Surrender Your Child Back to God
“You can’t tell me what to do! I’m going to make my own decisions. I’m going to live my own way. I’m going to move far away and never come back.” Do words like these sound familiar? Do they remind you of conversations you have had in your own home? These words might have been spoken by the prodigal son whose story Jesus tells in Luke 15. Jesus told this story not only to give hope to those who had wandered far off and lived a life of great sin, but to give hope to the parents they leave behind who are hurting and hopeless.
If you find yourself identifying as a parent of a prodigal, you are not alone. Jesus told this story not to condemn or shame you as a parent, but to help you feel seen, heard and understood. He did not communicate any details of the mistakes the father made. He did not disclose why the son was so angry with his father. Instead, he relayed a tale of a grieving father whose heart was ripped out by a rebellious son, who had every reason to be angry and disown his son forever. Instead, the father not only welcomed him home, but ran to meet him, kiss him, and honor him.
But have you ever considered what the father did in the meantime? The son’s request to be given his inheritance was tantamount to telling his father, “I wish you were dead so I can have my inheritance.” I think we can assume from the story the son was given a significant amount of money. It likely took at least several months if not many years for the son to drain the entire inheritance. Do you think the father sat by the road and waited? Or did he move on with his life, simply hoping his son would return home?
This might be a little bit of a trick question. I think the answer is both. Luke 15:12 says that the father divided his property between the two sons. This meant the father was left with nothing. After the son wasted all the money he was given, he was humble and repentant. In Luke 15:20 Jesus tells the listener that the father saw the son coming and ran to meet him. When the son returns, the father has servants, and a fatted calf, a robe, and a ring, to give his son. If the father simply waited by the road, he would too have been poor and destitute to give these things to his son. Instead, he had rebuilt his estate so that his son had something to come home to.
Because he was declared a son again, his father would one day give him a new inheritance, though he had not earned it. The son had determined in his own mind to ask the father to make him like one of his servants. But the father was filled with mercy and compassion. He not only forgave him, but celebrated his return, and honored him. The father, however, did not chase the son. He did not celebrate his sin. He did not call him and beg him to come home.
This is the true heart of our loving father. He allows us to make bad decisions. He allows us to squander, to destroy our lives, and to allow us to end up deep in a miry pit we can’t climb out of. He allows us to be humbled so that our eyes are opened, and we see the truth of the wickedness and selfishness of our own heart.
We Need Humility
Like the prodigal son, we all squandered what we were promised. All of us were created to worship God and to be a part of his family, but all of us went our own way and turned away from God. We used His provision for our own gain. None of us deserve the inheritance He wanted us to have. “God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 53:2-3). But like the father had compassion on the prodigal son, so God had mercy and compassion on us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
As parents we often see ourselves as the father, waiting by the road and praying desperately for the prodigal child. And while we should certainly pray for them, we are often blind to our own sin. Or we wallow in guilt, shame, and self-pity wondering what we did to cause their rebellious heart. We are all in some ways the father, the son, and the older brother, who was indignant and resented the father’s compassion for his brother.
One day I was reading a copy of a book I co-wrote for parents of prodigals called The Prodigal Prayer Guide. While reading one of the prayers I myself had written, I was deeply convicted. The words in the prayers I was praying for a loved one suddenly pierced my heart. The Holy Spirit held a mirror to my sinful heart. I confessed, “Oh, Lord, I need these prayers for myself.” There is a song I learned in childhood that the Lord played on repeat over the next few weeks as He let this lesson take deep root in my heart. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my father, not my mother, but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
As the parent of a prodigal, you might often find yourself feeling like a tennis ball, being hurled back and forth by the swatting of a racket between immense guilt over your failures and anger at your child’s sinful heart. Neither of those attitudes are good. We need an honest, humble reflection of our own heart. We need God’s merciful Holy Spirit to shine His light on our own sin. Parents often ask, “how can I help my prodigal child see the truth?” Jesus said that if we wish to take the spec of sawdust out of our brother’s eye, we must first remove the log from our own eye. He continued, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5).
Do you remember the old hymn we all sang at the top of our lungs, “I surrender all”? Did we really mean it, or did we mean “I surrender some things”. Even if it were true that we knew that your prodigal children would shortly come home, is it really what the Lord wants from you to sit home every day in grief, just waiting by the window?
I think that as the father rebuilt a physical estate, so God wants us to be building His kingdom. The estate was not only for his son upon his hoped-for return, but for his brother and the servants whom he hired. There are millions of lost souls around you, and Jesus cares for them just as much. You are hoping and praying that God will put someone in your child’s life to tell them about Jesus. Perhaps you can be that person for someone else’s child. Someone is praying for them. Or perhaps you can disciple someone who has returned to the Lord, but has no spiritual guidance or mentor.
