The Spiritual Pursuit of Wayward Children
By Marcelo Tolopilo
Some of you who read this article have wayward children and/or grandchildren. My heart goes out to you. Over the years I have discussed this issue with many heartbroken parents and grandparents. Their tears affirm that there are few things as painful and disconcerting for Christian adults than the open wound of prodigal children. If you find yourself in this troubled place, I pray your grief will continually engage your parental love to seek your son’s and/or daughter’s spiritual wellbeing. It is, to be sure, a painful pursuit but it is one that cannot be ignored. The stakes are eternal and the potential windfall indescribably joyful.
Nobody likes pain
I have yet to meet one person who purposely invites pain into their life apart from St. Louis Rams fans like myself. In fact, just the opposite is true, isn’t it? People try to dodge the dart of hardship at all cost and when suffering cannot be avoided, the natural response is to try to deaden the symptom (pain). Hence, we have a slew of industries competing for our pain-relief dollar. Whether physical or emotional, pain-relief is big business because if we can’t obviate the problem we want to at least alleviate the pain.
I am grateful for pain-relief. Believe me, I am no masochist! When I had extensive ankle surgery last year, Tylenol and Ibuprofen were some of my best buddies during my initial post-op experience. Pain-relief in recovery can be a wonderful thing, but pain-relief to mask or ignore a problem is rarely the right course to take. This is most definitely so when it comes to the emotional pain of relational hardships. Whether we are speaking of marital conflict or parental difficulties, ignoring the pain will not resolve our problems. In fact, tuning out our difficulties will likely make them worse.
Costly pain relief
Frequently parents deal with the discomfort of their wayward children by ignoring the central problem, the absence of spiritual life in their loved ones. That is the core issue parents must deal with. True, ignoring the problem brings a measure of emotional pain relief, but at what cost? Here are two principle ways I have witnessed parents minimize the troubled spiritual condition of their own. The first is a type of denial, i.e., some parents blindly assume their offspring are saved and only in a temporary state of ‘carnality,’ but ‘christianizing’ children in our mind does not make them Christians. This kind of denial helps parents legitimize the destructive behavior they see in their children as a temporary ‘backslidden’ glitch as opposed to the destructive lifestyle of an unbeliever.
I have found parents are often reluctant to recognize the spiritually ‘lost’ (unsaved) condition of their own sons and daughters. Though there is no discernable evidence of spiritual life in them (genuine love for the person of Christ, an appetite for His word, a growing holiness of life, longing for Christian fellowship, prayer, love for God’s people, etc.) they are quick to claim them as ‘carnal’ Christians because the alternative possibility is simply too painful to even think about an unsaved child on the road to eternal perdition.
An unwillingness to entertain the possibility that one’s children are spiritually lost may make parents feel better, but it will not alter the reality of the problem. It may help alleviate the pain a parent feels when they see undeniable worldliness in their children, but that pain-relief will not address the fatal spiritual disease of unbelief. Denial only gives the illusion of spiritual wellbeing by filling parents with the opiate of false hope. More harmful still, denial leads to silence, that is, it hinders parents from speaking the truth of the saving gospel (the only true hope) into the lives of their children.
A second way I have seen parents suppress the pain of prodigals is disturbing and fatalistic to say the least. In some instances parents simply resign themselves to the Christlessness of their own children. They consider them so lost, and this is so egregious to them, that they become almost fatalistically acquiescent to their spiritual condition. In essence they are willing to accept their condition in order to secure a measure of relief from the deep wound of their loss.
Again, this may bring some degree of pain-relief but it does not deal with the source of the pain, it does not help children, and it does not jive with God’s heart for lost people (2 Peter 3:9). If parents feel their children are beyond the pale of belief and redemption, they need to review the story of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-22), the ‘foremost of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15, 16) who was changed from a hater of Jesus Christ to the loving bondservant of the same. They need to reacquaint themselves with the astonishing spiritual transformation of lost sinners such as Augustine, John Newton, et al., men who, from a human perspective, appeared too far gone in their wickedness, but who were never beyond the reach of the grace of God through the life giving gospel.
