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Best of 2023: How to Be a Prayer Warrior For Your Children

Best of 2023: How to Be a Prayer Warrior For Your Children

In this best of 2023 broadcast, Dr. Erwin Lutzer shows parents how to abandon their routine lists of requests and trade them for scriptural prayers, immersing them in God’s promises and will.
Original Air Date: March 23, 2023

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: It is so critical to realize that the never interpret the silence of God as the indifference of God. God is frequently silent, but He is not indifferent. The next thing that they have to do is to never give up.

John Fuller: That’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer. And he’s our guest today on Focus on the Family. And this conversation had a really strong response from our listeners when it first aired earlier this year. And that’s why we’re bringing it back. Uh, Dr. Lutzer talks about how parents can pray for their children. And clearly, he touched a felt need. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, introducing our children to Jesus is the most vital part of parenting. I mean, Jean and I pray almost every day for our boys. It’s consistent. And this program with Dr. Lutzer was one of our best of 2023. One listener told us, “Thank you and God’s blessing in abundance for the spiritual insight and encouragement shared during this interview. I intend to apply it with hope, faith, and love in Jesus’ name.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: That’s a great response. That’s what we wanna hear. Uh, we wanted to share this broadcast again because of many comments like that one. The number one topic people call our ministry about is parenting adult children, many of whom have walked away from the faith. But as Dr. Lutzer has said right there, don’t give up. Today, we wanna help, uh, meet your needs and encourage you with practical tools to use in praying for your children and their faith.

John: Right. And we hear so much heartache and grief from parents who are struggling and, uh, we have a great counseling team here for you. And if you’re in a spot where it’s really challenging, give us a call, please, and schedule a time to talk with one of those counselors. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. Uh, Dr. Erwin Lutzer is pastor emeritus at Moody Church in Chicago. And he was the senior pastor there for over 36 years. He’s written a number of books. And the one that forms the basis for our conversation today is called A Practical Guide for Praying Parents. You can find details about that and get a copy at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call that 800 number. Here’s how we began this Best of conversation with Dr. Erwin Lutzer on today’s Focus on the Family.

Jim: Dr. Lutzer, welcome back to Focus. It’s so good to have you.

Dr. Lutzer: I’m so glad to be back and to have this exciting topic, because no matter where I go, the great burden on the hearts of parents is wayward children.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Lutzer: And we’re gonna be talking about how I believe we should pray for them and how transforming it was for me to understand a new way of praying. But we’ll get into that.

Jim: Well, you know, so often, we as parents, we carry so many burdens, you know. Uh, and there’s a lot of things tugging at our children’s heart, especially if they’re in public schools, the things they’re exposed to. Uh, it can be a daunting task to live in this modern world and be raising kids that have so much exposure to things that, you know, just two decades ago, kids didn’t see. Uh, social media pornography, you had to go find pornography. Now, it finds you. Uh, being a pastor for 36 years, uh, it’s nothing new under the sun, right? You were experiencing these kinds of things, maybe different, but children that weren’t doing well with the Lord.

Dr. Lutzer: You know, one of the things that we did at Moody Church, which I look back upon with a great deal of joy, is we designated a month that was a month in January, and we called it POPs, parents of prodigals. And we prayed for prodigals. Now, we doubled our prayer meeting. One of the things that I discovered, Jim and John, is this that, uh, there were so many people that I knew and I did not know that they had prodigal children. And so, when they stood up in prayer meeting and gave the name of a child, I took the opportunity and said to them, “If you feel free to share, would you tell us what kind of a home this child was raised in?” Because sometimes parents contribute to the delinquency of their children. Sometimes, they don’t. I mean, there was nothing wrong with the father of the prodigal, obviously. The father, it was a good father. And yet, the boy wandered away. And one of the things that I discovered is that, so often, this comes from brokenness in the homes. I mean, you know, you have divorce, you have addictions, you have abuse. And so, the child just walks away. And even if the parents are religious, you know, the boy says to himself or the girl, “I hate my dad. Therefore, I hate his God.” And they walk away from the faith.

Jim: I mean, that, that’s what concerns every parent, right? “Did I…” the guilt that can come with that. “Did I do something wrong in how I was raising my children?” And I know fathers, particularly, that do carry a lot of guilt, because they… and they don’t even understand what happened. “What did I do?” Um, let’s start with some elementary questions, like, what is a prodigal? And I think everybody has a different definition of what that might be. What, what’s the theological definition of a prodigal?

