you believe that if parents do it right, their kids turn out right, would you please tell me tonight what God did wrong with Adam and Eve? What did Jesus do wrong with Judas? You can be the world’s perfect parent and still have a child that becomes a prodigal. So, the question is, what did I do wrong? I did the research. You probably did nothing wrong. So, from this day forward, until the Holy Spirit tells you what you did wrong, you must say to the devil, “I did nothing wrong, and I will not feel guilty anymore.” (clapping)

But then there are those who will say, “But wait, I know what I did wrong.” Sometimes, we do make mistakes as parents and we do things that hurts our family. And when you do, you need to go to your prodigal and say, “I was wrong. I sinned. Will you forgive me?” Now, I need to tell you, they don’t always grant forgiveness. But when you ask for their forgiveness, when you know what you’ve done wrong, or the Lord has told you what you’ve done wrong, or even if you’re prodigal tells you what you’ve done wrong, don’t try to debate it. Just acknowledge and say, “You’re right, will you forgive me?” And when you acknowledge and ask for forgiveness, it removes the barrier and the excuse they can use.

But then there’s a third thing you must do. You must continue to love your prodigal without conditions. You must love them unconditionally. “Well, now Phil, I need to tell you, I do love my prodigal unconditionally.” Oh, really? Do you have a child tonight that you would prefer I didn’t know belong to you? You have a child that you have put your head on a pillow and cried and privately said, “God, I wish they had never been born.” If so, that’s not unconditional love. Unconditional love says, “I may not approve of what you’re doing, but I love you the same.”

In the story of that wonderful father in the Gospel of Luke, the son did the- the one thing that hurt his father. When you understand the Jewish culture of that day, for a son to have anything to do with pigs was horrible. Far worse than any alcoholism, or drug addiction, or gambling addiction, or- or sexual sins, far worse than any of that was to have a son associated with pigs, but the father never stopped loving his son.

John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family, and that’s Pastor Phil Waldrep, offering hope and, um, you can get his book Reaching Your Prodigal when you contact us and make a donation of any amount to the Ministry of Focus on the Family. When you do that, we’ll include a free audio download of his entire presentation as well. Donate and request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or give us a call, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s go ahead and hear more now from Phil Waldrep.

Phil: Let me give you two illustrations tonight of two men who experienced virtually the same thing. Watch how these two men responded and see if you can identify which father in these two stories practiced unconditional love.

In a church not far from where we live, there was a man that you would call a fellow member of the church. I mean, a- a very revered man, a very godly man. And one day, his teenage daughter came home and said, “Dad, mom says she will not tell you and I must tell you, but I’m pregnant.” Of course, the girl wasn’t married. And the Father by his own testimony said, he got angry. And he began in his anger to pound on the coffee table and say, “I cannot believe you have done this. You have disgraced this family.” And in his anger, he looked at his daughter and he said, “I want you to get your things. I want you to leave. I never want to see you again. And as far as I am concerned from this day forward, you and this child are dead.” And she left.

The father bragged about what he did. But in the church that he attended about six months after that happened, they were having a Sunday evening service when the pastor walked to the pulpit after the singing. And the pastor of his church said, “Tonight, I just wanna talk to you as my congregation.” He said, “We have learned this week that our 15-year-old daughter is going to be an unwed mother. Our hearts are broken. We are embarrassed. We have cried a lot at our house. Now, I’m here to tell you that my wife and I have made a decision,” the pastor said. “We’re gonna love our daughter, we’re going to support our daughter. She has chosen to give life to this child. We’re gonna help her if necessary, rear this, uh, this daughter. And if that means that you want me to step down as your pastor, I will and I will take secular employment.”

And then the pastor said, “I want you to know that while I am ashamed of what my daughter has done, my wife and I are not ashamed. She is our daughter.” And in the presence, in the presence of that congregation, he walked over to his daughter, embraced her and said, “I love you.” Two men facing similar situations. Can I ask you tonight? Which of those two daughters do you think is in church tonight serving God? It was the one who experienced unconditional love.

You say, “But Phil, if we extend unconditional love, aren’t we approving their sin?” Well, may I ask you, did God approve your sin when he gave you unconditional love? Of course not. And I’ve discovered the one force that prodigals can handle is unconditional love. Now, with that being said, I need to hasten to the next point, because this is where many people misunderstand unconditional love. Because unconditional love re-, loves people regardless but here’s the next point. You must also stop removing the consequences of their decisions.