I have no idea how long it will be that they will keep running from the Lord, or how far they will go. He will not force them to turn their hearts, but He will pursue them. Your prayers really do make a difference. There were so many “breadcrumbs” God dropped along my journey: times I can look back and I know that He was drawing me. And I know those times were answers to prayers. But it took many years. Even before I lived as transgender I had been in all kinds of rebellion and sexual sin for a total of nearly twenty years away from the Lord.
You might say, “life isn’t so fun without my children or grandchildren.” Let me ask you, if your prodigal child never comes home and you never see your grandchildren, what will define your life? Who would you be? What would you call yourself? If we continue to look at our lack in our circumstances, we will sink deeper and deeper into depression. The opposite of that is not positive thoughts or holding onto hope that they will return, but rather pursuing Jesus. Our hope cannot be fixed on an answer to prayer alone. Jesus Christ alone is our hope.
Why? Because God may have a far greater plan than you can even conceive of. If your identity has gotten wrapped up in being a parent or a grandparent and not primarily in being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you have fallen from your first love. You must repent. Your identity is to be solely in Him.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Think about Jochebed and Amram, the parents of Moses, for a moment. Pharoah had commanded that all Hebrew baby boys be killed. When Moses was doomed to be slaughtered, his parents tried to hold onto him and hide him. That worked for a little while, but ultimately holding onto him was never going to save him. They couldn’t actually save him at all. They couldn’t protect him anymore.
Surrender Your Child that God Might Save Them
So, what did they do? Jochebed laid him in a tiny ark and set him in the water and walked away. Far from abandoning him, we can infer that she was surrendering him into God’s hands. She waterproofed the ark so it would safely float, and his sister watched to see what happened. In fact, Hebrews 11 tells us that Jochebed and Amram did this by faith. “It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.” (Hebrews 11:23). Surrendering him to God was an act of faith, not a surrender to failure.
What was the result? Moses lived like a pagan. He was raised in the palace of Egypt, the biblical type of the world and bondage to sin and Satan. He was raised in a sinful lifestyle far from God for forty years! (Acts 7:20-29). Then he lived another forty years in the desert tending sheep: a far cry from Egypt, but not knowing the true God for another forty years. Yet, he became the great deliverer of Egypt by the hand of God.
It would have seemed hopeless for many years. Moses had all the luxury and power and authority a man could ever dream of. Yet, his parents’ influence was not in vain. Hebrews 11 continues the story after recording the legacy of his faithful parents. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:24-27).
What would have happened if Moses’ parents had held on to him? Pharaoh’s men would have discovered him and killed him. If they had held onto him, he would have never been raised in Egypt, and he would have never been in the position he needed to be in order to have an audience with Pharaoh eighty years later.
God is allowing your children to live in this sin for a reason. I am now thankful for what God allowed in my life. As a teenager I had a head stuffed full of knowledge about the Bible and about Jesus, but I had not been born-again. I had never received a revelation of my own sin and what it cost Jesus. I lacked understanding of the fear of the Lord. If we are honest, most of the time our prayer is asking for God to ease our suffering in some manner rather than seeking His will.
We often do not know why these circumstances persist. We can only know He works His purposes in the darkness. And it isn’t just about you. God redeems even in the darkness. Had I not experienced the darkness, I would not be able to minister to you now.
I mean, sure, it would be good if they were serving Jesus now. But in God’s divine sovereignty, He knows the perfect time to open their eyes. Have you ever asked yourself why God didn’t come to Saul with the “Damascus Road” encounter before he authorized the killing of Stephen and slaughtered many other Christians? Meditate on that for a moment.
In fact, Paul’s past was transformed by Christ into a testimony of His redemption and was also used as Paul’s defense for being trustworthy. He said in his letter to the Galatians: “And still the churches in Christ that are in Judea didn’t know me personally. 23 All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ 24 And they praised God because of me.” (Galatians 1:22-24).
Again in 1 Timothy: “15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Let Him Transform You
That doesn’t mean we stop praying – far from it! I know my parent’s prayers made a huge difference. But, it does mean that, if you’re not careful, being the parent of prodigal children can become your identity--it can consume you. If you do, you may discover that you have become the prodigal. Often our disappointment stems from unmet expectations that we had for our lives and for the lives of our family. Our hearts become tempted with bitterness. We feel that God has let us down. He didn’t answer our prayers like He promised.
But perhaps your prayers were focused on what you wanted for your children, and not for the greater purpose of His will and His kingdom. If we are truly living for His will, then see our circumstances as another opportunity for God to display His glory in us. I admit, this is not the attitude I have had in my trials at times. But looking back, I see His good purpose in all of it.
Surrender them into His hands and start pursuing Jesus Christ with all your energy, heart, mind and soul. Let Him not only change you but let Him live His life through you. You are not just a Christian parent, you are a member of the body of Christ. Through you, Christ wants to make disciples. (Matthew 28 – the great commission). Focus on spreading the Gospel, winning souls, and making disciples. Surrender your children into His hands so that you can be filled with His Spirit to accomplish the work He has created you to do. Perhaps God is making more room for you to do more for Him.