Dr. Lutzer: Well, that’s an interesting question that I’ve never been asked before, but I’ll try to answer it. I think, in my mind, a prodigal is somebody who walks away from God. He walks away from the faith. And of course, we use the word, “prodigal,” because of the parable that Jesus gave us in Luke chapter 15. And here’s somebody who was raised in a good home. We’re talking about this boy. He left home. And of course, he wasted his money. And he was a very bad child, in one sense. He didn’t even wanna wait until his father died before he got his inheritance. And then, he went into the far country and totally blew it.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Lutzer: We know the story. And maybe, I’m ahead of the story here, but the pigsty did its work. When he was there without money among the pigs, the Bible says he came to himself and he decided to return to his father. And by the way, he didn’t even return to his father because he loved this father necessarily. He returned because he was hungry. But at least, he returned.

Jim: Absolutely. And that’s a core of the teaching in your book. And I, I think that’s… it’s a revelation, actually, to think of it in that way, the pigsty serves a purpose. It’s one of the things that sometimes I’m concerned about, even in my own parenting. Am I trying to prevent my boys from experiencing the pigsty? And I think it’s the inclination of most parents to try to protect rather than let God do His work in the pigsty.

Dr. Lutzer: Well, in the book, I give a couple of illustrations, but one of them is a boy that we know very, very well, because we’re close friends with a family. And he gave me permission to tell his story, how that he was into drugs, began selling drugs, he was incarcerated twice.

Jim: Huh.

Dr. Lutzer: And even in jail, all that he could think about is, “How foolish I am. I’m gonna do it much better next time.” But then what happened is, he got out of jail, and everything went wrong. I mean, he lost his job, he lost his friends, somebody broke into his car and pulled it away, and so forth. And he cursed God.

Jim: Huh.

Dr. Lutzer: He just let God have it. And when he was finished, speaking to God, he said, “God, all of this is Your fault.” And it was as if there was a voice within him that says, “No, this is your fault. And if you continue on this road, you will die.” That boy got on his knees, began to confess his sins. He said he confessed sins he had long since forgotten that he had committed. But anyway, parents who think to themselves that they can always bail their child out, so to speak, and therefore, the child depends upon them in any way to sustain his rebellion, I think that they need a lot of wisdom in knowing that there comes a time when the child has to be let go and let the pigsty do its work, as we mentioned.

Jim: And you are, in that regard, you are trusting God to take over, really, right, to take the reins, so to speak?

Dr. Lutzer: I wanna say this, this may be the most important thing I say today. Parents have to realize that they cannot convert their child.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: Conversion is God’s business. What parents have to do is to give that child to God and trust God to do in that child what they cannot. Frequently, I pray for my grandchildren. Well, I pray for them all the time, but I use different prayers. And maybe we’ll get into that, how scripture can be used. But I often pray, “God capture their hearts.” So, you might talk your son out of sleeping with his girlfriend, but that doesn’t mean much. He’s gonna do it the next time anyway.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: What he needs is a heart change.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Lutzer: “Create within me a clean heart, oh, God,” David prayed. And what we need to do is to ask God to capture their hearts in such a way that they are transformed.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: And I give several illustrations of that in the book.

Jim: Yeah, it’s so critical. And I, I think, at times, we tend to parent in the Christian community toward behavior rather than heart.

Dr. Lutzer: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Jim: You know, and, and once they’re out of your home, especially in their 20s, if you’ve only parented them in behavior activity, they get a star for behaving this way. But they don’t have the core foundation of, why do I choose this behavior?

Dr. Lutzer: Jim, to put it simply, there are many parents who want good kids, but not necessarily godly kids.

Jim: Wow.

Dr. Lutzer: So, what you want to do is to have a child who doesn’t get into drugs, who doesn’t get into sex, you know, who stays away from all of these addictions, and then you’re happy. Well, yes, to some extent, you can be happy. But this gets to the core of what we’re talking about when it has to do with the heart, where you not only are a good kid, but you’re a godly kid, because God has implanted within you the desire to live righteously, and you make those choices, even if they are difficult.