No man or woman is beyond the reach of grace. As the tried and true hymn states, “perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to every believer the promise of God; the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice!”
When it comes to wayward children we must have the heart of God Himself. Jesus puts God’s very heart on display for us in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-ff). There we see the affectionate inclination of God the Father towards rebellious sinners reflected in the noble father of this familiar story. In this extended parable we see a father who – though offended – is ever longing for the restoration of his wayward son, ever watchful for his repentant return, and ever willing to receive his lost son home. That is the heart we need to cultivate.
Working with the pain
If you have wayward children I encourage you not to ignore the challenge you face by numbing your pain with false hope or an emotionally separated heart. I implore you to turn your anguish into a catalyst of loving Christian action. Specifically, allow your heartache to drive you to your Knees in prayer for your son or your daughter. Cry out to God as only a father or mother can on behalf of their children. Plead to God for their salvation and restoration and rest in the real peace that is yours as a child of God (Philippians 4:6, 7). Secondly, I strongly encourage you to lovingly speak truth into their lives even at the risk of alienating them. Avoiding truth will not deliver them, but speaking the truth in love may rescue their soul from the grasp of the enemy.
“Too Far Gone? The Conversion of A.W. Pink”
Some of you who read this article have wayward children, and/or grandchildren. My heart goes out to you. Over the years I have discussed this issue with many heart broken parents and grandparents. Their tears affirm that there are few things more painful and disconcerting for Christian adults than the open wound of prodigal children. If you find yourself in this troubled place, I pray your grief will continually engage your parental love to seek your sonâ€™s and daughterâ€™s spiritual wellbeing. It is, to be sure, a painful pursuit but it is one that cannot be ignored.
If you have wayward children, I implore you to turn your anguish into a catalyst of loving Christian action, specifically, allow your heartache to drive you to your Knees in prayer for your son or your daughter. Cry out to God as only a father or mother can on behalf of their children. Plead to God for their salvation and restoration and rest in the real peace that is yours as a child of God (Philippians 4:6, 7). Secondly, I strongly encourage you to lovingly speak truth into their lives even at the risk of alienating them. Avoiding truth will not deliver them, but speaking the truth in love may rescue their soul from the grasp of the enemy.
A Wayward Son
Recently I read the biography of one of my favorite Christian authors, Arthur W. Pink. Mr. Pink lived in the first half of the 20th century. Though he ministered in virtual obscurity in the later half of his life, his surviving works on the nature and character of God have impacted many. A.W. Pink was a gifted expositor, a profound and influential evangelical thinker, and a copious writer. His ministry flowed from his love for Christ, and a reverential awe for His word.
Mr. Pink was also a wayward son. Although born to devoted Christian parents in Nottingham, England who raised Arthur with a knowledge of the Bible, he nonetheless became an avowed spiritualist by the time he was twenty-two. While still living with his parents, he immersed himself in a movement known as Theosophy â€“ a popular blend of mysticism, spiritualism and necromancy. Arthur Pink believed he could communicate with the dead! Furthermore, his keen mind and ready tongue catapulted him into the elite circle of Theosophists. He was considered one of the up-and-coming stars of this occult group of neo-pagans. Marked out for his leadership, intelligence, and speaking skills, Pink was commissioned to study the groups mysteries under its leading illuminati in India. He was on the fast track to become a leading luminary for a highway to hell.
Prayer & Principle: Two Proven Allies for Parents
Grieved beyond words, Arthur’s parents were reduced to two things, 1. praying for their lost son, and 2. speaking truth into his life. Thomas Pink (A. W.’s father) would faithfully wait up for his son to return home from his spiritualists meetings. Though largely ignored by A. W., Thomas would always warmly greet Arthur with a kind word and a word of truth, much to the annoyance of the young man. Thomas Pink felt compelled to bring the light of God’s word and the truth of the Gospel into the intellectual and spiritual darkness of his son’s experience. Day after day A. W. Pink ignored his father’s admonition and engulfed himself in the deceptive web of occult doctrine. Then one day the sword of the Spirit pierced through the seemingly impenetrable hardness of A. W.’s heart. His parent’s anguished and fervent prayers were about to be answered.