Unconditional love does not say every time they get in jail, “I’m obligated to get them out.” That’s not unconditional love. Unconditional love does not say every time they lose everything, the gambling, “I’ve got to go and pay the gambling debts.” That’s not unconditional love. I believe you can extend grace the first time, but prodigals can become great manipulators. And they can try to manipulate you, “Oh, daddy, oh, mommy, if you will just … One time, if you will just pay these debts, I’ll go to church, I’ll serve God, I’ll be a missionary.” If you’re not … And you have to look at them and say, “Son, daughter, I love you, and I’ll come visit you every day in jail. And I’ll be there for you to go with you, to get counseling for your addictions, but I cannot rescue from the pigpen.”

So, let me cancel you tonight. Stop removing the consequences. When they make bad decisions, let them face the consequences. Let them face what they’re doing. They may get angry, they may get upset. But trust me, them times prodigal come to themselves when they sit in pig pens for a while.

Then there’s a fifth thing. Guard your words. Watch what you say. When I interviewed those prodigals, one of them said something to me and he put it best. He said, “You know, Phil, I don’t understand my mom.” I said, “You don’t?” He said, “No. She tells me all the time how she can’t stand her preacher. Worst preacher she’s ever had. And she tells me all the time how she don’t like the music at her church. Well, she said they’ve run the music program in her church. And she tells me all the time how sorry the people in her Sunday school class are, that she’s just tired of all of those hypocrites at her church. And then next Sunday, she’s in shock when I don’t wanna go to that sorry church and listen to that awful music and that terrible preacher.”

Let me tell you what the devil does when we get into complaining mode about church. He takes a megaphone and he magnifies it to your prodigal. He does. Now granted, I’m like you, sometimes, you know, they do things at church, in our church, and I didn’t like it. I’m going quite a bit speaking, so I’m not there a lot. And every time I go, they moved my Sunday school class.

I’m getting older, it’s on the top floor. Can I tell you something? I don’t want to sacrifice my kids or my grandkids, because I’m being petty over something I want. Instead, I want to use words that build up and affirm because, you know, the very person you disliked the most at church may be the very person God is trying to use to get the attention of your prodigal.

Hey, and let me take that another step. Don’t just guard your words about while your child is a prodigal, guard your words when they get right with God. Did you notice in Luke 15 in that story? When the prodigal son came home, his father did not do what most of us would do. See, we would fold arms and say, “Okay, (laughs) where have you been? Don’t you wanna tell us about all them pigs you’ve been with? And don’t you wanna explain how you spent all that money?” Father didn’t do that. The father had enough sense to keep his mouth shut. No, when your prodigal gets right with God, you kill the fatted calf. Think about that. You kill the fatted calf and you rejoice and you praise God.

Then there’s a sixth thing. Pray specific prayers. When I’ve talked with prodigal who have gotten right with God, I’ve noticed there are two things God uses on a consistent basis to get the attention of a prodigal. Now, if that’s true, shouldn’t this be the two things you’re praying tonight? The first thing God uses is someone who is a friend, someone their age who comes into their life who has a heart for God. And through that friendship, it might be a co-worker, it might be someone who coaches Little League Baseball with them. It might be a- a- another lady at the PTA Council. They can be a next door neighbor, but someone comes into their life. A friendship is formed, but that friend has a heart for God. And God uses that friend to nudge your prodigal back to Him.

So, the first thing you pray is, “God would you bring into the life of my prodigal people who have a heart for you?” And then there’s a second prayer you pray, and it will be the hardest prayer you’ve ever prayed. But if you can pray this prayer and mean it, all this other stuff is easy. When I talked to those prodigals who have gotten right with God, I discovered that the majority of them is either a friend who nudged them back to the Lord, or it was the sickness and death of a parent or grandparent. So, are you willing to say tonight, “Lord, I am willing to do whatever it takes. If it means you have to take me on the glory, I’m willing to do it if it gets my prodigal back to you.” Tough prayer.

In our office several years ago, one of our staff members had a suggestion. He suggested that we take Wednesdays and have everyone bring their lunch. And then we assign one of those Wednesdays to each staff member, you know, each of them taking Wednesday. And on that Wednesday, they all share that personal testimony. Well, I knew for one girl in our office that was going to be very difficult to share, because she’s related to me. Her grandfather was my mother’s oldest brother. Her grandfather was my uncle.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but when you give your testimony, the hardest place to share is in front of relatives, especially the ones that have known you all your life. So, I’ve known her all of her life, and knew she became a Christian when she was young. I know when she went to college, she became a prodigal, and I knew she had gotten a heart right with God. But I was gonna be in town the day she shared, I knew it would be hard for her, and it’s one of those situations you’re like, “Well, I need to be here. I’m in town, but I don’t need to be here. It would be hard for her to share.”

