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The Pervasive Influence of Unbelief: Helping Parents Navigate the Difficulty of Unanswered Prayers

Phone addiction“I don’t understand why God isn’t doing anything,” exclaimed a parent one night at our parent’s group! Sadly, this is the understandable exclamation of many parents. Embedded within that exclamation is a subtle hint that there’s a temptation for unbelief. Is it wrong for parents to be upset that they are not seeing the changes they long for in their LGBT-identified loved one? Not at all! I think that it doesn’t matter the circumstances, a parent with a prodigal will naturally be disturbed by the heart condition of their wayward one.

In my experience, parents often tend to blame themselves for whatever their prodigal is doing or living. I’ve heard these statements:

“We did everything right.”

“We put him through Christian school.”

“She was raised in the church.”

“He wanted to be a missionary.”

“She went on mission trips and was on fire for God.”

“He was on the worship team.”

All of these were good things, but we are still talking about a person that, as they were coming of age for whatever reason (only God knows), decided to walk away from the Lord either partly or completely.

I’ve been particularly concerned about this because I feel like I’m witnessing the temptation toward unbelief taking hold in the hearts of the parents in much the same way it has taken hold of their prodigal loved one. I think for all of us there can be a sense of confusion about what the Christian life is supposed to look like when paired up against the idea that we just pray to God and, like a vending machine, whatever we want just pops right out. That may seem a bit harsh, but it’s not meant to be at all. However, the impression I get from some who in anger seem to have completely given up on God because nothing seems to be changing, is that they begin to turn away from God.

Recently, I had a conversation with a co-worker about a young man who had lived as trans but had come out of that mental madness a year prior and is walking with the Lord. It is wonderful and exciting to see God move. But, what about the other people we minister to? Their trans-child, their gay-identified child is still ensconced like a tick into the life they have chosen. One man gets healed of cancer, and one man eventually succumbs to it despite fasting and prayer on his behalf. If you’re anything like me, you’re scratching your head trying to figure out why one man’s prayer got answered when another man’s prayer did not. In all the ways we believe that we DO understand God, there are many more ways that we do not. It reminds me of the statement in Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.

For many parents, it seems that their hope and faith lie in a declaration that their child made at some point in their childhood, asking Jesus to come into their heart, and yet we don’t see anything regenerate in them indicating that the life of Jesus is at work.

It’s a mystery to me, as I’m sure it is to others.  I accepted Jesus into my life at age 18, and I was sincere in asking Jesus to become Lord. And then at around 22 yrs. old, I was back in the gay bars more than I was at church. If I was acting out sexually, I understood that never the two shall meet, in that I couldn’t play church while living completely given over to the lust of the flesh. If I had died during that time would I have gone to heaven? I honestly don’t know whether I would have or not. I didn’t understand the truth that the only way one finds his life is by losing it to have Jesus’s life in exchange. Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I am only talking about myself here. When I look back at the way I lived my life, in theory, I should be dead, eaten up with disease, etc. I do believe, however, that God preserved my life due to the pain of trauma, abuse, neglect, and abandonment which were the gears that drove the machine of my homosexual identity. I do believe, with every fiber of my being, that Jesus was extremely merciful to me. I also know that my freedom began when I chose to lay down my life for His sake—for the sake of the Gospel. Often I reflect on those days, wishing I could relive them because it was precious and powerful. I was being transformed by His truth—His life. I had entered the exchange of my willing death in exchange for His life. At the time I didn’t know where Jesus was leading me, but I knew for sure it was away from my former identity.

And that is exactly what Jesus does. He leads us away from our fleshly lives into one of faith and trust in the one who bought our freedom with His blood. Unbelief is not new. It was mentioned 5 times in the gospels that Jesus was unable to do many works because of their unbelief. Indirectly, I feel like there’s more, for instance, when Jesus is addressing Capernaum. He said in Matthew 11:23, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

This intrigues me considering the huge push to affectionately embrace and promote Sodom and Gomorrah in our day—known as LGBTQ—while the Church has long known the fate of those cities. To imagine that they might have been spared their fate through repentance is fascinating to me.

The media outlets, sitcoms, movies, and almost everything in entertainment, push for the normalization and the worship of every sexual expression outside of God’s creative intent. We are bombarded with it. It’s easy to understand why we would be tempted with the unbelief of the world. In fact, because of my work with parents of prodigals, I have come to see there are many things the parents experience that can hinder them from being able to abide in the presence of the Lord in peace.

There’s a similar thread I see in the experiences of parents struggling with having an LGBTQ prodigal. In the beginning, it presents as a self-accusation:

“What did I do wrong that made my child choose this path?”

“How can I fix this so that they will return to Christ?”

“What will my church think?”

“What will my family think?”

NONE of these responses are abnormal. It’s part of the processing as they begin to navigate this new normal. Eventually, we look for ways to help our prodigal.  

“If my child reads this article, it will help them realize the truth, and they will repent.”

“If my child would watch this video, it will help them realize the truth, and they will repent.”

“If I leave this book out in the open, they’ll see it and get curious, read it and it will help them realize the truth, and they will repent.”

These examples are all quite common. The issue here is that it’s the parent trying to manipulate the situation to get themselves off the hook and to get their child to obey God and repent, rather than entrusting them to God fully and letting HIM be the one to work in their circumstances. Some parents DO entrust their loved ones to God’s care. They seek God solely for their own walk and relationship with Jesus. This is rare and is not the norm. Throughout my time with First Stone, while on ministry trips and meeting parents in pain, it’s obvious that parents feel lost, hurt, bewildered, and confused. Their communication is based in sadness, despair, loss of hope, and questioning what they know to be true. And unbelief does have the capacity, if we let it, to completely undermine what truth we have been sowing into our lives. It stands to reason that, if we remain steadfast in unbelief in one area of our lives, we will falter toward unbelief in others.

