The Wayward Child

As an adult with children, I always wanted the best for each of them as they grew up, and I often imagined how life would be for them once they became adults.  All loving parents want to see our children succeed in their education, and once they get older, their careers and even finding the perfect spouse.  Each of these are significant life milestones, and in all of them, it is our hope that our children look to the Lord in all of their life choices and decisions.  That is easily the most gratifying result that we want to see from our children…living a life that is holy and pleasing to God.

Proverbs 22:6

Teach a youth about the way he should go;

even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Unfortunately, the challenge that parents of a Christian household often face with their children is far from what they envisioned when they raised them with the instruction of what it is to follow Jesus Christ.  At one point, it appeared that a son or daughter was obedient and responsive to the instruction, but one day, something must have happened where the tide had turned.  The turn occurs because our children possess the very same thing that we possess…free will.  They have the ability to make choices, both good and bad ones, in the same way we do.   We remember how we came up over the years and the choices that we made, and we don’t want our children to make the same mistakes.  Our prayers have been, and will continue to be, that our children’s good choices will far outweigh the bad ones, and that the bad ones will not be as costly to them.  The proverb of teaching the child is true…the child doesn’t forget what they have learned.  It is not just your desire, but also God’s desire for the child to remember what was learned, to understand it, and to make the decision to completely live for Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:16

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

What a blessing it is when our child, who is obedient to the Lord, grows with this same philosophy as an adult!  When our child veers into a different direction–one that is contrary to living a Christlike existence, we are deeply affected because it leaves the parents with feelings of helplessness, and even regrets that perhaps something could have been done differently that would somehow have made the child behave differently.  The reality is that a child raised in a Christlike household may or may not follow that same teaching as an adult, and parents will beat themselves up with regret and blame that doesn’t change the behavior.  This message is about those children who keep parents up at night.  In moments like this, it is very important to remember God’s love and grace, and look at ways to manage our interaction with the wayward child.

First, before you interact with your child, you need to examine your own behavior.  You cannot effectively minister to other people, let alone your child, unless you are paying very close attention to your level of obedience to Jesus Christ.  You need to go through a self-examination of your life and your attitude.  This allows you to truly listen to what the Spirit is saying to you and be aware of the leanings of the Spirit.  It starts with the most important commandments as noted by Jesus Christ:

Matthew 22:34-40

34 When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: 36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command.

39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In order to love your wayward child (and you do love the child even though there are times when you are disappointed or angered by his or her behavior), you need to draw upon the basic principles of your faith in Jesus Christ–loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.  Both of these commands of Jesus Christ have a profound effect upon your life and the consistency of your behavior.  Others, who observe your behavior, and especially your child will see your love for God.  What is the one thing that you do that can have an adverse effect on your child and how he or she responds to you?  It’s your inconsistent behavior.  As a prime example, you can’t address the sin of another person without addressing your own sin.

Matthew 7:1-5

1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Let’s look at the context of this verse when coupled with the second great commandment that Jesus mentions in Matthew 22:39 (Love your neighbor as yourself) with where He draws it from in Leviticus 19:

Leviticus 19:9-18

9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.

11 “You must not steal. You must not act deceptively or lie to one another. 12 You must not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God; I am Yahweh.

13 “You must not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages due a hired hand must not remain with you until morning. 14 You must not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am Yahweh.

15 “You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You must not go about spreading slander among your people; you must not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am Yahweh.

17 “You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. 18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.

This part of the message is very important when it comes to the nature of developing a loving and consistent interpersonal relationship with your child.  God’s love is always to be the foundation of your interaction with anyone, let alone your child.  You must remove any hint of hatred or animosity in your dealings with your wayward child, for it is when they see your love and concern it paves the way for your ability to minister to them in the truth of God’s Word when the Spirit provides the opportunity to do so.  Your sin and transgressions that God commanded the people of Israel not to do in Leviticus 19 can block your ministry to the child and show you as less credible in their eyes.

Hebrews 10:22

…let us draw near (to Jesus Christ) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Another important point to consider here in this relationship is to take the focus off of yourself, which essentially means you need to give yourself a break.  What does this mean?

1.  Acknowledge that you did the best you could as a parent.  You weren’t perfect, but you presented the gospel message to your child, and they heard what was necessary for them to effectively discern right from wrong.  There’s no good energy spent in regret over the past or what might have been.