And so I remember, I- I just … My prayer time, I told the Lord, “Lord, I don’t know whether to be here or not.” And that day, I got a call and my wife and I got invited to a banquet, uh, uh, to a- a dinner, uh, a luncheon engagement we needed to go to. And so I said, “Well, we’ll go to that. That’s a word from the Lord.” So, we agreed to go to the luncheon. So, I went in to-, on Tuesday before that Wednesday into Marla’s office. And when I did, I said, “Marla, I gotta tell you something, I’m not gonna be here tomorrow when you share.”

I don’t believe I could have told her she had won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, and she would have been in the happiness. She looked at me and said, “Ooh, I’m glad. I’ve been praying all week you’d be sick tomorrow, you wouldn’t be able to come to work, and I- I didn’t have to do that.”

So, the next day, we went to the luncheon, I came back, went into the office of a young man who was an intern at- with our office at that time. And I said, “How did Marla do?” “Oh, she did great.” Told her how she became a Christian as a young girl, came a prodigal, got away from the Lord in college, and how it was through the sickness and death of her grandfather, my uncle, that got her heart right, broken before the Lord.

That day, when I left, I sat in my car for a moment because that meant something to me when I heard it, because I was very close to her grandfather. I remember the day he came to our office brokenhearted over some of his grandkids. And I remember the day in our office he prayed, poured his heart out to God and said, “God, whatever it takes, I want you to do it to get the attention of my grandchildren.” And he said, “Lord, if it means you’ve got to take me home to glory, I want you to do it.” Less than a year later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And for two and a half months, he fought through treatment, but then he died.

And it was during that two and a half months that Marla got her heart right with God. Wrote her grandfather a letter. Her father read it to him on his deathbed. And as I sit in my car, I said, “Lord, thank you for a grandfather who is willing to say whatever it takes and willing to do. Thank you for that.” And then I thought, “Lord, wouldn’t it kind of a shame that our grandfather never got to see her really grow in the Lord and her husband came to know the Lord, and he’s a deacon leader in their church, and how they’re involved in ministry? And I said, Lord, it’s just a shame that he didn’t get to see that.”

So, I had an idea. Never done this before. I said, “Lord, it’s just me and you here and nobody else. Well, I really hadn’t thought about this much.” But I said, “Lord, can I ask a favor of you?” I said, “Lord, if you are on the streets of heaven today and you see my uncle, Bud, her grandfather, would you stop him and tell him for me that his granddaughter stood today and bless your name? Would you tell him for me that his prodigal has come home? Would you tell him for me that his prayer and his death was not in vain? Would you, Lord, just tell him for me?”

You see, I wish I could tell you, boy, there’s a surefire way you walk out here it’s gonna happen. No. What I’ve talked about tonight is putting you in a position of strength where you can help your prodigal. I’ve talked about removing the barrier so that when you’re prodigal comes to themselves, and they will, it may not be tomorrow, it may be 10 years. But when they come to Messiah, that young man in Luke 15 knew he could go home to his father, there were no barriers there. So, you remove all of the barriers, but you’re in a position of strength and you’re not manipulated by guilt.

I wish there was a surefire way, but what I’m giving you tonight is hope. I’m giving you hope. But wait, you say, “But Phil, what if it is my death that causes my- my prodigal to come back to the Lord? I won’t get to see it.” Can I ask you something? Wouldn’t the next best thing to seeing your prodigal get right with God down here would be hearing about it over there? To one day have the Son of God walk up to you and say, “Have I got news for you?”

You know, the prodigal that broke your heart, the one you thought wouldn’t make it, the one that calls you to cry yourself to sleep. They stood today and blessed my name. You may not get to see it here, but you get to hear about it over there. But the good news is tonight, that there’s hope and prodigals will come home.

John: Uh, it’s so important to have that eternal perspective on our wayward children. That’s Pastor Phil Waldrep.

Jim: It really is, John. And we’re almost out of time, so let me just say that if your heart is aching right now, please reach out to us. Our friendly staff would be honored to hear your prodigal child story and pray with you. Uh, that’s one of the most important things we can do for you. And if needed, they can request a free call back from one of our caring Christian counselors. And we’d also recommend Phil Waldrep’s book called Reaching Your Prodigal: What Did I Do Wrong? What Do I Do Now? And we’ll send that out to you for a donation of any amount, and we’ll include a free audio download of Pastor Phil’s entire presentation. And if you can’t afford to give, we get that, we understand, just call us and we’ll send the book to you, and we’ll trust others will help us cover the cost of doing that. It will be an honor to minister to your family in that way.

John: Yeah, we’re here to help. And, uh, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or you can donate online and request your copy of Reaching Your Prodigal and that free download at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Reaching Your Prodigal: What Did I Do Wrong? What Do I Do Now?

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