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Don’t Give Up on the Prodigal

December 12, 2011
Don't Give Up on the Prodigal

The promise is clear: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” And the promise is certain. But I know many of you have older children who have departed from the way you intended them to go. You have questioned, “Is the promise really true, or is it like divine healing—rare and only available to those who have great faith?” Or you may question yourself, “Where did I go wrong? I took them to church and provided a godly example, but an evil outside influence slithered in and stole away my child’s virtue and integrity. How could I have foreseen the threat and stopped it?” Then again, you may be of the sad number whose child descended into a state of rebellion and turned on you, accusing you of hypocrisy, and screaming, “If you are a Christian, I don’t want to be one.”

This is not going to be another article where I rebuke you for your hypocrisy. I have done that enough, and it is too late to undo the damage done to the wayward prodigal. But I do want to encourage you to not quit; don’t give up on the errant one. Sometimes getting out from under parents’ roof is the path to repentance. It doesn’t take long for 20-year-olds to discover that the world is full of hypocrisy and darkness—worse than what they found at home. “As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him” (Amos 5:19).

There were good times at home, and in times of loneliness and need he will remember them. Just like you, he will have doubts about himself and wonder if he made the right choice. He will mature and learn that humanity is indeed frail and that “every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psalm 39:5).  Life will force him to discover his own weaknesses and hypocrisy. He will fail to live up to his purist’s values and judge himself to be no better than you.

If he did indeed have a time in his youth when he respected his parents and honored their God, a time when life was sweet and carefree, he will look back with fondness and decry his loss. In his pain he will go back in his memory and wish for those days again. In his mind, the good memories will conflict with his more recent memories of your constant criticism and dissatisfaction. The lack of fulfillment he experienced in the home after he got to be a “problem child” will overshadow everything for a while, but when he “begins to be in want” (Luke 15:14) and seeks help from his friends, and they send him “into the field to feed swine,” and no one loves him like Mama did when he was young, he will come to himself, swallow his pride, and come home—not to stay, but to be loved and appreciated, to be with people who care.

Now you will play a part in his recovery. First I am going to tell you how to guarantee that he not only keeps feeding the swine but eats with them and eventually lies down to stay with them. It is the easiest thing you could ever do. It is all about attitude.

Just make sure that in any contact you have with him, let him know how wrong he is and indicate you think he is shiftless and worthless. Or better still, point out how he has embarrassed the family and let him see that you are ashamed of him. It will help if when he comes to visit, his hair is purple and orange and he has lots of piercings and tattoos. Look thoroughly disgusted and offended. If he brings a girlfriend home, one that looks like she is a nine-time reject, be sure to treat her with disdain and contempt. Ignoring her will really make him hot. That first visit home will be his attempt to prove to himself and his girlfriend that his parents are not worth the time. Deep inside there is a desire to be loved and accepted by his family, but his pride motivates him to throw his sin in your face as a test of that love. It will be easy to get rid of him once for all. Just be what you were before he left.

You say you have changed? I can offer you indicators of how you will in fact respond when he shows up. If you have been humbled by your loss of a child to the world, and you accept the blame and you no longer have critical feelings toward him but rather a heart that is broken and longing to be restored, you will indeed motivate him to repent and reunite with the family. But if there is bitterness in your heart and the feeling that he has hurt you and the family, you will drive the wedge much deeper and send him back to the swine to feed. If you, like Jesus looking over wayward Jerusalem, weep for your lost child, your tears can wash away his pride and rebellion, but if you, like Satan, are an accuser of the brethren, you will dump a pile on him that will keep him underground until you are old and grey and he drops by unexpectedly to see Mama one last time before she dies.

There is hope, but that hope must be in your heart if it is going to become a reality. If you daily pray for your prodigal you cannot daily despise him. You may get just one chance to turn him around, and he will see that opportunity in your eyes and hear it in your tone. Get your heart right today and your words will be right the next time you face your prodigal.

“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34–35). When you pray your heart treasures up good things. You will need a heart full of good thoughts when the prodigal comes down the dusty road dragging his baggage.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Remember the prodigal’s father in Luke 15; he was looking for his son and saw him when he was yet a great way off. Running down the road to receive him with open arms, he commanded the servants to bring the best robe and shoes and a ring for the finger of his returning son. The father killed the special fatted calf and invited all the neighbors to a coming home party where they would share his joy at the returned prodigal. Go, and do thou likewise.


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12 comments on “Don’t Give Up on the Prodigal”

  1. Oh Mr. Pearl, thank you so much for your timely message. Our oldest has been struggling with a heroin addiction for the past 4 years. It started with pot when he was a teen. He has been in many residential treatment centers, Christian and secular. He has been in Jail, the county correctional facility, and prison for a short time to complete an earned early released program, a boot camp for non violent drug addicts. He is respectful, hard working (when he’s straight), and actually a really nice young man to be around, when he’s straight. His 4 younger brothers and sisters love him so much, and he loves them too.
    We took him back in after boot camp, he worked the summer, and then relapsed again. He could not get it back. Now he is in a half way house, under probation. Everyone in our extended family has given up. Sometimes Dan and I understand why. Yet we see who he could be in Christ. He does read his Bible, especially when he’s in trouble, yet the drugs are so strong they take him over. He hates it, really he does. He is 25. We keep praying. What a testimony He would have and could use to bring others to Christ, if he could only get there himself. He says he is saved, he grew up knowing the Holy Scriptures, I just wish he would really surrender his life, and be born again. Thank you for your article, honestly, I couldnt believe it when I opened my email to find it. It is exactly what we are struggling with, like you wrote it for us. In Christ, Terri

  2. There are prodigals and then there are prodigals. If you are talking of young adults who throw off faith altogether, than perhaps they warrant that name. But in my circles and in my own life the brand “prodigal” has been given to adults that stand up to the stifling and often abusive legalism that they were subjected to for years. These are the true champions of faith, not the parents who treated their children like property and animals to be trained. Brave is the woman or man who points out the evil in the patriarchal system, a religion based on brutality, fear and manipulation, and refuse to ever go back or be silent when faced with the resulting injustices of the wrong done to the children of parents who play the martyr.

