Praying for family and friends is pretty common among Christians. Sometimes we pray for safety during travels or for a successful job search. We ask for God’s favor over health care crises or legal challenges. But, some of our toughest prayers are for eternal salvation of loved ones who have strayed from their faith. These are our prodigals.
When we pray for our prodigals, we are praying beyond today or tomorrow. We are praying for their very souls. We are praying for them to live for eternity with our Lord, rather than forever in darkness and anguish. The closer we examine God’s Word, the more we understand his desire that none should perish along with a stern warning for anyone who does not have faith in him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18).
The Bible gives us an example of praying for prodigals.
On the heels of the parable of the lost sheep, is a very familiar account in Luke 15:11-32 of a father who had a prodigal son. The prodigal, having demanded his inheritance, squanders it all on wild living before a famine breaks out and he becomes destitute. Now repentant, the son returns to his father, hoping to be received as a servant with less honor than that of a son.
Verse 20 says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” This one sentence reveals the heart of the father. He not only welcomed his son’s return, he celebrated it. How long had the father watched, waited, and prayed for this lost son? We are not told, only that his father waited patiently until his son returned.
Here are some thoughts about how we might pray for our prodigals.
It’s easy to say “God’s timing is perfect ” when hoped-for answers come quickly and in the way we want. We post, text, or email the news to our prayer partners. But are we as quick to praise God when His response is a “Not yet” or a flat out “No”?
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Waiting is hard. I strayed from my faith for several years before the prayers of my loved ones were answered and I accepted Christ as my Savior. I know people who prayed for their loved ones right up until their deathbeds where they accepted Christ. The message is, “Don’t quit.” Instead, move closer to God and seek His will. Speak to him as you would a most loving Father, which he is.
Think about all the ways God has answered your prayers in the past. Praise the Lord for all He has already done, and for his open ear to hear your plea. Pray as if someone’s eternity depends on it, which it does. Persevere through the trial of waiting.
James 1:2-4 reminds us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It’s not just the prodigal who benefits from our prayers during this trial. Our faith grows through prayer.
Not one of us is capable of ensuring our salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). To imagine it possible for anyone to save themself is to deny Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Don’t allow pride to deprive you of the greatest gift God has to give. All the glory belongs to the Lord.
In the parable of the lost sheep, Luke 15:5-7 says, “And when he finds it (the lost sheep), he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Remember to rejoice with friends when your prodigal – or a friend’s prodigal – returns home. When we do this, we rejoice with the angels in heaven.