Jim: Right. And that is the mark of successful parenting, when your child, adult child, sees the world in that way. Let me go back a little bit. I wanted to ask this question a minute ago. Uh, you encourage parents before they start praying for their prodigal sons or daughters to pray for themselves as parents.

Dr. Lutzer: Yeah.

Jim: You know, most people won’t start there. Why are you suggesting that? And what are we looking for in that prayer?

Dr. Lutzer: Well, that’s interesting. I believe that God speaks to parents through wayward children. And so, what you have to do is to say, “God, what are you saying to me as a result of this wayward child?” I used the illustration. It’s a true one about a man in Detroit many, many years ago, who entered a meeting where men were on their knees repenting of their sins. And he sat at the back of the auditorium, took his fist and shoved it into his hand and said, “God, You’ll never get me.”

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: Now, he was a Christian. Why did he say, “God, You’ll never get me?” Well, he had five sons and a hot temper. And he had discipline them very inconsistently. And so, they were angry with him. And as we mentioned earlier, “I’m angry with my dad. I’m angry with his God. I’m walking away from the faith.” And he knew that, if God got him, he was gonna have to go to his children and confess his own sins, his own anger. And that is a difficult decision to make.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: Well, I’m glad to say that God got him. And the reason we know that is because, the next night, he was giving a testimony as to how God broke him.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: That is an example of how God frequently speaks to parents through wayward children. Now, to emphasize, oftentimes, children are wayward. And it’s not the fault of the parents. But parents have to look long and hard at themselves and at least ask the question, “God, what are you saying to me through my wayward child?”

Jim: Yeah. And it’s powerful. And i- it does re-emphasize the fact that we’re not perfect. No one’s perfect.

Dr. Lutzer: You know, my oldest daughter was asked by someone, “What do you like most about your father?” She didn’t say, “Well, he’s the pastor of a well-known church. He’s on the radio. He writes books.” She didn’t say anything like that. She said, “What I appreciated most is that, when he was wrong, he asked us to forgive him.”

Jim: And that is, is what she remembers, wow.

Dr. Lutzer: That’s what she remembers.

Jim: Yeah, that’s powerful.

Dr. Lutzer: So, parents out there, remember this. If you have wronged your child, take that step and ask for forgiveness. It may be the bridge by which your child will come back to you and God, it may not be. But still, you have the responsibility of doing that.

John: Mm-hmm. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And our guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer. And, uh, we’re covering a lot of ground, uh, talking about a lot of the things that occupy so many of us as parents whose kids, uh, aren’t walking with God like we wish they would, uh, like we know they need to, to really thrive in life. Uh, Dr. Lutzer has written a terrific little book. It’s A Practical Guide for Praying Parents. And, uh, we’d love for you to contact us and get a copy of this. The details are at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word, FAMILY.

Jim: Dr. Lutzer, i- it’s really important to know how to pray, both for yourself as a parent and for your prodigal children. Um, you know, I’m sure, as parents, we stumble on that, or we get into a rut. Uh, how do you suggest people pray for themselves as parents and for their prodigal children?

Dr. Lutzer: Jim, before I go into some specifics about my own transformation in praying for my children and my grandchildren, I need to talk about my parents. Now, my father died at 106, my mother at 103.

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Dr. Lutzer: And I always say my parents lived so long, but I’m sure until my father died, all of their friends in heaven thought that they just didn’t make it.

Jim: (laughs)

Dr. Lutzer: They said, “Where are the Lutzers?” But the Lutzers made it. I believe that my ministry today is still the product of my parents’ prayers.

Jim: Wow.

Dr. Lutzer: When they were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: … after that they didn’t want any more.

Jim: (laughs)

Dr. Lutzer: They did live till 77 anniversaries, but I was sitting next to my mother. And I said, “Mother, do you know the names of all of your grandchildren and all of your great-grandchildren that are running around?” She just waved her hand, and she said, “Oh, yes.” She said, “I have a prayer list and I mention them to God every day.”

Jim: Huh.

