Several weeks ago our Sunday School class sent out a prodigal prayer list that came with the following explanation:
Attached is a current list of our prodigals that need prayer in 2014. If you do not see your prodigal’s name on this list, please send me their name(s) and relationship to you. Likewise, if you have a prodigal on this list who has since made a decision to follow Christ, let me know immediately so I can post it. It is news like this which encourages everyone else to not give up on praying for the lost no matter how hopeless things may appear.
The list contained 42 separate names, with notes attached indicating relationships, such as a daughter, a son-in-law, a grandchild, a note that someone is a "practicing Wiccan,” a nephew, and the final item which mentioned someone’s 90-year-old mother.
But that’s not all. The list was followed by "Praise and Progress Reports” of prodigals whom God seems to be touching by his Spirit. One son living far away (physically and spiritually) wrote a nice note to his parents. A daughter sent a text to her parents. Another son has made a "step toward God.” A niece came to church and enjoyed it. One update ended with the words (in all caps): "GOD IS SO GOOD!”
I noticed many exclamation points in this section, indicating the joy felt as sons and daughters and grandchildren and spouses begin to respond to Christ’s call to come home.
Because I’ve never seen a "Prodigal Prayer List” before, it led me to think about what it all means:
1. Prodigals happen. Sometimes we want to deny this, but we shouldn’t. Even in the best homes, where Christ is honored and his Word believed, children may choose not to follow their family’s spiritual heritage.
2. Prodigals come in all varieties. Some wander into sexual sin, others lapse into spiritual disinterest, occasionally some will rebel by adopting a pagan religion. Some will become absorbed in the quest to build a career with no thought of God.
3. We can always pray when we can’t do anything else. We have probably tried tears and anger and constant discussion. We may have bombarded our prodigals by throwing Bible verses at them like hand grenades. But the problem is rarely in the realm of knowledge. If they were raised in the church, they already know what we believe. Sometimes they know the Bible better than we do. Our prodigals may run from us, but they can’t run from our prayers. Perhaps we need to say less and pray more.
4. Coming back to the Lord is a process, not an event. While there may be a crisis moment in which a life is changed, more often the change comes in small ways–a smile, a returned phone call, an email they send, a text received, a kind word spoken. We need to give God time to work, and we need to give people time to respond in their own way.
5. We ought to celebrate small victories. Thus the importance of the "Praise and Progress Report.” These bits of news remind us that no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s grace. In response to prayers that may feel useless to us, God reaches down and touches a heart and some prodigal begins the long journey home.
I have written more about this in my message Praying for Your Prodigals.