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Prodigals V: Praying for Prodigals

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in part to exhort them to deal with prodigals in their midst, and at the end of his letter, he concludes by saying: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” He’s given them commands, but he can’t make them obey. He’s given them good reasons, but he can’t make them believe. He’s told them what it means to follow Jesus; it’s up to them to do what is right. He’s reached the end of what exhortation can do.

Many of you find yourselves here at this point with your prodigals. You’ve exhorted, argued, and pleaded, but your prodigal is still a prodigal, and now it’s getting to the point where they won’t even listen to you anymore. So now what?

In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul demonstrates that at the end of our exhorting, we have another way to pursue prodigals, one that doesn’t depend on whether or not they listen to us. Paul says in v. 7: “we pray to God that you may not do wrong,” and then in v. 9: “your restoration is what we pray for.” Even if your prodigal closes his ears, the power of prayer rests in the fact that God listens when His people pray. Their hearts are in God’s hands, and so we pray to God for their restoration. So I want to encourage and exhort you to pray for prodigals. Prayer is the most powerful, most effective, and most worthwhile thing you can do to turn a prodigal back to God.

Commit to pray and be consistent in prayer. Decide to pray regularly, and be faithful to your commitment. My suggestion is that you pray briefly for your prodigal every day, with a longer, more focused time of prayer once a week (maybe Saturday night or Sunday?). Then set aside occasional times or seasons of prayer and fasting based on what’s going on in the life of your prodigal. But remember, it’s better to start small and build up than to go big and give up. Make a thoughtful commitment that you can actually sustain, and be faithful.

What should you pray for? That list is long, and only you will know some of the specific ways that your prodigal needs to be prayed for, but here are some basics:

Pray for a restless heart. Pray that they would not deceive themselves with a false peace and comfort while running from God. To use St. Augustine’s phrase, pray that they would be restless until they find rest in Christ.

Pray for Christian influences. Usually, prodigals lose or cut off contact with most if not all spiritual influences in their lives, so pray that God would fill their minds with Bible verses and hymns, and that He would send many Christians across their path.

Pray for their restoration, that the story of their wandering would find its completion in their return to Christ. Pray that they would repent of their sins and once again worship Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Finally, I want to encourage you to pray with the Church, in two ways. First, pray with your local church. Have at least one person outside the immediate situation but inside your local congregation who knows what’s going on and will help you bear this burden by praying with you, weeping with you, and encouraging you.

But also, consider asking the congregation to pray. The whole church doesn’t need every detail or daily updates, but we’ve taken important vows in baptism and in membership to love one another in just these sorts of situations. In appropriate ways and when the time is right (pastors and elders can help you figure that out), ask the whole congregation to join you in prayer.

The second way I would encourage you to pray with the Church is this: pray with the historic church. Read and use and be guided by the prayers of others who have pursued prodigals before you. Be encouraged by Monica’s prayers for her son Augustine. When you can’t pray, when the words won’t come, when all you have are tears and groans, use specific prayers from the Church’s prayer books. Let it be a comfort and help to you that you are not alone in your situation or in your prayers.

Prayer is a confession of weakness: when you turn to God, you’re acknowledging that you cannot change the heart of the prodigal that you love. But prayer is also a source of strength: when you are weak, Christ is strong. Maybe instead of one more intervention or confrontation, what your prodigal really needs is your weakness, weakness that turns to God and asks Him to do what you cannot: to turn their hearts and save their souls from death.

Posted on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 by CJ Bowen