Dr. Lutzer: When she died, we found her prayer list, all the children, all the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren written in with her own handwriting, and missionaries. My parents did not have the opportunity of having a good education. They came from Europe, you know, grade three, grade four, but they taught themselves how to read. But they knew how to pray. And one other thing that I have to mention before we get into some specifics of how to pray. When my father was 100, my wife said to me, “Erwin, why don’t you go get a blessing from your father?” He was sitting in his rocking chair, reading his Bible. And I said, “Dad, I wonder if you’d give me a blessing.” And I knelt beside him, and he put his hand on my head and prayed a prayer that I always like to say it made heaven shake.

Jim: Huh.

Dr. Lutzer: And to everyone listening out there today, if you have a believing father, go to him and ask for a blessing. But don’t wait until he’s 100.

Jim: Yeah, right (laughing).

Dr. Lutzer: You know, it might not happen.

Jim: I mean, how old were you when that happened?

Dr. Lutzer: Well, that’s a very good question. But I was pastor of Moody Church at the time. You know, I was probably 50, 60.

Jim: Right.

Dr. Lutzer: You know, and so I was very old, but not that old.

Jim: (laughs)

Dr. Lutzer: Not that old, yeah.

Jim: 50, 60.

Dr. Lutzer: So, this was not something that happened when I was a boy.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Lutzer: I hadn’t thought of it. My wife suggested, “Your dad’s 100. This is a good time to do it.”

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Lutzer: Now, with regard to praying, as a parent, I frequently prayed, “Oh, God, you know, bless my children. Keep them safe. Help them to do well in school. Keep them healthy.” But Jim, you pray that prayer over and over again until it becomes boring and it’s the same old thing prayed in the same old way. And then, what happened is I attended a seminar on scriptural praying. And now, I pray scripture for my children. Let me give you a contemporary example. Now, in the book, I give examples of this for every day of the week. And of course, those are only samples to help people so that they might be able to do the same thing. Recently, I have been going through the Sermon on the Mount. So, what do I pray for? “Oh, God, I pray for my children. May they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, so that all these other things would be added on to them.” Or, previously, I prayed from The Beatitudes. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Oh, God, I pray,” and then I list my children or my grandchildren, “may they have a pure heart, that they might see You.” So, here’s the exciting thing. I don’t pray the same thing every day in the same old way. Now, imagine praying this for your children. I have often prayed it. If you’re out there today, listening to us, and you’re saying, “Well, how do I begin,” a good place to begin would be the prayers of the Apostle Paul. Jim, think of how exciting it is to pray this prayer for your children. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment, so that you might approve what is excellent. And so, be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with a fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Jim: Mm-hmm, yes.

Dr. Lutzer: Look at every phrase in that verse, I have frequently prayed this. I actually know it by memory, but today I’m reading it, lest I make a mistake, but this is Philippians 1:9.

Jim: Yeah.

Dr. Lutzer: Take a verse like that. And it is so critical that you think in terms of, “How can I pray for my children,” scripturally. And Jim, this is so exciting because, at the end, you don’t have to add, “if it be thy will.”

Jim: Right, you know it’s God’s will.

Dr. Lutzer: You know it’s God’s will.

Jim: Hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: Go through the Psalms. Pray the Psalms for your children.

Jim: I love that. It just sounds so active. And it there… it won’t become stale in that sense. And you can pray just such a beautiful prayer over your kids every day, like your father did for you.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes. And that’s why I think it’s so important that people read the Bible. And when you read, think through, “How can I make this into a prayer?” I mean, we could even go through Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I pray that the Lord will be their shepherd, that they might not want. I pray that you might…” you know. And so, you go through the Psalm, and you pray that psalm for your children.

Jim: Let me, uh, move a little bit in a direction to answer some of the questions that people might be going through. Uh, they’ve been praying. Maybe they’ve been praying exactly like you’ve recommended. They’ve been in this long drought, not hearing from God. And I think, in our humaneness, we tend to believe that God’s not listening, God doesn’t care however you express that. But as a parent of a prodigal, you’ve been praying for decades, maybe. And if i- it feels like God is not hearing your prayers, how should they process that silence?

