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Wayward Students–part 2
Hopeful Prevention and Helpful Pursuit
He prayed a prayer at thirteen, because his parents wanted him to become a member of their church with them. His parents gave him a tract on becoming a Christian so he’d be able to answer questions about the Gospel, in order to pass the member interview–he did. He was baptized by dripping, and he now considered himself a Christian, and was affirmed as such by family and friends. He liked the people of the church–his friends were there, but he especially liked the cute girls there, Becky and Karen and others.
But by the middle of his junior year in high school, things began to subtly change. He only came to church because he was forced to go by his dad. He still thought the girls were cute, but he liked his girlfriend at school better. He continually felt like he was missing out, because his friends at school were doing crazy things he wasn’t a part of.
He began to pull away, to resist the things of God. He never touched his Bible, he rejected the faith of his parents, and he ignored his church friends–except for the wild ones. And he only wanted to be with his drill team girlfriend, and to lift weights with the football team. He had become a wayward student–a teen who began to demonstrate he didn’t know Christ . . . a student who was not merely rebelling at home, but denying Christ by his lifestyle choices.
A teen just like the seed sown amongst the thorns of Matthew 13:22, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” The pursuit of the world showed that this teen didn’t know Christ. This student had an external Christianity, a false faith, an empty profession, and it began to show when he was seventeen years old. And that teen was me–I was that wayward student.
I was in a Christian church, but I didn’t know Christ for five years. And my lost heart revealed itself at the end of high school. Looking back, I’d tell you that the very thing that finally brought my parents to Christ, a disintegrating marriage, was part of the reason for my open rebellion and revealing my lost heart.
Other students might point to harsh parenting methods, legalistic expectations to obey, abuse, drunkenness, extreme financial stress, the pressure to succeed, an unwillingness to listen, a hardhearted concrete approach to parenting older kids, and more. But the bottom line with any wayward child is this–they don’t know Christ, they’re not born again. They’re not genuinely saved. They need to exchange all that they are for all that Christ is.
So what do you do when your previously compliant child begins to show his or her true colors? What do you do when they don’t want Christ? How should you respond as parents and as friends, now that they want to sleep with their boyfriend, use drugs, get drunk, but they still live in your home? What do you do when they want to live like the world, but they still claim Christ, or now openly deny Christ?
Last week we looked at the hopeful prevention of the wayward. Some of what we talked about was parents to be seeking . . .
To have regular time with their students
To consistently stay current with knowing their heart
To help them discover their strengths and gifts, along with their weaknesses and sinful bents
To be their parent first, and their friend second
To be transparent over your walk with the Lord as you follow Him
To create an atmosphere of honesty and authenticity in your home
To maintain a home under the authority of the Word of God
To grieve over your own sin more than you grieve over theirs
To balance a fun relationship with discipline as they get older
To demonstrate the priority of spiritually hot companions
To regularly ask other leaders (children’s leaders, student leaders, other godly adults) for their assessment of your student’s heart
To deeply engage your entire family in a solidly biblical church
To model a faith that loves Christ first, obeys Christ’s Word, confesses sin openly, serves Christ’s bride and shares the Gospel to the lost around you
To be an example they can follow
And to pray faithfully for them and with them
But, if they reject the truth of Christ as an older student, what should you not do at first? Well don’t use parables or proverbs as your plan. There are truths found in the prodigal son parable, and there is a general truth in train up a child in the way he should go, but neither was designed to give you detailed instruction on how to deal with wayward children. They’re general truths, not instructions.
Nor should your first response be to kick them out of your house. God has a purpose in this trial. This has happened to transform your relationship with Christ and with your student–do not immediately toss them out. Nor should you hide in embarrassment and respond with guilt, shame, anger, fear, shock or despair. Do not act like God is not in control, as if God does not love you, as if God is not all wise and has a plan for your student and for you as their parent.