The opposite of unbelief is steadfast faith. Steadfast faith is not pretending that everything is okay, but rather, its strength is in full understanding of what we are facing and yet still being able to stand in the truth, trusting Him no matter the cost. Sounds ultra biblical, doesn’t it?  Not to my personal hero, Corrie ten Boom. She and her family served the Lord for a couple of centuries, the ten Boom family walked faithfully with Jesus. They served the Jewish community for about the same amount of time. It had become a way of life for them, and when the Nazis were beginning to conquer other nations, the Jews that the ten Booms served and did business with, suddenly began to disappear. Hitler was all about the eradication of the Jews. Corrie and her family knew that what they had been doing to honor and serve the Jewish community now became something they could go to prison for. The life of faith they lived was, to me, something out of the New Testament. To them, it was daily life. They cared for the orphans and widows, the infirmed, and they remained daily devoted to the word of God and to the worship of God. God was part of every moment of their lives. When they were found out by the Gestapo, they were mistreated, abused, and punished. Papa ten Boom died in a hallway, waiting to see a doctor, and was put in an unmarked grave. His daughters, Corrie and Betsie, and his sons, Nollie and Kik, went to the concentration camp as punishment for assisting the Jews.

However, God met them all in many ways—even miraculously as they endured malnutrition, the mistreatment, like slaves driven to work for freedom which was a farce to the Germans during that time. They found Jesus there. He met them in their most vulnerable moments of weakness and torture. (If you’ve never read The Hiding Place, or Tramp for the Lord, I highly recommend them.)

Recently, I found myself in Ezekiel 18. I don’t remember why or how I ended up there, but it impacted me greatly and is the reason for this article.

We read, “The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

When I first read this I had a hard time understanding—that is, until I thought more about it. If the fathers are eating sour grapes, why are the children’s teeth on edge? Then I realized, the children were the recipients of what the father’s did.

And then He says in verse 3, “As I live, says the Lord God, you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.” It brings to mind the passage from Exodus 34:7 “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”

I feel like what I am seeing in Ezekiel is a relinquishing of the iniquity of the sin of the fathers to the children and vice versa. To paraphrase because of the detail, Ezekiel says this, the father’s sin be upon his own head, and the son’s sin be upon his son’s head.

In verse 20 we read: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be on himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

Then things get really difficult.

 23 ”Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? Says the Lord God, and not that he should turn from his ways and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them, he shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. 28 Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.

Is it hard to read about the consequences of sin? Uh, yeah! But I see so much hope in all this. Stay with me for a moment. I want to lay out for you why I find it encouraging.

First, the father does not bear the guilt of the son’s sin. Every parent I have ministered to or engaged with has borne some semblance of guilt over the sin of their prodigal. They muse over a thousand things they said or did that might have caused the falling away of their child while completely bypassing the reality that their child has done the completely human thing. They were tempted to reach for the object that has captured their lust and fell for the line “Hath God really said? You surely shall not die.” (Genesis 3:1-3)

Second, I take enormous encouragement that He says “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? …. That he should turn away from his ways and live?” THIS is why God pursued me. THIS is why God is still pursuing your prodigal. If you have trouble believing that, look at the blood-stained cross that stands as a testament to the GRACIOUS kindness of God who would take our place that we might be free.

Third, I am encouraged in the cross of Jesus Christ, born to be the Messiah, the one who takes away the sins of the world if we repent. I just think this is so cool and one of the MANY reasons I have been able to walk away from homosexuality and experience freedom from that false identity. There is power in the cross. We see crosses hanging on walls, in churches, in our living rooms, our bedrooms, in our hallways, or simply on a chain around our necks. Yet, the cross is so much more than a statement piece or decorative household item. It’s a testament to God’s promise. It’s a promise of life to come if we embrace it.  In Mark 10:17-21 we find Jesus having a dialogue with a man who came to Him and knelt before Him.

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words [fn]he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

In this culture, where we hear that “Love is Love,” it is equated with “God is love.” I am seeing a much different expression of love in verse 21 of this passage. To sum up, Jesus loved the man by telling him to live a crucified life. That is love. That is what He is asking all of us to do if we want to follow Him. And we can, and should, examine our hearts to see if there be any grievous way in us and bring those things to the Cross of Christ. (Psalms 139:24) This would include, but not be limited to, our unbelief.
Are we not called to walk by faith and not by sight? (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Here are some helpful questions to help you examine yourself for “any grievous way.”

Are you isolating?

Has church attendance fallen by the wayside?

Have you lost interest in picking up the Word of God?

When the thought of what is transpiring with your child, are you filled with anger and resentment at God?

To deal with the problem of unbelief, first identify where it has gotten hold in your walk with God, or your belief system, and then confess it. But one can’t stop there. In order to believe God at His word, one has to know it. I love about God’s word can literally read and examine my heart at the same time. God’s word is THAT good! If the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12) then it’s entirely possible for the word to highlight the areas where we deal with unbelief.

Father, grant us the ability to recognize and deal with powerful unbelief. Expose it that we might confess it and repent of it. Lord, grant us Your exceeding powerful grace to believe You entirely and to look to You for the fulfillment of Your Word in us. We confess that there is hope in You because the grave is empty and Your life flows in us. Thank You for your life and your grace to help us in our time of need. Amen.