Bursting through the door in order to dash off to his room as quickly as possible, the young Pink ignored his waiting father, but before Arthur could bound the stairs his dad calmly and simply quoted Proverbs 14:12 to his son, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Arthur continued seemingly unruffled and unaffected by the sound of these words in his ears, and yet the ringing echo of this scripture – empowered by the Holy Spirit – sent the young man into a two-day spiritual maelstrom out of which he would emerge ‘a new creature’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Prayer & Principle Hit Their Target
Hoping to finish a major speech for an annual Theosophist meeting that same week, Arthur pushed aside the Spirit’s words and barricaded himself in his room to work. However, the straightforward scripture uttered by his father so disrupted his reasoning that he could not think past it to organize his thoughts for the speech. Hour after hour of mental wrestling went by. He tried taking a bath to relax, yet when he closed his eyes, emblazoned on his mind’s eye were the words, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” He tried to return to his writing but there was no use, this simple verse under the power of the Spirit had begun to break down the fortress of false doctrine he had so proudly erected. Years later friends of A. W. Pink wrote this of the experience,
A. W. P. told us he could no longer reject the God of the Bible and began to cry unto the Lord in prayer, convicted by the Holy Spirit and His power to bring a soul to see his lost condition and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as His Savior. For almost three days he did not leave his room to join his family, but his father and mother prayed, and in late afternoon on the third day A. W. P. made his appearance and his father said, “Praise God, my son has been delivered.”
A Lost Son Finds His Way Home
Arthur kept his appointment to speak to the annual meeting of Theosophist that week, but instead of spouting their dark doctrines, he gave his testimony of faith in Jesus and in the God of the Bible. The response of the crowd was not exactly warm. This same account tells us that as A. W. spoke of His faith in Christ “A great ‘groan’ went up from the listeners. Many felt the promising young Theosophist had ‘gone mad’, lost his way! But you and I know what happened. It wasn’t an issue of a young man losing his way, rather it was the case of a lost son finding his way to the Father’s house.”
I encourage you to persevere in prayer and in speaking the truth to your wandering ones. The stakes are high and the potential reward incalculably precious, and remember, no man or woman is ‘too far gone’ to go beyond the powerful reach of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. God is able to do great and mighty things!
If you have a wayward son or daughter, we would like to join you in praying for them. Please mail, or email your request to us with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing. We will bow our hearts with you before the God of heaven who desires the restoration of your loved ones.
Remember the Power of the Word In Your Home!
“You shall teach them (God’s precepts) diligently to your sons and shall talk of them“ (Deuteronomy 6:7)
As I preach, teach, write, and counsel people I am continually reminded of the power of God’s word to spark and sustain transformation in the lives of men and women. But I must say I have recently been refreshed by this reality in my own home. I meet weekly with each of my two boys who remain at home, Josiah (17) and Aaron (12).
Josiah and I have been studying the gospel of John for about a year and a half (we’re wrapping up chapter 11 this week). Aaron and I just started Paul’s epistle to the Colossians after an extended study of the person, claims, work and word of Christ (i.e., apologetics). Just this week Val and I were reflecting on the time I have spent with my sons over the years digging into the Bible. Taking a birdâ’s eye view of their spiritual development it was exciting for us to see the correlation between their spiritual growth and the study of God’s word.
Even in the first few months of this year we can see how biblical truth has molded the thoughts, beliefs, values, perspectives, and actions of our children. What a joy to see the budding bloom of Christ-likeness in our sons and daughter. That flower, my friends, is germinated and nurtured by the word of Christ. Remember the power of the word in the lives of your kids. Surround them with God’s words of life.
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”