Here’s a question. Two of my three adult children have turned away from the Lord and it’s heartbreaking for me. They haven’t verbally expressed their lack of faith to me, but it’s quite obvious by the choices they are making. They had both accepted Jesus as Savior at very young ages and had been such strong believers when they were young right up through their teen years. One is now married to an agnostic. Aside from praying for them, which I do constantly, do you have any advice about what, if anything, I can do?
Thanks for sending this question to me. I can sense your genuine heartache. As parents who deeply love the Lord, there is no greater joy than to see our children walking with Him. That’s what John said in 3 John 4. There is no greater hurt than to see our children turning their backs on the Lord and walking deeper and deeper in the ways of the world.
I have been working with people in pastoral ministries for over four decades. It has never ceased to amaze me what children do at times. From a very ungodly home a committed believer will come who consistently walks with the Lord. On the other hand, sometimes from a very godly home a child will come who chooses to walk in the world and not after the teaching he or she has received.
Here are a couple of things to remember. First, you are not alone in this situation. At times you probably feel like no other parent has ever had this happen. Only you! But that is not true. Did you know that some very dear people in the Bible who deeply loved God and followed Him had children who did not? Some of the prime examples of this are Hezekiah and his son Manasseh (2 Kings 20:21-21:11); David and his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15); and Jehoshaphat and his son Jehoram (2 Kings 8:16-18). Even the Lord Jesus had a disciple and even large crowds who walked away from Him.
Second, I am sure you are wondering if your children could really be saved and be living like this. I believe the answer to that question is found in Hebrews 12:5-8. The writer of Hebrews is very pointed on this. He states that God’s active involvement in rearing His children proves their spiritual legitimacy. If a believer sins without repenting, God disciplines (Hebrews 12:6). If there is no evidence of God’s discipline, then we must wonder if he or she is a believer or not. We cannot set a specific limit of time, but John tells us that a genuine believer does not continue indefinitely in sin (1 John 3:6, 9). This doesn’t mean that the believer never sins; however, it does mean that the believer either confesses his or her sin or discipline ensues. As you continue to pray, the one sure way you will be able to know if your child really is a believer is by God’s proof—discipline.
Third, here are some wonderful principles that will be important for you to understand:
- The Lord knows who belong to Him (Nahum 1:7). There will be times that you may not know how to pray, but it is always a joy to remember that He knows who are His. Talk with Him about this. Ask Him if your child is genuinely saved or not.
- There are unfortunately those who pretend or assume that they are saved, who really are not (Matthew 7:21). It could be that your child is thinking back to some prayer he or she made, without remembering any details, and was not actually saved.
- While you cannot see your child’s heart, you can discern actions or fruit (Matthew 7:16). If you do not see any sensitivity to spiritual things, you may need to begin praying for his or her salvation instead of restoration.
- Be intentional, wise, and practical in your dealing with your child. Be careful not to burn your bridges. Your child already knows you love the Lord. Probably your child already knows you are disappointed with the choices he or she is making. When you desire to speak to your child about spiritual things, make sure your timing is right (1 Peter 3:15a). Ask God to help your child ask you a question that will give you the opening to answer (1 Peter 3:15b). Be careful how you answer. Make sure your words are carefully formed (1 Peter 3:15c).
- You probably know your child well enough to know what will most likely cause a discussion or argument. Hot words, nagging words, and constant preaching-type situations will not win him or her over. Ask the Lord to help your words be like “a well of life” (Proverbs 10:11) and acceptable (Proverbs 10:32).
Fourth, here are some practical ways that you might use to creatively witness to your child and share with him or her, the treasures that are in your heart:
- Select one or two people who can be fully trusted, bring them into your prayer circle and ask them to join you specifically in praying for your child. James certainly encourages this (James 5:16b).
- Ask the Lord to use situations and people that He will bring into the life of your child to reach him or her. Isn’t it amazing? When your child was young, he or she would ask you so many questions each day that sometimes it nearly drove to the brink of frustration. But now, strange as it may be, the Lord might want to use someone other than you to reach your child. Jeremiah 33:3 encourages us to “Call unto Me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” The Lord surely tells us to ask big. He wants to show us things that we could not have imagined.
- If you are a man, the head of the home, what would ever happen if you called a head of the home meeting? This is a time for which you and your wife really prepare ahead of time. When you get your family all together, call “A Father’s Timeout.” Tell them something like, “As I am growing older, I know I have not told you nearly as often as I should how much I love you.” Take a few minutes, and I do mean only a few minutes, to reminisce about one or two things in each child’s life. Then (make sure you have practiced and prayed about this ahead of time), take one minute to share with them how special the Lord Jesus is to you and your wife. Conclude it by saying, “We know how wonderful it is to belong to the Lord Jesus. We want you to know Him as well. Later, won’t you talk to me about your spiritual journey?” If they don’t within a reasonable time, you can approach them with, “May I talk with you for a moment about your spiritual journey?”
- If you are a mom, think about creating a “Mother’s Journal.” Think back over some of the very special times in that child’s life. Include any pictures of Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, Easter and Christmas programs, as well as fun things like vacation or end of school programs. Write about special things he or she may have forgotten. Make it a keepsake. Speak about the Lord and share things that will be meaningful that the Lord can use to reach the heart of your child.
- Have you ever thought of preparing a mini-DVD where you would actually talk with your child and share how special he or she is to you? Make it light and enjoyable. Share with your child about the spiritual heritage of your family (if he or she is a believer.) Tell your child of your conversion to the Lord Jesus. Briefly share with your child how one can know the Lord and why it is important.
- Friend them on Facebook and send a private message once in a while. Briefly share with your child what you are reading in your devotions, what you learned in church last week, or how the Lord has blessed you. Don’t write only about these things, but do not hesitate to write about them either.
- When was the last time you wrote your child a letter? Maybe it is time to consider it! Don’t become overbearing. Let your love and honesty come through. Tell your child what is on your heart. Sometimes children, in the quietness, will pull their letters back out and read it over and over again. Don’t rule out using this effective tool.
Your prayers for your child will go a lot farther than your nagging. May the Lord give you wisdom and direction in being a witness and a testimony to your child.