So then what is God’s plan? What is a helpful pursuit? What are parents to do when their child goes wayward? Not merely being disobedient, not merely acting rebellious, but showing an outright defiant rejection of Christ and His Gospel. Embrace God’s . . .
#1 Parental TESTING
I was taught very early as a young pastor, when your church gets gossipy, harsh, disobedient, uncaring, lacks convictions about truth . . . the first place you look is your own life. When I get concerned about you spiritually, I take that as a call for me to examine my own heart, go to prayer, confess sin, evaluate where I am not pleasing to Christ. Sometimes it means that we as elders need to examine our own hearts as a team as well. Are we proud, are we trusting in ourselves–are we not being Christ-like shepherds?
And I believe a wayward child is to produce the same response in the heart of their parent. God allowed this moment in order to grow you, transform you, to expose your heart in all new ways. When a child walks away from Christ, that event is not merely about their heart, but it is about your heart. It’s not about why is this happening, but it’s about how you will respond?
It’s a trial you’re to respond to. James 1:2 and 3, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” God is growing you parents. God is testing your faith. What are the ways God wants to work in a parent’s life through the experience of a wayward child? Get these down.
First Hate PRIDE and pursue HUMILITY
I love the way Peter describes humility to the church in chapter 5. He tells them to put on the towel of service, like Jesus did, and wash the feet of the undeserving. This is how Christ says it, 1 Peter 5:5 and 6, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 … humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Clothe yourself—literally, wrap the towel of a slave around you and serve others. God hates pride, but He gives grace to the humble.
A wayward child is designed to humble us. Sadly, parents try to keep it a secret because they’re embarrassed, or parents overreact, acting as if their life has ended, or parents blame friends, schooling, the world, Satan, the church, the youth group–anyone who impacted their student or failed to. But God says make your favorite outfit the garment of a slave–submit to Christ, repent of your sins, depend on the Spirit, follow God’s Word, and get help from other believers.
When the wayward child goes public, then you go public. Now to hopefully prevent a wayward child, you should be asking their children’s leaders, student leaders, teachers, godly adults, trusted relatives consistently–how is my student doing? How is my child’s heart, their spiritual life, what do you see? And when pursuing a wayward student, you ask those same Christian individuals for help, for prayer, and for influence.
I wish you could have seen Jean and I raise our kids. You would have seen us make a lot of mistakes–really. But we did ask everyone who had regular contact with our boys, “How are they doing? What do you see? Any suggestions?”
There is way too much pride with parents today–far too much pride. And you need to repent today of what’s wrong with you. Starting today, you ask children’s teachers, student leaders, school teachers, coaches, and other adults how your kids are doing? And then listen! Your wayward child needs to see you hate pride and pursue humility.
Second Kill HYPOCRISY and pursue INTEGRITY
Hypocrisy is one of the biggest contributors to wayward children. Hypocrisy in behavior, speech and attitude overrides everything you are trying to model and teach through God’s Word. When students see inconsistency, it erodes their faith. And hypocrisy literally exasperates a child, because hypocrisy says, “Do what I say, not as a do.” How do students see hypocrisy in their homes? Ask them.
When parents expect instant growth, expecting their students to instantly change, while they themselves rarely do . . .
Parents give expectations for the Word, for evangelism, and for decisionmaking that they don’t hold themselves to
Parents don’t allow students to lose their temper, but they often do
Parents tell their kids church is crucial, but sports always win out
Parents say discipleship is essential, but family time trumps it
Parents say marriage is the second most important decision, but they are lax with who their students date, stating that their happiness is more important—or, well, as long as they’re saved
Parents have money for Starbucks, but give little to their church
Grades and homework are more important than a heart for God
Success in school drowns out a passion for spiritual growth
Everything extra in life goes to sports and activities, but Christ and His church only get the leftovers (when there’s a conflict between sports and church—sports wins every time)
Movies are watched by parents that students can’t watch
Kindness is shown in conversation, but those same people who were shown kindness are later ripped on in private
Dad and Mom are nice to each other at church, but scream at each other at home
Ask yourself . . . “What is my goal in parenting? Is it . . . ”
#1 For my kids to like me?
#2 For my kids to be happy? Or
#3 For my kids to love, obey and pursue Christ?
Jesus said in Matthew 6:5, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
Mark 7:6, “And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.”’”
You have to kill hypocrisy, or it will kill your parenting. One definition of integrity is simply this–to live the same everywhere, and everywhere live for Christ. Understand the life of JC Ryle. When all the solid preachers were abandoning the Church of England over doctrinal reasons, JC Ryle remained as a thorn in their side, reminding them of and standing upon the truth of God’s Word.
There was never a time Ryle was not watched like a hawk. Never a time Ryle could relax. So when JC Ryle wrote these words to parents, he knew what he was talking about. He said this—“To give children good instruction and a bad example, is but beckoning them with the head to show them the way to heaven, while we take them by the hand and lead them the way of Hell.” To impact a wayward child, kill hypocrisy, live the same everywhere and everywhere live for Christ! And if you want to pursue your wayward child, then . . .
Third Reject SELF-SUFFICIENCY and rest in DEPENDENCY
Stop living in the flesh, and start living in the Spirit. You can’t save your children, you can’t manipulate them into following Christ. But you can live for Christ and show them Christ in a dramatic and powerful way. By . . .
1 Being FILLED with the Spirit
Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit means to live saturated in the Word of God, so that the Word is always on your mind. It means to live dependently, relying on the Spirit for everything from driving to talking, from parenting to vacuuming. Be being kept filled means to confess all known sins, and to live as a servant in the church and a witness in the world.
It is desiring all of life to be Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Your students need to see you depending on Christ for everything.
That’s difficult in a wealthy culture like ours, where we have very few desperate needs. But they should see you pray about everything, and depend on God’s Word to answer your questions. How many students would live more radically for Christ if they saw authentic commitment lived out in their home just once? And if they’re going to be impacted by your example, then it is going to be as you . . .
2 TRUST in Christ to provide ALL you need
Turn to 2 Peter 1:3. They should not see you depend on your salary, or on your own efforts, or on your relationships or your skills–but they need to see you trust in the provision of Christ. Second Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” Notice–God not only has given everything we need to live godly, but God has given us everything we need to live everyday life.
Are you trusting Him to provide whatever you need in your marriage, or with your money? Don’t think for a moment that today is a horrible time to raise your kids. There is nothing new under the sun. Sin might be more accessible, but there is no new sin. You parents are equipped with all you need, if you are genuinely saved. You can teach them, train them, raise them, and do all that God requires. So if they walk away from Christ, they need to see you depending on Christ in a way you never have before.
Fourth Stop living for THEM and start living [all in] for CHRIST
A wayward child is a wakeup call. Many parents tested in this way admit they had fallen into a routine–they acted more lukewarm than hot. They were living for their kids and not for Christ. Yet the moment their child rejects Christ, their first response is to be angry, blame someone, be afraid, to suffer under guilt, and to live perpetually brokenhearted and overwhelmingly sad over the current eternal destiny of their lost child.
If you live for your kids, if they walk away, your life falls apart. What they need to see is a dad and a mom who’re living for Christ and not for them–parents who know why they’re here on planet Earth, a father and mother who serve in the church and witness in the world in all they do. In other words, parents who live for something (or someone) greater than themselves and their family, a person and a cause worth dying for–they need to see passion, for Christ, love His Word and devotion to His Bride.
Often, but not always, part of the reason they walked away is because a hot spiritual heart was not present. So now is the time to repent, and live for Christ in all things. Proverbs 3:5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
You used to tell your child to obey, and they did. But now that they’ve grown to be a young adult, things are different. Stop trying to control your students–you’ve already lost control. God alone is in control. Trust the God who is in control. Don’t treat your wayward student as a home wrecker. Don’t chew them out because they rejected Christ. Pursue Christ with all your heart. Trust Him, pray, depend, be filled, serve, give and delight in Christ.
