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Four Things to Remember When Praying for Your Prodigal

Jodie BerndtBy Jodie Berndt

“Mike, I want William to come home,” Lauren said softly.

“I think he should,” Mike agreed, “but we can’t make him do anything. He’s literally living the life of the prodigal son—he got us to give him some money, and then he went away to a distant city and squandered it all in wild living. For all we know, he has been eating with pigs!”

Lauren knew the story Mike was talking about. It was a parable in Luke 15, one Jesus used to illustrate the heavenly Father’s love and the power of redemption. In that story, the son finally comes home, confessing his sins and giving up any claim he had on the family name. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says. “Make me like one of your hired men.”

Lauren loved that parable—especially the part where the father sees the son in the distance and, throwing dignity to the wind, runs out to embrace his boy in a very public, very emotional reunion. It was perhaps the best illustration she knew of to show how God feels about us, and how utterly ecstatic he is when we acknowledge our own unworthiness and turn to him.

Missing from the story, though, was an account of the prodigal’s mother. Surely, she had longed to hear from her boy, to receive some word that he was at least alive. And certainly, when she heard the sound of his greeting, her heart would have leaped right along with her husband’s. Who knows? She might have even beaten him down the street. Lauren knew the story wasn’t about a literal, historical family, one with a real mom and dad. But if it had been, Lauren knew one thing for sure: that mama would have been praying.

Listening to Lauren and Mike, I was reminded of any number of similar accounts people shared with me as I worked on this book. Mothers and fathers told me about their kids’ faith; how they’d grown up in the church, attended Christian camps, or gone on mission trips; and read The Chronicles of Narnia at bedtime. These parents, like so many I interviewed, had done everything in their power to produce Christian kids—and sometimes, as one parent put it, “A plus B really did equal C.” But sometimes (a lot of times, actually), it didn’t.

As we partner with God and pray for our prodigals, let’s keep a few key points in mind:

First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him, and to kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, destruction, and violence. All of the grief, anger, and frustration that we experience as parents are bound up in his heart as well. And, despite how the story of the prodigal son plays out in Luke (with no “mom” in the picture), it’s not just the love of a father that God understands. Consider this lament, and how it reflects the way mothers are wired: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

God knows what it’s like to ache for a child. He knows our pain.

Next, God loves our kids, even more than we do. Lauren told me that, as she cried out to God on William’s behalf, it was hard to get past the fact that it was her son who had done all of this awful stuff. As she sat there, wondering what she had done wrong or how her boy could have gone so far afield, God interrupted her thoughts. William is my son too, she sensed him say, and my love for him is not diminished one bit by anything he has done or will ever do.

God loves our kids, no matter what.

Third, God really has given us “great and precious promises”—promises specifically designed to enable us to live godly lives. When we pray these promises—praying God’s Word over our children—we can do it with confidence, knowing that he is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And if you worry that your kids missed out because maybe you were not a praying parent when they were young or because you never took them to church or whatever, consider what Jesus said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Your child is a sinner? Hooray. He or she is the one God came to call. That’s the whole point.

God’s promises are true. Let’s use them with confidence.

And finally, as we consider how to behave toward our children, particularly as we try to navigate the thin space between discipline and grace and as we wrestle with our own feelings of anger and hurt, let’s take our cue from our heavenly Father. It’s not just our kids who have wandered: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray.” We’ve all walked in the prodigal’s shoes (“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found,” writes Henri Nouwen), and we all need God’s mercy and grace. And God, in turn, has shown us exactly how to live. We must, he says, be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Let’s ask God to help us do that—to be joyful, patient, and faithful in prayer. Let’s ask him to help us see our kids through his eyes and love them the way he does. And let’s, in faith, look forward to the day we’ll join our voices with our heavenly Father’s, saying, “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”


Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenAdapted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children: Trusting God with the Ones You Love by Jodie Berndt. Click here to learn more about this title.

Jodie Berndt knows what it’s like to ache for an adult child who has left the nest but not the heart. In Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, Jodie offers biblically-based prayers and encouraging stories to guide you in hope-filled trust that no matter what, your grown child is never out of God’s reach.

Each section focuses on a different aspect of adulthood, with encouraging stories from experienced parents who are praying their children through rocky marriages, health concerns, financial challenges and other real-life issues. At the end of each chapter, you’ll find personalized prayers for your children taken straight from Scripture. Each chapter also includes verses for you to pray for yourself as you take the challenging step of trusting God to care for your children in ways that you can’t.

Whatever you are praying for, you will find confidence and peace in these powerful prayers for your kids. Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children guides you to the bedrock of God’s promises as you release your children to God’s shepherding care.

Jodie Berndt is the author or co-author of nine books, including the popular Praying the Scriptures series, Generous Living, and a funny and touching memoir called The Undertaker’s Wife. A speaker and Bible teacher, Jodie encourages people to pursue joy, celebrate grace, and live on purpose. Jodie and her husband, Robert, have four grown children and two sons-in-law. They live in Virginia Beach but can often be found up the road in Charlottesville, Virginia, cheering for their beloved U.Va. Cavaliers. Find Jodie writing at, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Filed under Books, Guest Post, Prayer