Biblical Wisdom for Modern Parenting: MY Child is THE Prodigal! (Luke 15:11-24)
Biblical Wisdom for Modern Parenting:
“My Child is the Prodigal”
We have had a 5-part series of studies on “Biblical Wisdom for Modern Parenting,” but the elders asked me to give one more lesson. They asked me to address the situation in which faithful Christians have a prodigal child. What if my child is the prodigal?
First, I cannot address this question from an emotional viewpoint because I am not in that situation. But I can address the question from the standpoint that my own brother is currently a prodigal son. He was faithful as long as he was at home; when he went to college, he went to Lipscomb University to study business and Bible. He had a positive influence on me becoming a preacher. But, life derailed his spiritual plans - without going to further details - and he turned his back on the truth. He is five years older than I am, but we played together a lot when we were kids. We played with Matchbox cars and with army men and lots of other things. He let me play with him and his friends. One of his friends called me “football head” because of the shape of my noggin, but I did’t care. I was with my brother.
But the last time I talked to my brother was at my dad’s funeral in December of 2013. My brother did not come to my mom’s funeral. I don’t know what has to be going on in a person’s heart that keeps him from attending his mom’s funeral. But from my perspective, that was very sad.
Before I get into the lesson itself, I do want to bring out a few points that are relevant for this particular lesson.
1. God has lost countless numbers of His own children. God lost Adam and Eve. They had one thing to do and they messed it up. God knows what it’s like to lose a child. God hurts just like you hurt. When the world turned wicked just before the flood of Noah’s day, the Bible stays that the “Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Gen. 6:6).
2. The biblical principles from God’s word are universal to all families of all time, everywhere. But, those principles will look differently in your family (probably) than it did in my family. You can’t always compare one family to a different family because every family has its own unique family dynamics.
3. NO ONE is an expert in families. None of us, and no one anywhere, has all the answers to all the questions in how we need to handle specific questions in a family.
4. There is no guarantee that we can do “x” things and our children will grow up faithful. There is NO GUARANTEE that our children will grow up faithful. We can do everything we can possibly do and they still have the freedom to make their own choices. But, here are the things, in a nutshell, that we can do that will help provide the environment that is most conducive to them staying faithful when they grow up:
a. Dad should be a faithful and active Christian and a spiritual leader in the home.
b. Mom should be a faithful and active Christian and a spiritual guide for her children.
c. Mom and dad need to be “on the same page” when it comes to child rearing.
d. Teach and model biblical principles and values every chance you get.
e. Have your children in the church youth group as soon as they are able to play with other children.
I. Including Lads to Leaders
II. Youth devotionals, retreats, lock-ins
IV. Bible camp
V. Mission trips
f. Encourage your children to marry someone who will help him or her go to heaven.
Now that we have some of those preliminaries out of the way, let’s apply some principles from the story of the prodigal son, from the perspective of the dad - our own child is the prodigal…
#1 - GIVE THEM THEIR FREEDOM:
As we have been saying all along, children need to learn their choices have consequences. Mom and Dad have to let them go and experience those consequences.
At the end of verse 12, the father “divided his wealth between them.” The dad gave both sons their freedom.
#2 - ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS:
There is a sense of loss, even a sense of failure, when your child does not embrace the teachings and/or lifestyle you had tried to teach him or her. As with other traumatic events in our lives, you have to take time to grieve that loss, if even just the loss of a dream. There might also be anger that comes to the surface. Acknowledge that and process it.
We don’t have specific reference to this in the parable, but how many times have God’s feelings been expressed throughout the Bible story? Not just at Genesis 6:6, but we often see God’s feelings shown both good feelings and bad feelings. Of course, God knows how to handle His own feelings - you and I sometimes do not. So, we need to acknowledge those feelings and we’ll be stuck in a rut if we don’t.
#3 - STAY HOPEFUL:
There might be a sense of shame or failure on your part, but there is always hope. It might be helpful to honesty evaluate your own words and behavior, and if there are things that you did do wrong, acknowledge them. You might also need to ask your child for forgiveness. All of us as parents are inadequate in many ways; none of us did everything exactly right over the years and, once our child leaves the home, there’s not much we can do to undo what wrongs we have done.
In verse 20, we observe that while the son was “a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him.” Don’t you know that daddy was looking down that road every single day? Every time his work brought him close to the road, don’t you know that he glanced down the road to see if he might see his beloved son?
There’s a video we have of me helping Jewell put on a coat - we were living in Romania and she was about 5 or 6 years old. And there on video, I am acting like a jerk. I don’t know how Jewell felt about things at that time and now, she might not even remember it. I remember it and the video will help me remember it. I was acting stupidly. There’s nothing a can do to change that.
#4 - ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO FAIL:
Dad did not keep bailing out his child. If Dad had kept “prodigal” at home, he would have likely nurtured a “low-grade” resistance for the rest of his life. Sometimes we all have to be allowed to experience the poverty of our own decisions.
Look at what the son experienced and the dad allowed him to experience it:
Verse 13 - He allowed his son to walk away.
Verse 13 - He allowed his son to go to a “distant country.”
Verse 13 - He allowed his son to waste his inheritance (the father’s hard earned money!) on “loose living.”
Verse 14 - He allowed his son to spend everything he had.
Verse 14 - He allowed his son to experience the severe famine.
Verse 14 - He allowed his son to become impoverished.
Verse 15 - He allowed his son to become a slave of someone else.
Verse 15 - He allowed his son to feed swine - a very unpleasant job for a Jew!
Verse 16 - He allowed his son to become hungry.
Verse 16 - He allowed his son to become lonely.
#5 - REMEMBER THE OTHER CHILDREN:
As the old saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The troublesome child can draw a lot of attention, heart energy, and brainpower. In the parable, the older brother resented the father’s attention lavished on the younger brother. Don’t compare positively or negatively your other children to the prodigal child. Instead, love and appreciate the other children as individuals, for who they are.
All this time, the older brother in the parable has been at home, working, doing what he was supposed to be doing. In verse 31, the father tells the older brother: “You have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The father continued to love and support and encourage the older brother. He did not neglect the one for the other.
#6 - STAY PRAYERFUL:
It is hard to wait. It drains your energy to wonder what is happening or what might happen next to your prodigal. And worrying doesn’t do anything good and positive. Many parents stay up late at night, losing sleep, wondering what news the next phone call might bring.
But remember, that while your child might be beyond your reach, he or she is not beyond God’s reach. The father in the parable kept looking down the road; keep looking down the road with prayer.
Frequently in our decisions, all we can do is to pray: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).
#7 - BE GRACIOUS:
The proof of your love will be in how you react to your child. Will he or she find you with open arms and forgiveness? The prodigal knew he had messed up; he did not need a lecture when he came home. Regardless of what he expected, what he found when he came home was the full extent of his father’s love.
Make sure your words to your child are gracious words: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).
Make sure your attitude is one of graciousness: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
Take home message: There is still hope for your prodigal. Follow God’s example; encourage, pray, and hope.
Start an evangelism conversation: “How would you describe your view of God?”