2.  Acknowledge that you can’t control their behavior.  The choices the child makes are on the child alone, and not you.

When you decide that you did everything you could as a parent and that you can’t do anything about your child’s behavior, it comes down to taking the humble approach and doing the most important thing that you can do for your child…prayer.  Your communication to God is the natural response when God communicates with you through His Word and through His Spirit.  Your prayers make a difficult situation bearable and put your faith and trust in God in action.  He hears your prayers in the midst of your affliction and provides, first and foremost, peace to your soul and rest for your body.

Psalm 31:7-8

7 I will rejoice and be glad in Your faithful love

because You have seen my affliction.

You have known the troubles of my life

8 and have not handed me over to the enemy.

You have set my feet in a spacious place.

Matthew 11:28-29

28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.

Isaiah 40:30-31

30 Youths may faint and grow weary,

and young men stumble and fall,

31 but those who trust in the Lord

will renew their strength;

they will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary;

they will walk and not faint.

James 1:5

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

This endeavor is not a sprint…it is a marathon.  Your in it for the long haul because you want the best for your child, and you don’t know or when God is going to reach your child to change the behaviors and, eventually, the outcome.  This will always be part of God’s mysterious ways that He draws people near to Himself, but always remember that He loves your child more than you ever could, and He wants the very best for all of us.

Jeremiah 29:10-11

10 For this is what the Lord says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

I deliberately included verse 10 here to show that even as God has plans for our hope in the future, we need to remember that our time and God’s timing can be much different.  In our prayers, we can certainly pray for change, but we must respect God’s timing in everything, including how He acts as a change agent for our wayward child.

An important aspect of your ministry to your wayward child is how you interact with your child.  No matter how you feel about what he or she is doing, you are to always show yourself to be open for the child to come home or to have social time.  You don’t condone their sin, and you establish ground rules as to behavior if the child is there for a period of time, but they should always see the love of Christ in you when they look at you.  Love the child in the midst of your disappointment.  This is admittedly tough to do, but with God’s help, you can do it, and you can shine for Christ while doing it.  You are to regard your child in the same way God sees you (1 Samuel 16:7b“Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”).

Understandably, your ongoing prayers for help and guidance in maintaining the proper attitude will go a long way in this area.  Pray for the right words and the boldness to remain steadfast in righteousness.

Proverbs 16:7

When a man’s ways please the Lord,

He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

In the same way that you are looking for the right words to say, keep your communication open with your child.  Send emails and texts to keep in touch when you can (texts are brief, while emails will have more substance).  Take an interest in the things that interest them (as long as they are not contrary to living for Christ).  Have lunch or dinner with them, and keep the conversation as light as possible.  All of this is to build upon your relationship.  Even though this is your child, it is still an adult-adult communication that is taking place.  Keep your focus on the love of Christ throughout your communication, and keep the lines open, free and clear.

All of this effort is to keep the focus on the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:16

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

John 10:7-10

7 So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

In order for you to keep the door open for the child to enter the door for Christ, you have to provide the path for the child to pursue Him at the appointed time.  We have the blessed assurance that Jesus Christ will welcome your wayward child at a moment’s notice.  That day will indeed be a day of praise and thanksgiving.  Keep your child before the Lord and bathe the matter in prayer, but remember to seek Him with righteousness in everything that you do, and God will hear your appeals.

Psalm 34:17-18

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,

and delivers them from all their troubles.

18 The Lord is near the brokenhearted;

He saves those crushed in spirit.

Proverbs 15:29-30

29 The Lord is far from the wicked,

but He hears the prayer of the righteous.

30 Bright eyes cheer the heart;

good news strengthens the bones.

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

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About melvingaines

I am a communications professional, author and speaker with years of experience as a business owner and corporate supervisor. My philosophy is “excellence in leadership-by-example with integrity and without compromise.” I am a member of the National Association of Black Accountants and served as President of the National Association of Credit Management, Greater Akron (OH). I have also held memberships with the American Collectors Association International, Inc. and the Commercial Law League of America. I am Church Administrator and Sunday school instructor at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church in Akron, Ohio. I have taught adult Sunday school for over 25 years and facilitated numerous bible studies and church cell group sessions. Every now and then, I fill in for the pastor with a sermon. I am a longtime advocate of Christian-based elementary and high school education. I am a graduate of The University of Akron with a degree in Business and Organizational Communication, and recently earned a Master’s degree in Christian Studies at Crown College, St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. I am also a member of the Chaplains Association of Ohio, and involved in Clinical Pastoral studies for possible full or part-time chaplaincy. I am a native of Cleveland, Ohio and I am married to my lovely childhood sweetheart, Lynn. View all posts by melvingaines

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