Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Rob Parson's  new book, Bringing Home the Prodigals, (Authentic Books, 2008).

When someone you love walks away from Christ, it’s easy to feel despair. There are no guarantees that the person you want so desperately to return to faith will choose to do so. But there is hope, and there are actions you can take to help bring your prodigal home.

Here’s how you can help bring your prodigal home:

Don’t stress over issues that aren’t ultimately important. Realize that the only factor that ultimately matters is the quality of your loved one’s connection to Christ – not worship styles, fashion choices, attitudes toward alcohol, political convictions, or any of the many other personal preferences about which you and your loved one may disagree. Don’t judge whether or not your loved one has a real relationship with Christ based on external factors. Remember that God alone can see into your loved one’s heart. Give your loved one the freedom to express his or her faith in whatever ways work best for him or her. Forcing your loved one to conform to rules that aren’t essential can easily cause him or her to give up trying – and give up on faith altogether. Don’t set impossible standards.  Require only what God Himself requires – nothing more.

Look at more than just church attendance. While participating in church is one sign of a healthy relationship with Christ, it’s not the only one, by far. Consider such factors as your loved one’s kindness, patience, ability to forgive, willingness to confront injustice, and service to others. Look for evidence that your loved one is gradually developing a more Christ-like character. Your loved one may not attend church very often, yet still have a growing relationship with Christ. He or she may be far from the Christian culture, but not far away from God.

Release your loved one to God. Remember that God, who created your loved one, loves him or her even more than you do. Don’t hold on to your loved one too tightly, either spiritually or emotionally. In prayer, commit your loved one’s life to God, trusting Him to act in ways that are best for your loved one.

Encourage instead of criticizing. Ask God to help you be positive rather than negative when you speak to your loved one. Stop pointing out the ways he or she is disappointing you. Instead, catch your loved one doing something right – something that pleases God – as often as you can. Then mention what you notice to encourage him or her. Let your loved one overhear you praise him or her to others. Love your prodigal unconditionally. Respect his or her dignity and opinions. Genuinely listen to what your loved one says, and ask God to help you understand him or her. Keep investing in your loved one’s life in positive ways, expecting that God may very well act in surprising ways in his or her life in the future.

Don’t worry about what other people think. Instead of spending your time and energy trying to preserve your reputation among people who disapprove of your loved one’s behavior, spend it on working for your loved one’s wellbeing.

Let go of guilt. Confess to God the mistakes you’ve made in your loved one’s life, and apologize to your loved one for the ways you’ve failed him or her. But then let go of your guilt. Accept the forgiveness God offers you. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and your loved one was bound to make some mistakes anyway because he or she is only human.