“What’s the one thing that keeps you from following the Lord?” the pastor asked on a Sunday morning during the sermon not long ago.
At first I thought, this question doesn’t apply to me. Everything in me wants to follow the Lord. But then I realized on any given day and at any given moment this pursuit repeatedly gets aborted by various distractions and/or obsessions.
What first came to mind as far as my latest battle to follow the Lord was a person’s name. This particular individual had been getting into lots of trouble, and I found myself focused on “working on her” to prevent more trouble and worrying about where all this trouble would lead.
Neither pursuit accomplished anything except to make me feel discouraged. And my work and worry took my focus off of my own walk with the Lord and what He wanted from me. My fervent desire for her to follow the Lord carried me away from my own need to do so.
As I contemplated how my concentration on this person affected my relationship with God, I realized what kept me from following God was not my focus on just this one person but on a group of people which she belonged to: prodigals.
These loved ones once had a hunger for God. At one time they pursued Him wholeheartedly and they had proclaimed Jesus as Savior and sometimes still do. Yet they now wander in a wilderness of wasteful living.
So not long after I realized my obsession with these prodigals (or perhaps I should say re-realized since the Lord had pointed this out before) I cried out to God.
“What should I do?”
He led me to abandon the “work” and worry and led me to fast and pray for these prodigals and determine to love them where they’re at rather than trying to drag them to where I think they should be. My fasting has consisted of all-days fasts, partial day fasts or fasting from particular foods.
For the first one I fasted and prayed 16 days–16 being the number of years she remained in an unhealthy relationship which drew her away from the Lord. For each day God gave me a word to pray for her which began with the letter “R.” I prayed she would put these words into action in her life. Some of the R words were: repent, receive, return, rejoice, resist, rest.
For the second prodigal, I prayed and fasted a certain number of days–her age. With her, the Lord gave me H words to pray. Some were: hunger, hear, humble, heed, hold.
I felt tempted to send these prodigals what I had prayed for them, but I discovered that urge came not from God but from my “work to get them to come back to the Lord” faulty focus.
Today as I looked over the list of R and H words, I saw I need to work on doing those in my own spiritual life. Working on my walk with Him is where God wants my focus to be. Once again I’m praying God will help me to stop obsessing over working to eradicate stubbornness or rebellion in others and deal with it in my own heart.
When God told the rich young ruler (see Mark 10: 17-31) what he needed to do after pointing out his riches were keeping him from following, He did not chase after him to try to get him to change his mind about his riches. God does allow me to speak truth to others, but when they refuse to receive it, I need to let go and move on—not chase after them.
In the case of the rich young ruler, Jesus answered questions. God is revealing to me that I may answer questions, but I am to abandon efforts to bring prodigals home except through prayer and fasting. In the past I often questioned the prodigals about how they were living their lives at the moment. This was not from the Lord. I need to be turning to God with questions like my “What should I do?” question.
“How should I pray?” is another good question.
Today I began praying for the third prodigal on my prayer list. God gave me a certain number of days, which coincided with how long I’ve known him. For this person I feel led to pray the alphabet with each letter being something he needs to be delivered from. Today’s word was addictions. Then God turned things around, and I thought, I still have a few addictions of my own.
“Lord, deliver me.”
I feel sad “my” prodigals have been “gone” for many years, and that I do not have it in my power to bring them home. But God is able. For whatever reason, He chooses to allow them to remain in the wandering mode—for now.
What I do know is that He does not want me to lose the joy of my own salvation just because they have walked away from theirs.
To trust Him means I let go of my work and worries mentality toward them even as I continue to pray for their return.
I praise God that pastor asked a question which showed me the truth about myself and drew me closer to God.
The prayer in Psalm 139 comes to mind, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 23-24
Lord, help me to stop following my own desires and detours and let me fully follow You.
Here’s a song which has encouraged me so many times over the years as well as today: “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman