The godly woman had been driving so hard for so long.
She had pushed, hoped, and prayed for her prodigal son to come home. Not that he was physically gone. No, he was right there, working under her own roof, helping feed the large staff of her popular ministry. Yet he was starving to death.
Kay Arthur still remembers the precise spot on Highway 153 where the Lord spoke to her and released her from the guilt and frustration of feeling like a failure. She was founder of Precepts Ministries, an author, and a national radio personality. And her own son–the one she had taken to church and Bible study for years–was lost.
“I was just crying out to God, and I just felt like I’d failed so much, and God just said to me, ‘Are all my children perfect?’ No. ‘Am I a perfect Father?’ Yes,” Arthur says in an interview with In Touch. “So just because your child is not perfect does not mean that you are always a failure as a parent.”
Her son’s journey to Christ has become a potent part of Arthur’s renowned testimony, and it reminds frustrated parents everywhere of the power of prevailing prayer. Tommy Arthur is a saint of God now, born again at the age of 38. That was more than three decades after Arthur dedicated her life to Christ at age 29 and began talking to her son about Jesus.
Now she reminds parents of prodigals to fulfill their duties to pray, discipline, and exhibit the life of Christ–and God alone must handle the rest.
“One of the things that has helped me is in Galatians 1, when Paul says, ‘When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me,'” Arthur says. “When you look at that verse, you see that salvation is of God, and you see that even the timing is of God, and that it’s when God is pleased to reveal His Son in us. There’s another Scripture that says that no man can come to the Father except the Father draw him.
“And I think so many times with God we’re so impatient. When was Jesus born? In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son,” she says. “So, first of all, you must realize that salvation is of God, and I’m very strong on that–to rest in that and to know that I cannot force my child or my loved one to believe in Jesus Christ.”
Kay Arthur’s experience is emblematic of the prayerful plight of thousands of godly parents throughout the world. Once a person is saved, many times his greatest residual desire is to see his offspring saved. It is a natural reaction to want to share eternity with one’s child.
Throw guilt into the mix–especially since a child’s rebellion is often only a regurgitation of what he has witnessed in his parents–and the burden can sometimes seem to stifle the parent’s Christian walk. Arthur felt the sting of this guilt because for the first seven years of his life Tommy saw only an unregenerate, immoral mother. Through study of Scripture and prayer, however, Arthur realized that her child was “not going to go to hell because I failed, because God is greater than all of that.” The recognition of God’s sovereignty, that He is in control of all the affairs of men, brought a measure of peace.
Arthur also was enlightened by the message of Philippians 3:10, understanding that a parent’s lament over a lost child is part of the fellowship of His sufferings. In her 1997 book As Silver Refined, Arthur explains:
He lets our hearts break for our children who walk in rebellion and who may even turn and accuse us, so that in our hearts we better understand what it’s like for Him when His children rebel and then turn and accuse Him.
“Exactly,” Arthur says now. “Every individual is accountable for his own behavior. I can do so much. Where I’ve done wrong, I need to ask my child to forgive me, and I need to remove all the blocks and all the hindrances that I can by going to my child or my loved one and saying, ‘I did wrong, I failed you as a parent, I failed you in this way, I failed you morally,’ or whatever, and, ‘I am sorry and I am grieved about it, and I have not been the example. I have gone to God, and I have asked God to forgive me, and God has, and I am asking you to forgive me.’
“And if they say, ‘I refuse to forgive you,’ then that becomes between the individual and God. . . . God will deal with that.”
Perhaps you have a lost child or loved one occupying a heavy spot in your heart. Even if you have begged God for years and seen no results, Arthur urges you to persevere in prayer and faith. For memorization purposes, Arthur’s points may be summarized in the acrostic of PLEA: Prayer; Love; and Enforcing Authority.
Nothing in your hope for your loved one’s salvation is as fundamental and important as prayer. This is how you unlatch the windows of heaven. This is how you draw nearer to the King of the universe. God knows your needs before you ask, but He also desires your heartfelt communication and submission to His sovereignty. Part of the fellowship of His sufferings is that He always is seeking to mold you into becoming a servant more like Him.
Arthur shares two Scriptural supports: First, Jesus’ message in Luke 11:1-13 is that we should persist until we see His answer; secondly, Luke 18 begins with Jesus telling “a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.”
Clearly, hope’s heartbeat is heard best with your head bowed.
“I just kept continuing to pray for him. I went the distance with him,” Arthur says of her son, whom she knew had not accepted Christ though he had made several professions of faith. “I think we have to remember that Christ does not despise lost people. He came to seek and save that which was lost. . . . He met them where they were.”
It is fitting to develop calluses on your knees–but never on your heart. Frustration can easily spill over into bitterness and even insidious hate within the tiniest chasms in man’s heart when his sincerest efforts are constantly stamped with rejection.
Though sometimes difficult, remember that your loved ones’ negative or indifferent reactions to the Gospel are born of blindness. They are lost, and the enemy has veiled their eyes. You should no more grow intolerant of them than of a blind man who steps on your foot.
First Corinthians 13 is the Bible’s grandest trumpet of love. Beginning in the fourth verse, the apostle Paul describes the characteristics of love. Interestingly, the very first trait he mentions is patience. Love is patient. He goes on to say that love is kind and that it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails. We should have faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
“You don’t stop praying, and you don’t stop loving,” Arthur says. “See, this is the key that won my son–I never stopped loving him, and I never shut the door. If any door was shut, he would shut it, but my door was always open.
“I think affection is important. I think touching your child, complimenting your child, finding out what is good and praising that is so important,” she says. “You know, the (Old Testament) Law never demeaned a person. The Law just simply said, ‘This is the way you behave.’ The Law never came along and said, ‘You’re worthless and you’ll never amount to anything.’ The Law set a standard.”
The law set a standard, indeed, and while love is always required, sometimes love has to be tough.
“I never released my son from obedience,” says Arthur, who counsels parents to guard against permissive attitudes stemming from guilt over past failures with their children. For instance, though she knew she had not been an ideal mother before her conversion, Arthur demanded that Tommy attend church, attend Bible study, and sit under the teaching of the Word. Whether he wanted them or not, seeds were being planted.
“I’ve just written a new book called Our Covenant God, Learning to Trust Him, and this explains it,” Arthur says. “The Law was given for two reasons. One, to define our sins. This is in Galatians 3. . . . Second, it is a schoolmaster to shut us up to obedience until faith in Christ should come. In other words, it’s a tutor, and it slaps my hands and it says, ‘Don’t do that,’ until my heart is changed under the new Covenant, and then I want to obey because the Holy Spirit has moved inside me. So for parents whose children are not saved, the law is there to restrain them until faith in Christ should come, bringing with it obedience.”
Just as she remembers her drive down Highway 153, Kay Arthur remembers her son’s cathartic moment after he accepted Christ. He stood in his mother’s kitchen, telling her how much he loved her, sharing his regret, and pleading her forgiveness. As before, her weeping response was in love: Son, you’re forgiven. I understand, because I’ve been there.
“And he’d talk to me about the Word of God, and I’d stand there, and I’d think, ‘You know, I never, ever thought this was going to happen.’ And it did,” Arthur says. “I think that’s what parents need to understand on this Mother’s Day. You need to raise them believing God. You need to raise them doing what God says. You’re not smarter than God, and if God says that you’re to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord–from a child you’ve known the Scriptures which are able to make them wise unto salvation–it doesn’t mean because your child rebels that you let that dear little rebellious kid dictate the fact that he or she is not going to hear the Scriptures. You do your part. The child’s responsibility is to respond.”