How to Pray for a Prodigal
by Bob Davies

The woman began crying as soon as I answered the phone at our counseling center. "I don't know what to do ... about my son," she said between sobs. "He's left his wife ... for another man." At one time this young man was a professing Christian. His mother was heart-broken. "How can I even pray for him?" she finally asked.

There are difficult lessons to be learned when a son, spouse, or other close relative or friend becomes involved in blatant sin. What can we do? How should we pray?

Before God can answer our prayers, we must intercede "according to His will" (1 John 5:14). Here are some guidelines to effective prayer that I've learned from the way God dealt with His rebellious prophet, Jonah.

Pray that God uses the pressure of consequences to bring an end to rebellion.

In His compassion for the sinners of Ninevah, the Lord called Jonah to warn them that divine judgment was soon coming. Rather than heading overland to the east, Jonah headed down to the waterfront and found a ship heading due west. He was getting as far away from where God intended him to go as he could. The violent storm that God brought upon the ship as they were crossing the Mediterranean Sea was a direct consequence of Jonah's rebellious choice to flee.

There is a natural law of cause and effect that all of us take for granted. This law means that every action we take has some kind of consequence. If our action is in agreement with the way God created us to live, we reap good results. If it is contrary to God's plan, the effects can be painful. This principle is so obvious, and yet so many times we actually work against it.

In His love, God allows painful consequences to occur in a person's life as a result of their rebellion. Sometimes, it simply takes time until rebellious actions begin to bear sour fruit. We must be patient, and allow that time to pass. There is nothing that we can do to hurry this process, except to recognize what is happening and to allow the Lord to work.

The in-built results of sinful actions are one of the strongest deterrents to continued sin. So don't pray that God will remove the consequences of your loved one's rebellion. And don't thwart God's purposes by removing them yourself.

For example, the worst thing you can do for your wayward son or daughter is to send them all the money they want when they have wasted their finances on weekend parties for all their friends.

Pray that God will use even unsaved companions to bring an end to rebellion.

Apparently Jonah was the only man aboard the ship who knew the true Lord God. In the midst of the storm, "every man cried to his god" (Jonah 1:5). The men desperately tried to row the boat to shore to escape the storm. They thought they were doing the right thing, but they were actually working against God's purposes.

Ironically, Jonah was the only one who was totally unaware of what was happening. He was sound asleep in the bottom of the ship in the midst of all this frantic activity. God used these ungodly men to wake up Jonah and inform him of what was going on.

The person you are praying for may be totally unaware that God is at work in his life. But we can take courage and hope from the knowledge that our Lord is in ultimate control of all circumstances, and He is working out His purposes in response to our prayers. So pray that God will use even the unsaved in your loved one's life to bring about change.

Pray that God will work in His way to bring an end to rebellion.

Perhaps the way God will work in your relative or friend's situation is not the way you would expect. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the Lord in Isaiah 55:8. We can only see a minute fraction of the whole situation; God sees all of it.

There is no way that the sailors could have known about the large fish God had prepared to swallow Jonah. But this event had a profound impact on their lives. After they threw Jonah overboard, the sea became calm in answer to their prayers and "then the men feared the Lord greatly" (Jonah 1:16).

Jonah's deliverance was an evangelistic event! God may be using your loved one's life in many unseen ways, even in the midst of his rebellion.

Pray that God will work supernaturally, but be prepared.

In the initial stages of His answer, it may look like things are getting worse much worse. God may be applying even more pressure through circumstances.

Jonah must have been a very hard-hearted man. Even the threat of being thrown overboard into a howling storm did not cause him to repent. It was only after three long days in the stomach of the fish that he finally promised God that he would obey His call. Those 36 hours were probably the longest of Jonah's life. Similarly the weeks, months, even years that your loved one is in rebellion may seem like forever.

Pray for God's supernatural protection during your friend or relative's rebellion.

God may still bring some hair-raising consequences into their life. Their health may suffer dreadfully (I'm sure Jonah was a physical wreck after being attacked by digestive juices for three days). But God is still at work -- trust Him! It is vitally important to realize that the final choice whether to serve God or self is up to the person involved in sin.

The Lord has given us a free will, and no one has ever been dragged into submission to the Lord against their consent. You cannot make that choice for them. To really grasp this principle will relieve you of much misunderstanding and frustration with God's ways.

Thank God that He is still able to use an individual, even after a period of rebellion.

The most fruitful ministry of a person's life comes after the deepest repentance. Realize that God has promised to use even the worst events in our past for His glory, once we have turned from them and have given them totally to Him (Romans 8:28). Still, this does not remove the adverse affects of sin in our lives. For example, the homosexual who repents may be infected with the AIDS virus, which will probably cut short his earthly life.

However, God did not put Jonah "on the shelf" after his period of rebellion and sin. Rather, the mighty ministry for which he is remembered occurred after his futile attempt to run from God.

Jonah's preaching caused an incredible revival in one of the largest cities in the world at that time. By his obedience, he once again was in the center of God's will and purpose. God used Jonah's wrong choices to build spiritual strength and humility into his life.

Jonah's period of rebellion taught him much about God's character -- His mercy, forgiveness and patience. It is a blatant lie that someone who has been involved in deep sin will never again be useful to God. Quite the opposite is true. Some Christians with the worst pasts are today God's most powerful witnesses of the Truth. God's cleansing is deep and complete.

Does Jonah's life prove that a person's rebellion will always come to an end? No! But it does speak a message of hope to us as we watch, wait -- and pray for our loved one.

In all your prayers, hold fast to God's promises: "For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined ... We went through fire and through water; Yet Thou didst bring us out into a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:10,12, KJV).

Copyright © 1999, Bob Davies. All rights reserved.