“My wayward children,” says the Lord, “come back to me, and I will heal your wayward hearts.” — Jeremiah 3:22 NLT
“Don’t talk to your kids about God as much as you talk to God about your kids.”
I forget where I first heard that line, but it’s one of my favorite pieces of parenting wisdom, particularly during those seasons when our kids don’t particularly want to hear us talk — about God, or about anything else.
Teens are not alone, of course, in their willingness to wander — to want to figure things out on their own, even when doing so takes them down a dangerous or disobedient path. “We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.”1 For a parent, though, it can be painful — and scary — to watch a child make choices that run counter to God’s design, to the “rich and satisfying life” that Jesus says He wants us to enjoy.2
The most effective way to get your teens to make good choices isn’t to talk to them about God; it’s to talk to God about them.
When I started doing the research for this book, I reached out to a network of friends — and friends of friends — to ask people if they’d be willing to share their stories. I wanted to know how other Christian parents were navigating the sometimes-tricky teen years and, even more than that, I wanted to know how they were praying.
I’ll never forget opening an email from a woman named Lara, a lifelong churchgoer who loved God and believed His Word to be true, but who had never considered using the Bible to help shape her prayers…
Lara’s world was spinning out of control. Her daughter Samantha was gone — and the nightmare was starting again.
Her mind flashed back to the first time Sam had run away, during the summer before her freshman year in high school. A tip from one of Sam’s friends led Lara and her husband, Peter, to call the police, who found Samantha in a house where other young runaways were known to have stopped for shelter. The satanic symbols that marked the walls served as a chilling portent of the home’s darker purpose: it served as a gateway to the streets of Los Angeles — and to prostitution.
At the time, Lara had been frantic — and then grateful beyond words that her daughter had been found so quickly. That very day, she and Peter had taken Sam to a counselor, who recommended that she be hospitalized for treatment of depression and low self-esteem. Lara and Peter were stunned: Samantha was a popular, straight-A student. She was athletic, musically talented, and pretty. Listening to the counselor’s diagnosis, Lara had felt her heart sink. She didn’t even know how much she didn’t know about what was going on inside her precious daughter.
After a month at the treatment center, Sam had come home. The family celebrated her return, and Lara — who had spent her adult life in church and Bible study — had been thrilled by the news that Samantha had recommitted her life to Christ. At last, Lara’s dream of having a healthy Christian family seemed within reach.
She and Peter had been fairly strict in the past, fearing that — if things were left up to her — Samantha would make hurtful and potentially life-scarring choices. Maybe, they had thought, it was time to give her some more freedom. But that was easier said than done, particularly when the “friends” who tended to gravitate into Samantha’s orbit seemed to be such a troubled, rebellious lot. Trying to talk things out with Samantha rarely helped; more often than not, their conversations turned into arguments.
Now, looking at the empty bed in Samantha’s room, Lara couldn’t help but wonder whether they had given her too much freedom. It was the spring of Samantha’s junior year — more than two years since the police had brought her home the first time — and she was gone again.
Lara felt like a total failure. Her only consolation was that, unlike the first time she had left, Samantha did not appear to be in imminent danger this time. Taking shelter with whatever school chum would have her (and sometimes sneaking into her boyfriend’s house after dark), Samantha showed up for school, continued to get excellent grades, never missed a day of work at her after-school job, and even went to her piano lessons. The only thing she refused to do was to come home.
Knowing her daughter was nearby did little to ease Lara’s pain. What should she and Peter do? Samantha was like a toddler, Lara thought, throwing a temper tantrum whenever the rules got in the way of her desire for independence. If they forced Samantha to come home, she would only run away again.
Lara decided to confide in a few close friends. After hearing what she was going through, one of them mentioned that she had heard about Moms in Prayer on the radio. Praying for their children couldn’t hurt; in fact, Lara thought it would be a definite step in the right direction, particularly if she had other mothers who were willing to come alongside to give her strength. Even with Peter sharing the load, her burden had gotten too heavy to bear.
Talking to God sounded like a relief.
The women began meeting weekly to pray. It didn’t take long before Lara realized something was different. A lifelong Christian, she had always believed in prayer, but when this group of moms prayed, they often used Scripture — the actual words in the Bible — as the basis for their prayers, and for the first time, Lara began to sense that God’s Word was alive. She couldn’t seem to get enough of it. Even when she wasn’t praying with the group, she found herself turning to her Bible, letting the words slip off the pages and into her heart to fill her with strength (Lara’s prayers are in italics after the Bible quotations):
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him…
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support. — Psalm 18:6, Psalm 18:16-18
Lord, help us. Rescue me. Rescue Samantha. Be our support.
Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. — 2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT
Teach me, Father, how to reach out to Samantha. Give her a knowledge of your truth, and let her escape Satan’s trap.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise — Psalm 56:3-4
I do trust you, Lord. I do.
And then there were passages that seemed to be written expressly for Samantha. Lara hung on these words — praying the Scriptures when it was too painful to pray about the details of her daughter’s life — and clung to the hope they provided:
“I will… recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.” — Ezekiel 14:5
Recapture Samantha’s heart, Almighty God, and let her return to You!
For the grace of God that offers salvation… teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. — Titus 2:11-12
Shed Your grace on her, Lord. Teach her to say no to her worldly passions and desires and yes to the life You desire.
If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve You.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope…
Put Your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, and with Him is full redemption. — Psalm 130:3-5, Psalm 130:7
Thank You, Lord, that You do not keep a record of Samantha’s sin — or of mine. My hope is in Your word. Let Samantha’s life — all of our lives — be fully redeemed by Your unfailing love.
Five weeks after she had left, Samantha came home.
This time, there was no big celebration — and no dramatic, overnight change. With help from their pastor, Peter and Lara made a covenant with their daughter, a contract that outlined rules and freedoms that came with family life. Samantha agreed to continue in counseling, and Lara continued to pray. God, she knew, had protected Samantha when she and Peter could not; truly, as the psalmist said, God had “reached down from on high” and rescued their family.3
Today — more than two decades later — Samantha is still a risk taker. She often finds herself in prison and in other dangerous places, only she isn’t running anymore. Instead, equipped with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she is ministering to those who have found themselves scarred by wrong choices, people whom others have given up trying to help. She loves her family and treats them with appreciation and respect.
“It is so faith-building,” Lara says, “to realize that God was at work, even when we couldn’t see Him. He is a faithful, powerful, redeeming God — and without Him, we would never have made it through those dark years.”
Poised for Prayer
All of the prayer concerns in this book are spiritual battlegrounds, but rebellion is an issue where Satan’s hand is often the easiest to see. As the one who comes to “steal and kill and destroy,”4 he likes nothing more than to rip our families apart, making parents and teens think their fight is with each other rather than with him.
As you fight for your teen in prayer, remember that the battle is not with your child; it’s with the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy.
Lara would be the first to tell you it isn’t easy, but that perseverance — in pursuing your teen, in showing love when it’s hard, and in prayer — is the key to winning this battle. Here’s what I mean:
Pursue. Your teen may say they don’t want to talk to you and don’t want to do anything with you, but don’t close the door on those things. Instead, do everything you can do to show you are interested in their life. Attend sports events and recitals; take them out to breakfast or lunch; ask about their friends, their schoolwork, their activities. If they rebuff you, don’t be discouraged. Take your cues from Hebrews 10:
- stand your ground in the face of suffering, even when you are publicly exposed to insult and persecution (Hebrews 10:32-33);
- do not throw away your confidence (Hebrews 10:35);
- persevere, knowing that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised (Hebrews 10:36).
Love. We often think of love as a warm and fuzzy feeling, but more often than not, love is a decision — one motivated by patience, kindness, perseverance, and hope.5 Prodigal teens can be tough to love. And if we had to rely on our own strength, we would be doomed. Thankfully, though, we are not alone. God shows us what unconditional love looks like — He stays by our side and calls us back to Him, no matter how often we blow it — and when we struggle to do the same thing for our kids, we can ask him to do it through us. We can be, as Scripture says, His “ambassadors” carrying Christ’s love to our kids even as we plead with them to “come back to God.”6
Pray. Lara saturated her heart and her mind with the promises in God’s Word, praying “continually” — and we can do the same thing.7 Set aside time each day when you and your spouse will commit to earnest prayer for your teen. If you’re a single parent or if your spouse won’t join you in prayer, ask God to give you another prayer partner. Take courage from Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19–20:
If two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in Heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Because again, talking our kids about God is not nearly as important — or as effective — as talking to God about our kids.
- Isaiah 53:6.
- John 10:10 NLT.
- Psalm 18:16.
- John 10:10.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
- 2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Excerpted with permission from Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens by Jodie Berndt, copyright Jodie Berndt.
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Who are you praying for right now? Keep praying for your teen rebel! ~ Devotionals Daily