I don't think I ever posted this article from our Baptist Times supplement in November to this blog. It's from an interview with Paul Rhodes of Rodbourne Cheney Baptist Church in Swindon. I was moved by his description of people turning up at 12am to pray for their 'prodigals'. It's such a deep and emotional subject and it affects nearly all of us.
I was reminded of the article today when I read Krish Kandiah's blog post about the fact that 70% of church children choose to walk away from the church. That in itself is an interesting read: http://krishk.com/2012/02/takes-church/#comment-1947
Many of us will have been in prayer meetings where prayers for ‘those in our own families who have strayed away from God’ are met with the most heartfelt murmurs of agreement. When Paul Rhodes was a ministerial student on a training placement at Cairns Road Baptist Church in Bristol he was allotted what he thought would be the graveyard slot of a 24 hour prayer marathon – he was to lead prayers for ‘prodigals’ at 12am. To his surprise, around a dozen parents turned up to pray for their adult children. This experience – and the answers to prayer that resulted – stayed with him.
Now Paul is Minister of Rodbourne Cheney Baptist Church in Swindon. “Virtually everybody in our church has a loved one not walking with the Lord – but who has been at some point”, he says. The church decided to hold a 24 hour fast, from dinner on Friday until dinner on Saturday, with two sessions of worship and prayer for prodigals.
Again, the response was remarkable – at the first two hour session, more or less every church member who could have been there was there. Everyone was given a card to write down a name, and any details the person themselves wouldn’t have minded sharing. All the participants prayed alone, then in small groups, and there was a chance to look at the stories of Old Testament ‘prodigals’ such as Moses’ father in law Jethro who saw for himself the glory of the LORD at Mount Sinai and believed.
On Sunday, the church gathered for a picnic. Four teenagers who had been prayed for turned up, and another family who had been on the fringes of church came along, and have been more closely involved every since. One individual who seemed particularly far off has made some important changes since that day of prayer.
“It was very good for us as a fellowship” says Paul. “We’re quite a united fellowship anyway but we took a quantum leap that day.”
The pain of having a family member grow away from God is very real, and often stays hidden in our hearts. Perhaps that very pain can be the catalyst we need to come together and pray to our Father as one – and his answer may surprise us just as the original ‘lost son’ was surprised by his welcome home.