They will not turn to Christ through your nagging, badgering, complaining, whining and manipulating—put Christ on display. Treat your child as if they’re an unsaved neighbor child who just happens to live in your home. Seek to put the Gospel on display–show them what it means to have Christ in your life. Prove to them by your behavior that life in Christ is superior to anything and everything they might want in this world. Get this—if you sit around begging them to repent, and continue to focus your entire life on them, they will not see Christ. They must see you living for Christ in every way. And finally . . .
Fifth Don’t look for RESULTS, be FAITHFUL in the process
Never forget, a wayward kid is about your heart, not your child’s. God is allowing this to transform you. God is bringing this about so that you will be more like Christ. And Your Father requires daily faithfulness, not a quick fix. Be like me, the preacher man–that’s right. What do I mean? One of my privileges I enjoy is to faithfully teach God’s Word–and by His Spirit, to try to live the truth as a model to this flock.
But here is my confession to you–there are times I am tempted to get really discouraged. To keep studying twenty hours a week, and prep each week to preach God’s Word–yet after all that, sometimes you all don’t change. It’s almost as if the Word didn’t get through–like it just skipped off your head. Sometimes it seems that way.
Now it is gratifying to see your hearts do change over time, but there’re individual Sundays I’m wondering, “What am I doing wrong?” Or times I am wondering, “What’s wrong with you?” Then God reminds me from His Word, that I plant and water, but God causes the growth. It’s the Lord who changes lives–it’s the Lord who saves and sanctifies. It’s the Lord who produces fruit, not me.
First Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. [And just so I don’t forget] So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” I am nothing–I am merely a servant. I am a waiter trying to get God’s food from His kitchen to you, without messing it up. But God alone is the one who changes lives.
That’s the point, parents of a wayward child–you are to plant and water, you cultivate the soil, do all you can, but only the Lord can change their life. Only God can save them or sanctify them. Be faithful to plant and water. Be faithful to model Christ, and never give up. So how do we become better farmers, when the crop is in danger?
#2 Parental STEPS–How do we PURSUE a wayward child?
First SHOCK the wayward child through radical change in you
Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” My parents rocked my world. Instead of lecturing me, they listened to me. Instead of laying into me, they loved me. Oh, they upheld truth, they maintained an ordered house, they didn’t compromise, they hated sin, but they radically changed. I saw them put Christ on display to me.
Parents–just like a wife who has an unsaved husband, your main ministry attack is your lifestyle, not your lips. Yes, you’ll want to clarify the Gospel. You want them to understand how to be saved, but you’re not to badger them with the Gospel, or whip them with the Word of God. What does God say to a wife of an unsaved husband ? First Peter 3:1, “You wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.”
If your student does not obey the Bible, then win them by your behavior. What kind of behavior is going to get their attention?
1 Adore your SPOUSE
You both must not only get on the same page with how you approach your wayward child, but your marriage must transform. You need to show your student the superiority of Christian marriage, the love of Christ in marriage, and the delight a husband and wife can enjoy in Christ. Your goal is to repent of anything in your marriage that is keeping your wayward child from wanting a marriage like yours.
Listen, wayward students are looking for freedom, for possessions, for pleasure, but most often, honestly, they are looking for sex. They’ve bought the lie, and will go after sex the way the world is selling it. Your affection, delight, treasuring, cherishing of each other is to convince them that it was God Himself who intended sex for a Christian marriage.
Your goal is to make them want a marriage like yours. And if you’re both believers, then it will be Christ and His Church that they are witnessing in the way you treat each other. For the glory of God, by the Word of God, listen to each other, pray with one another, get on the same page with one another, and pursue a healthy marriage–it will rock their world. Get your marriage in order to pursue your wayward child. Also shock them by . . .
2 CONFESSING your sins, more than confronting their sins
Ask the Lord, and ask godly friends, and ask your wayward child, about any of your behavior, any choices, any words, or any example that has hurt them. Confess it, repent of it, get accountable for it. As you do, explain the Gospel–that Christ died for the sins of His children, and part of authentic salvation is regeneration—that God alone gives us the ability to turn from sin and become like Christ. Then make sure they see you depending on Christ to change you, and show them that in Christ you actually can overcome sin. I watched my dad overcome his temper, and my mom serve my dad.
Talk more about your sin than their sin. Key–don’t fuel their sin, nor facilitate their sin, but stop trying to prevent their sinning. Your communication must improve with a wayward student. Learn to listen and make no comment–hear what they’re saying. Repeat back what they share with you, so they know you heard. You can remind them that sin is a thief, destructive, leads to death and is a lie, but instead of hammering them with that truth, tell them what sin did to you, and the price you paid for pursuing it. Share your mistakes, your struggles, be open about your failures and the hope you have in Christ–then listen.
3 Re-order your HOME and your family
While they’re cutting themselves off from you spiritually, make sure your home is a place they’d want to come back to. Super controlling, dictatorial, biting, heartless parents, and boring, harsh homes are not attractive to lost children. Enjoy your children’s strengths–magnify them, celebrate them. Hint at their weaknesses and struggles so they remember that they, like all of us, have sinful bents. But focus your home on the blessings of Christ.
Without being preachy, rehearse the advantages of being saved, like being forgiven, being able to see reality, enjoying peace, not living in fear, and experiencing joy and intimacy. Wise coaches know they don’t merely motivate through correction–they also motivate through encouragement, and lots of it. As you talk, you want to carefully remind them of past highlights and future dreams, so that you communicate hope. If and when they finally do get sick of their sin, they should know there is a better path awaiting them. And have fun as a family–build memories, enjoy each other. Do not allow a wayward child to throw your home into depression.
As a pastor of 700 collegians, I loved the parable of the soils, because I saw it lived out constantly. You remember Matthew 13. Two of the plants in the parable would spring up, look like the real thing, only to wither and die when trials hit or the pleasures of the world became more attractive. But in reality, it’s that withered plant that becomes the fertilizer for the sowing of the Gospel seed to finally take root and produce true fruit.
Repeatedly, a collegian who grew up in the church experiencing true freedom for the first time, would walk away from Christ, pursue girls or guys, go as wild as their conscious allowed, and proved they were unsaved. Then when, by God’s grace, they became sick of sin, sin hurt them, stole from them, robbed them, and they were awakened to the lie of sin, they’d repent, turn to the Christ they had known about but not known personally. And now they sought to follow Christ, humble and sad they walked away, but thankful for salvation.
And a big part of the reason they returned was because they knew of the love of Christ, the truth of God’s Word, and the faithfulness of God in loving relationships. Make certain your home is one a prodigal would want to return to. Parental step #1 . . .
First Shock the wayward by the RADICAL transformation in your life
Second Encourage Biblical SATURATION
Using every means of grace, and every tool in your biblical shed, expose them to the life and the work of Christ. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean argue with them, or preach at them, or continually text them Bible verses. It means keep the reality of Christ around you and around them. They need to know you’ll never stop loving them, nor pursuing them–that they can always come back and return home, as long as they honor the basic fair rules of your household.
You can require them to not participate in sin in your house. You can require them to not endanger the other children. But love them in such a way that you are no longer the reason for their rebellion. It means invite them to join you at family events, and to come to church. If they are under eighteen, they can be required to attend with you. But do not use church as a punishment–make it the best time you have as a family, and the best time you have with friends. Go out to lunch at their favorite restaurants after church. Surround church and time with Christians with events they love. That’s a good idea when they are young as well—make it a refreshing day.
