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.
Pray for healing. Ask God often to heal the wounded places in your loved one’s soul and life. Trust God to draw your loved one to Himself at the right time and in the right ways.
Support others with prodigals. Repent of any ways you’ve judged other people who have prodigals in their lives. Do all you can to support each other, whether you’re sharing sorrow or celebrating progress.
Work for unity in your church. The arguments among Christians that occur in some churches make it easier for people to leave the faith and harder for them to return. Lay aside the petty disagreements between you and other people in your church, and show your prodigal that the love Christ calls you all to have for each other is real.
If and when your loved one returns to faith, be patient. Don’t expect your loved one to have everything sorted out with his or her faith immediately. Be honest and real with each other as your loved one gradually builds a closer relationship with Christ and with you.
Place your prodigal at the foot of the cross. Every day, commit your loved one to Christ by imagining him or her at the foot of the cross and telling Christ you trust Him to take care of him or her. Never stop praying for your prodigal!
Adapted from Bringing Home the Prodigals, copyright 2007 by Rob Parsons. Published by Authentic Books, a division of STL US, Colorado Springs, Co., http://www.authenticbooks.com/.
Rob Parsons is the executive chairman of Care for the Family in the