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.
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John Fuller: That’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer. He’s our guest today on Focus on the Family, talking about how you as a parent can pray for your child. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And Jim, it’s vital that we, uh, bring our children and their hearts to Jesus.
Jim Daly: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the number one thing I think on a parent’s heart and mind, right? I know that’s true for Jean and I. Our boys are in their early 20s. We want them to have a fervent faith. Sometimes we’re scratching our head, are they there? They assure us that they know the Lord, and that’s-
Jim: … good. But you always wanna see more, right? It’s just natural for a parent to wanna see a vibrant faith. And we’re gonna talk today about those young adults who, uh, may not be expressing that. We call them prodigals from time to time. And, you know, their behavior suggests that maybe they’re not close to the Lord. So I’m excited that we’re gonna cover that topic today because many, many parents are going through difficulties with their adult children.
John: Yeah, we hear so much heartache and, uh, grief from parents. And we’re so glad our counseling team can talk to them and guide. And, uh, certainly, if you’re there, give us a call. Our number’s 800-A-FAMILY. Well, Dr. Erwin Lutzer is Pastor Emeritus at Moody Church in Chicago. He was the senior pastor there for over 36 years. He’s written a number of books, and one of those that is the basis for our conversation today is called A Practical Guide for Praying Parents. Get a copy from us here at the ministry, the, uh, details are at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
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.
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, um, 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, it 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 have 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 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: Yeah. I mean that- that’s what concerns every parent, right? Did I… The guilt that can come with that.
Dr. Lutzer: Mm.
Jim: “Did I do something wrong in how I was raising my children?” And I, I know fathers particular that do carry a lotta 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. W- 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 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 want to wait until his father died before he got his inheritance. And then he went into the far country and totally blew it.
Dr. Lutzer: We know the story. And maybe I’m ahead of the story here, but the pig sty 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 his 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 a… that’s a revelation, actually, to think of it in that way. The pig sty 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 pig sty? And I think it’s the inclination of most parents to try to protect rather than let God do His work in the pig sty.
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 the family, and he gave me permission to tell his story. How that he was into drugs, began selling drugs. He was incarcerated twice.
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.
Dr. Lutzer: He just let God have it. And when he was finished speaking to God, he said, “God, all 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 pig sty 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 rein, so to speak?
Dr. Lutzer: I want to say this. This may be the most important thing I say today. Parents have to realize that they cannot convert their child.
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.”
Dr. Lutzer: 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.
Dr. Lutzer: What he needs is a heart change.
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.
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.
Jim: You know? And, and-
Dr. Lutzer: Yes.
Jim: … you… 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.
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. Uh, 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: Yes.
Jim: 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 saying to me as a result of this wayward child?” I use 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.”
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 disciplined 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.
Dr. Lutzer: Well, I’m glad to say that God got him. And the reasons we know that is because the next night he was giving a testimony as to how God broke him.
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 it, it does reemphasize the fact that we’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. That’s one of the reasons we need Jesus, right? Even as Christian parents, we’re gonna make mistakes. So it’s not to load guilt on there, but it is that we’re improving all the time. I think one of the most powerful things I ever did as a dad, I remember apologizing to Trent. I had disciplined him and, and I came in, I said, “I just wanna say I’m sorry. But, you know…” And he smi-… had the biggest smile on his face. And I said, “Why are you smiling?” He said, “I didn’t know parents had to apologize.”
Dr. Lutzer: They sure do.
Jim: And that’s a great lesson for all parents.
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 which… 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. 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: Uh, 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 or 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 that I’m sure until my father died all of their friends in heaven thought that they just didn’t make it.
Dr. Lutzer: You know, they said, “Where at the Lutzers?” But the Lutzers made it. I believe that my ministry today is still the product of my parents’ prayers.
Dr. Lutzer: When they were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary-
Dr. Lutzer: … after that they didn’t want any more.
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.” 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.
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 (laughs).
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.
Dr. Lutzer: You know? And so, I was very old. But, um-
Jim: Not that old.
Dr. Lutzer: Not that old.
Dr. Lutzer: Yeah.
Jim: (laughs) 50, 60.
Dr. Lutzer: So, so this was not something that happened when I was a boy.
Dr. Lutzer: I hadn’t thought of it. My wife suggested it, “Your dad’s 100, this is a good time to do it.”
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 onto 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. 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.
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.
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-
Jim: … 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-
Dr. Lutzer: … “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, um, 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.
Dr. Lutzer: Mm.
Jim: And I think in our humanness, we tend to believe then 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 it fe-… it feels like God is not hearing your prayers. How should they process that silence?
Dr. Lutzer: Uh, first of all-
Dr. 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. 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 counter-cultural.
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 shout 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.
John: 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-
Dr. Lutzer: Yeah.
Jim: … 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 the 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 your today on behalf of their children in Jesus name. Amen.
Jim: Amen. Uh, powerful. This has been so good. And, you know, it’s very simple. Uh, we know this is an ache in the heart of many of the viewers and listeners. And we’re here for you. And this is why donors support the ministry to provide that counseling help, to provide resources, like Dr. Lutzer’s wonderful book. And I hope you’ll get ahold of it. Um, I, I can’t think of a better resource for you if you’re living in that spot right now, uh, with a prodigal adult child. So, get in touch with us. Uh, that’s all we’re asking. You know, if we’re going to see change in the culture for Christ, it has to begin in our homes. Me included. It begins with time and prayer, of course. Uh, friends like you can transform our country one family at a time. I also wanna invite you to help us do ministry by becoming a member of our first ever membership drive. I can’t believe-
Jim: … I’m saying that, but we are, ’cause we want you to be involved with us in helping others. I’ll pray you’ll consider making a monthly commitment as a friends of Focus on the Family member. Uh, 98% of every donor dollar goes to support ministry effort. So, thank you for impacting lives for Christ by becoming a monthly sustainer.
John: Yeah. Donate as you can, and we’ll be happy to send Dr. Lutzer’s book to you, uh, when you make that monthly gift or one-time contribution to Focus on the Family, uh, gift of any amount. We do rely on your support, so please be generous as you can when you request A Practical Guide for Praying Parents. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And coming up next time, Pastor John Burke will inspire you to share the good news in everyday life.
John Burke: But when we understand that the way people actually change is when they get reconnected to the one who by his spirit can produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, naturally in us, that’s how people actually change.
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