Reaching & Preventing ProdigalsI love Saving Private Ryan. It has a powerful message about the value of an individual. It's not too difficult to see the similarities between its story and God's great redemption through sending His Son to save mankind in the themes of this movie. But Saving Private Ryan also raises questions such as- is one life more valuable than another? In what way is it right that many lives be risked and lost in order to save one life?While we ponder these questions, perhaps we could consider some less theoretical questions that relate directly to the spiritual battle we are engaged in. Imagine a war-time scenario where news is received that a naval ship has been hit and there are 100 survivors stranded in the water. A battle-ship nearby is summoned to go immediately to the rescue. All 10,000 sailors muster into action, but before they get there they sail into a ferocious battle and are engaged by the enemy. Thousands of lives are lost in the heated conflict. But the battle-ship is eventually on the way to rescue the 100 survivors, which they managed to do.Psalm 89:1b I will make known your faithfulness to all generations...Psalm 22:30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generationThose numbers may at first appear to be out of proportion. But sadly, they're not. When it comes to passing on faith in Christ to the next generation, we're not doing so well. Some of the statistics range from 70-80% of all Christian teens and twenties who enter into a university will walk away from their commitment to Christ. There are apparently common reasons for this which the survey results reveal. These include an ability to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the irrefutable data of science; unanswered questions about the Bible; and, the absence of meeting a fully committed and passionate Christian who lives a consistent Christ-honouring life.If we are going to make a serious attempt at possibly fulfilling the Great Commission we must learn the importance of winning our children to Christ. I've spoken with many strong believers who have tried their best to raise their children in the faith, but without success. I've also seen parents who have set out to disciple their children in Christ and have had to learn how to do it. There are of course no guarantees that even if we do everything "right" that our children will take up their spiritual inheritance and follow Christ. But, there does appear to be some common pitfalls for Christian parents trying to raise Christian children. Added to this there are pitfalls that churches can fall into which make it more difficult for them to pass on their faith to generation of children growing up in their church community.I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.Second Timothy 1:5At the very least, in order for us to consolidate the next generation of Christian children into fully devoted Christ-followers, we must work harder at being informed about how the Bible and Science can be integrated. I strongly recommend the resources of Reasons To Believe to this end. Secondly, we should welcome honest questions about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. Naturally, this demands that we ourselves become more familiar with the Scriptures. I can not recommend more highly doing a course with ICI Theological College (which can be done by correspondence at your own pace) to increase your depth of understanding into the Bible. Thirdly, we need to model what genuine, passionate, commitment to Christ looks like."Now, let us turn briefly to the point that is not in the text. I want to make a particular application of this whole subject to the conversion of children...Children need to be saved. Children may be saved. Children are to be save by instrumentality. Children may be saved while they are children...To reclaim the prodigal is good, but to save him from ever being a prodigal is better. To bring back the thief and the drunkard is a praiseworthy action, but so to act that the boy will never become a thief or a drunkard is far better."C.H. Spurgeon, The Soulwinner, pages 297-298
Spurgeon writes that he would teach every mother in his church that they were his greatest evangelists. A mother's chief goal is the salvation and discipleship of her children. If we could heed Spurgeon's words today we may make the task of evangelism for the next generation a little easier.
Perhaps you are not a parent? But perhaps you hope to be one day. Learn from those parents who have successfully evangelised and discipled their own children. Watch them closely and immitate those things they are and do which have aided in the conversion and growth of their children. When in church fellowship, encourage the children of other parents to turn to the Lord and remain steadfast in their commitment to Him. But especially pray. Pray that you will be able to parent as a soulwinning parent who can pastor your child into the depths of Christ.
For those Christian parents who have children who are now "prodigals" it might be encouraging to remember the actual story of the Prodigal which Jesus told. The heart-broken father of the Prodigal never gave up hope that his prodigal would one day return. "...But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion..." (Luke 15:20). The father expected that his wayward son would one day return. What did the father do in the meantime? He never disowned his son. He would have continued to pray for his son to return. He didn't pester or nag his son. He kept his relationship with his son open (his son knew that his father would accept him back). He made it clear enough that he disapproved of what his son was doing (the Prodigal knew that his father would expect confession of sin and admission of guilt- "Father, I have sinned against you..."). The father worked at maintaining a relationship with all his children despite the attention his Prodigal was receiving. While there is no formula for success when it comes to winning prodigals back, the things which hinder prodigals from returning can be avoided.
Parents not wishing to raise prodigals would do well to consider little listening ears and little watching eyes when they are tempted to drop their own display of commitment to Christ. Secondly, in a similar vein, while there is no perfect church, where their church is obvious in its imperfections, these points should not be the focus of criticism but of prayer. I once had a dad of a prodigal who was very critical of his church and his pastor tell me that not even his unsaved friends wanted to come to church because of "what the church had done" to him. I asked him how they had come to feel this way to which he responded that he had told them! No wonder his children didn't want anything to do with Christianity when their father had beat up so much on Christ's bride! Wise parents would do well to never run down Christ's church or Christ's servants in the presence of their children.
If you have the opportunity, turn your family dining table into an 'altar'. At this altar invite your children to share what they have read/learned/heard from the Bible that day. Invite your children to share their current prayer requests. Share a Scripture and a prayer as a model to your children showing them how you mine God's Word and cultivate your relationship with Christ in prayer. Let's commit ourselves to preventing and reaching prodigals.
Ps. AndrewLord Jesus, save our children. Keep those who have been brought up by Christian parents. May these parents have a deep work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives which greatly impresses their children. May these little children see Jesus in their Mummy and Daddy. May these children be taught the Gospel in such a natural way that to them all of life is sacred, and all of life is God's. May they come to know that the Gospel is not a truth, but the Truth. Help us as a church to raise up a generation of children who will love God with a passion and totally surrender their lives into His service where