Biblical saturation means inviting all loving, mature, biblical friends and family to pursue Mr. or Miss Wayward. The body of Christ can be a powerful tool when there is man-to-man and woman-to-woman and peer-to-peer interaction with your wayward child. Organize events they enjoy in order to be around believers. If they ask you, “Are you just trying to have me around Christians?” say, “Yes! They love you no matter where you are at.”
Collect prayer partners who will hold you accountable, and who will pray daily for your wayward child. When you talk, you should talk about the future more than ever. Talk about your life in Christ now, compared to your life when you were enslaved to sin. Ask them, again with no preaching, about their future marriage, their future children, their future role as a parent, their future home, what they want it to be like? And talk about Heaven, and what you are looking forward to most about being face to face with Christ. Without telling them, get them thinking about where this path they are on is actually headed. Parental step number 3.
Third Establish Biblical BOUNDARIES
They’ve admitted to you that they’re a non-Christian, so treat them like one. You can’t expect them not to sin. You can’t expect them to obey the way a Christian can. They will lie, cheat, steal, shout, blame, be angry, resent you, not trust you, grow bitter, sullen, distant and uncaring. You are to treat them like an unsaved kid in your neighborhood who now lives with you. Treat them as a non-Christian, not a sinning believer. And seek to be a positive witness.
You can reason with them, you have to set reasonable boundaries, remain super approachable, listen more than talk, demonstrate radical change in Christ, and all that we have already seen today. But you also must remain responsible for your home before God. Remind your wayward student that God holds you dads responsible for your home. Christian or not, you answer to God for your home. Remind them, you, Dad, have to do what God wants first.
Remind them that in their future home, they’ll do the same, when they have kids of their own. And as you do, establish biblical and reasonable rules to abide by in your home. It is best to write them out in a contract, work it through with them, and have you and they sign it together. “Here is what we are both agreeing to, if you are to live here.” Only kick them out when they are defiantly damaging to your headship of the home, or dangerous to the other kids.
It is a last resort and it is filled with complications today. If they’re under eighteen, they can’t just go anywhere they want. And you may have to involve the police or other authorities, which makes it prudent today to keep a daily journal of your dealings with the wayward child. You also need to learn the difference between helping them and enabling them. Helping them biblically may include not money, but food, clothing and shelter (which may be in a public shelter). Enabling them is trying to keep them from experiencing the consequences of their unwise choices and sin–don’t do it.
Be committed to a long term process. Marriages don’t get fixed in a day, and neither do wayward students. God works over time. Pursue them, talk to them, love them and call them to turn from their sin to turn to Christ. But do so by telling them what you did, and show them how Christ changed your life, along with showing them how Christ is changing your life now. When the Spirit draws someone to Himself, they will become sick of their sin, and they’ll see Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection as their only hope. Show them Christ is real in you. Remember, parents . . .
1 A wayward student is not an invitation for you to focus your life on them, but it is a call directly from God to focus your life on Christ and His Word
2 A wayward student is a searchlight to examine your heart as a parent before Christ
3 A wayward student is an opportunity to accelerate God’s sanctifying work in you as parents
4 A wayward student is a lens to bring all that is truly necessary into priority, and all that is not priority into the unnecessary
I trust God’s powerful Word to change lives–it changed mine. I was the wayward child. I caused my parents to age prematurely during my high school years. I prayed a prayer at thirteen, but was genuinely saved at eighteen, and for years after I was saved, I had adult after adult say to me, “Do you know what you put your parents through?” My parents lived out many of these truths from God’s Word. I blamed them, was angry at them–then they changed.
They obeyed, they loved me, they would speak about Christ and the horrors of sin, but they no longer argued, yelled, or hammered me—they loved me, and I hated it. It was like burning coals on my head. Why? Because I could no longer blame them for my sin–suddenly I had only one person I could blame, and it was me. They prayed so hard, so passionately, for my soul–they prayed me right into the ministry.
There is hope, parents–but it is only found in Christ. Are you saved? Is Christ your first love? Is your marriage a witness? Are you living proof that living for Christ means you want to obey? Are you willing for God to radically change you?