Dr. Lutzer: First of all, it is so critical to realize that the… never interpret the silence of God as the indifference of God. God is frequently silent, but He is not indifferent. The next thing that they have to do is to never give up. And there’s a story in the New Testament that I’ve often preached about. It’s a woman, the Syrophoenician woman, who heard that Jesus was coming into her area, into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And she went out to meet Jesus. And she said, “I have a demonized daughter. And I want you to heal that daughter.” Now, let’s just think about this. This was totally countercultural.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Lutzer: You didn’t have a Gentile woman go out and meet 13 Jewish men who were coming into your district. Furthermore, where was her husband? We don’t know. She was a single mother, so far as the story is concerned. And there are plenty of single mothers who are listening to us today. And she comes out, and she meets a number of different barriers that Jesus put up to test her faith. She overcame all those barriers to get the help that she needed for her daughter. And I want to show to your listening audience today and say this. Don’t let Satan have your children. No matter what barrier is put up, no matter what difficulty or discouragement, what you have to do is look beyond the child to God and trust God to do what you can’t, and like this woman, continue to believe, no matter how difficult it becomes.

Jim: Or how long it takes.

Dr. Lutzer: Or how long it takes.

Jim: Yeah. Keep fighting for your children. And I’m hearing that loud and clear. Uh, Dr. Lutzer, what a powerful message this is. I know people are gonna respond. I think it would be really good if, uh, you could pray for those, uh, parents of prodigal children. Again, it’s one of the leading things that people contact us here at Focus and talk to our counseling department for. And in that context, before you pray, if I can just ask you, um, what advice you have for that parent. You’ve given a lot, but is there a final nutshell that you’d wanna share with them in their aching hearts?

Dr. Lutzer: I would say this, that remember that God can do what you can’t. Also, remember that God may be speaking to you through that child, testing your faith, making you examine yourself. But then, remember that the child ultimately is in God’s hands once you make that transfer. “He is no longer mine. He is Yours. Do with him as seems good in Your sight.” I give illustrations in the book of mothers who did that. And years later, their children came to saving faith. So, don’t give up hope.

Jim: Yeah, that is good. Pray for them and all of us.

Dr. Lutzer: Father, sometimes we don’t know how to pray. Our hearts are so heavy, so confused. I pray today for all for parents who have listened to this. I ask, Father, that you will birth in them the faith, the confidence that You are in control, that, as they give their children to You, that You can bring about salvation and hope. Lord, we pray that we might not give up but keep praying, and like the Syrophoenician woman, break through every barrier that seems to be in our way until we get the help and the miracle that we seek. Bring prodigals home, we pray, as a result of all who are seeking you today on behalf of their children. In Jesus’ name, amen.

John: Amen. What a powerful way, uh, for us to close this broadcast, to hear the passion in the insight of our guest, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, on Focus on the Family. And, uh, this was one of our most popular, most responded to programs of the past year. And we hope you’ve been encouraged and, maybe, even empowered by the conversation.

Jim: What a great prayer from Dr. Lutzer. Uh, we know this is a heavy topic for many of you, and, uh, we’re here for you. This is why donors support the ministry, to provide the counseling help and resources like Dr. Lutzer’s book, A Practical Guide for Praying Parents. This book includes a great guide that outlines different verses you can pray for your children throughout the week. And with a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today, we’ll send you a copy, as our way of saying thank you for being in ministry with us. So, please, give today. And your gift will be doubled, dollar for dollar, through a matching campaign we have going on right now. And I wanna say thank you for helping us finish this year strong.

John: And, uh, for your convenience, our phone team will be here throughout the weekend. And Focus on the Family will be accepting donations this Saturday and Sunday, so you can contribute right up to that final day of 2023 to help us do ministry in the coming year, as we give families hope. Donate and get your copy of A Practical Guide for Praying Parents by Dr. Erwin Lutzer when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Or, you can go online to our website. That’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: John, let me add, uh, one other note about Dr. Lutzer. He was a recent guest on my podcast, ReFOCUS with Jim Daly. I talked with him about cultural Marxism, critical race theory, cancel culture, and how to respond with truth and love. I hope, uh, the folks will listen. And we’ve made a link there available to you.

John: Right. It’s at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, and we hope you’ll check it out. 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.

Today's Guests

A Practical Guide for Praying Parents

Receive the book A Practical Guide for Praying Parents and the audio download of the broadcast "How to Be a Prayer Warrior For Your Children" for your donation of any amount! Right now, you can DOUBLE YOUR DOLLARS to GIVE FAMILIES HOPE through our YEAR-END MATCH provided by generous friends of the ministry.

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