  3. Oh how I pain to hear the last response. Indeed there are those that try to brow beat their children into submission. I find them much fewer these days than a generation or two ago. No now there are way too many parents too fearful of our system to raise their children in the ways of the Lord for fear of people accusing them of being those brow beater. The Bible does not command us to beat our children into submission but to train them and not spare them of correction. Our communities our ripe with now physically adult children who ran their parents instead of parents teaching and train. Of please Lord Jesus protect the parents that still hold Your word dear. Separate them from the judgement of those who abuse it for their own gain.

  4. Please pray for my son Alex, he is running wild. His dad and I are divorced,and he lets him do just about anything. So he hasnt liked me since he was 11. I just keep praying for him.

  5. Please pray for my family. Through these times of trials, I am thankful to the Lord and faithful friends, who pray for us, our families, our precious children. May God guide my heart, my mouth into love, wisdom, and compassion, for our children. Thank you for this article, and may it burn into the depths of parents souls, so we can help our wayward children. God Bless

  6. I believe Mr Pearl is indicating that all prodigal children are the result of bad parenting.

    Not true. There are children who are raised in homes where the parents have an unwavering commitment and dependence on Christ, where the bible is taught, prayers led, parents and children involved in mission work, kids are homeschooled–and some of these children still grow into adults who want to take a step back and be independent thinkers and decide for themselves what they believe, without being told what they are to believe. Some of these kids follow a different path for awhile, some sow their wild oats, some follow louder voices than the ones they heard at home—and Praise God, many (if not most) of them come back.

    Don’t blame everything on the parents. It’s a fallacy and untruth that the parents are to blame. Look at God’s first children if you don’t believe me.

  7. This is how I see it…Even the “Sons of God” rebelled! And He’s GOD! There’s no way I can get it ALL right if even the Creator of ALL has rebellious kids…And, I have even seen the WORST upbringing of some children who happened to become the most Awesome, dedicated, kind, loving, God- fearing, people on planet Earth when they became adults. Now I know the Bible says to train a child in the way he should go, and when he gets older he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6)…but pride can even slither into the most trained person…so in the end, it will take more than training to resist evil…love, patience, determination, healthy fear of consequences, etc. will all play a part in resisting pride and rebellion or even unwanted mistakes. BUT, even if we fall…and 100% of us will at some point, we have the mercy of Jesus and His blood to save us if we choose (unlike the the fallen angels or Sons of God, I might add)…and, like the prodigal son, we will have God rejoicing over our “humble” realization to return to truth (not even the prodigal son’s brother who was also “trained” but chose not to rebel had the love of the father like the rebelled converted one did…go figure)…so maybe it comes down to God wanting his children to be humble, not just trained, which in most cases will unfortunately only come about when we “stray” and finally see that way cannot make it without our Father…nor do we want to! We finally see that it’s not just about the inheritance… It’s about the undying (through His dying) Love of Jesus.

  8. Thank you so, so much for this message. I really needed it. I thought I gave all the bitterness to the Lord, but am very convicted. Thank you! Thank you! ❤️

  9. I pray for my son often , he is always heavy on my heart. He strayed at the age of 16, he is now 34. I pray one day he will come back to the Lord. I dont hear from him very often, but when I do, I always let him know I love him no matter what. Even tho he has said he hated me, cursed me etc., because I wouldnt help him financially anymore. He has lost everything, even his children has lost respect for him. He seems so alone, divorced…..forsaken by “friends” and all. Still he wonders on…..I’ve let him know I love him, but I cant help him any longer. I often wonder……will he ever return to the Lord?? I still claim the verse, even tho satan has put doubt in my mind often, even making me doubt his salvation. But I know ain’t nuthin too hard for my Lord, and in His time He will bring him back……my prayer…..that the goodness of the Lord will one day bring him to repentence….

  10. I am so heartbroken and angry and frustrated and disgusted with my prodigal. she ran away at 16. She spread horriffic lies about me & her stepdad on the internet. She whored around and got pregnant. And still not talking to us. She is 24. Won’t allow us to see our grandchild. We gave her everything, she went to private school, we flew her all over the country for cheerleading competitions. She had a nice life. And instead of being grateful, she spit in our faces & accused her dad of molesting her. Everything that comes out of her mouth is evil and vicious and lies. She wants told me that someday I would be proud of her. I’m definitely not proud of her. There is so many things. I want to say to her. I’d like to punch her in the face. She has absolutely no respect or honor for parents. If and when she does come back. There are so many things I want to say to her. Like how in the world could you treat us like this after all we’ve done? My question is: if and when she does return to our lives, how do I get over my heartbreak and anger and resentment over her behavior?

  11. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” WILL. NOT. DEPART. Not now, not ever, not even for a short period of time. WILL NOT DEPART.