Yes, there is a great disappointment in not having the life you pictured with your son or daughter. Disillusionment and despair are real. Our hopes of a just and righteous country are challenged daily. Too easily we have equated politics with our faith. Perhaps we have been lethargic about the fight we are in. We are being invited by our Heavenly Father into His work in ourselves and in our world. Paul said, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
The reality is that we live in a very fractured and broken world, cursed by sin, and filled with tribulation, pain, suffering, disappointments, sorrows, and shattered dreams. God owes us nothing. We are sinners condemned to hell without hope except for the grace and mercy of God. He does not guarantee us children that will serve Him and walk with Him. They are His children. He gives them to us to steward, to be a blessing to us, and He uses them to sanctify us. Yet, Jesus told us the story of the prodigal son to show the father’s desire to reconcile the hurting parent with their wayward children.
Confess Your Mistakes
Yes, you made mistakes as a mother or father, as did my parents. So has every other parent that has ever stepped foot on this planet. But God knew full well you had no ability to be the perfect parent. He expected your children to expose your weaknesses, to help you to grow in Him, to help you understand your greater need for Him. And He expected you to teach them and point them to Him, but He alone is their Savior.
Yes, I was angry and bitter at God because of the shortcomings of my parents, but it was my fault for blaming God rather than choosing to forgive them and recognizing that they could not be perfect. God knew that you could never satisfy every longing of your child’s heart, because only He can. We are all sinners in desperate need of forgiveness.
But everything I was taught in church was still there, just as it was in Moses. When the Lord really began to turn my heart, much of my early training came back to mind. Many people raise their children very well in faith-filled, loving homes and still some rebel. Each heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and must be transformed by the Spirit of Christ. No parent can give that to their child, nor can they impart faith to them. They can only teach and guide and lead by example and in the Word.
Part of the trap we as parents have fallen into is trying to keep up the perfect image, to show our children how wonderful we are. Instead, we need to be humble and transparent. We need to allow them to see our struggle that they may know the power of God that help us, that heals us, that changes us, that refines us, and that satisfies our every need and longing. I think as parents we seek God for our answers, but we attempt in vain to be a mediator between God and our children. We teach them we are their answer. We begin to take ownership of their lives and we fix all their mistakes. Rather, we should teach our children to seek the Lord in all things, that He is their answer. He is the One who will never fail them or forsake them.
So, ask forgiveness from the Lord for all of your mistakes. Confess them out loud to Him. Confess how you fell short, how you failed in certain areas, and ask for forgiveness, but refuse the enemy’s condemnation and shame. Your sin, both sin that was intentional and those you were unaware of, are covered in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I would even encourage you to share it among a small group of believers. James 5:16 encourages us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” We are to confess our sins to others. Then acknowledge that your children’s salvation is not, nor ever was in your hands at all. Surrender them into His hands.
Ask your children for forgiveness if you have the opportunity. If not, ask the Lord to grant you the opportunity one day. In the meantime, pursue the Lord. Spend time worshipping Him in His presence. Seek His face and not merely His hand. It was the change in my mother that was one of the big things that began to turn my heart and made me want to receive Jesus. She was radically transformed. And it wasn’t through her wallowing in depression over what I was doing. She surrendered me into the Lord’s hands, took her hands off, and pursued the Lord with all her heart. She threw herself into His Word and into the ministry of teaching Bible study that He had given her.
But I didn’t know it for years. The Lord opened my eyes to His work in her heart at the right moment. So, focus not on them, but on your relationship with Jesus. If your child is running away from the Lord and you are chasing your child, which direction are you heading? Let His Word wash you and cleanse you daily (Ephesians 5:26). Memorize it and study it and meditate on it day and night. Post it around your house if you haven’t already.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). Are you thankful for the trial the Lord has brought into your life? Do you believe it is for your good and not to curse you? I have recently been in a great trial myself. Though I was outwardly obedient, I felt I had no option. I would have chosen to opt-out if I could. I was not trusting God. But now I see how much He has grown me, and changed me, and how much deeper my trust in Him is. I have seen how He has satisfied me in the desert place and hidden me in the secret of His presence.
Then one day you will be ready for the Lord to reveal the glorious transformation in you. Even if you have already grown significantly in your spiritual life, we have not arrived while on this earth. We still need to be transformed into the image of Jesus, more and more each day. Remember, life isn’t about us, or our dreams, or our desires. The Lord calls us to come and die to ourselves on the cross, identifying with him in death, burial, and, HALLELUJAH!!!!, resurrection! (Romans 6:3-6). Focus on being a disciple of Christ and let God take care of your prodigal children.
“34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39).