Believing for Our Prodigals
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Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and her husband, Robert, remind us that we have a Father in heaven who is so good and faithful, even when we can’t see it.
Bob: When you face circumstances in life that are painful or difficult/stressful, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says we have to be asking our self: “Whose agenda do we care about most?”
Nancy: We have to come to the place—whether it’s our health, or our finances, or our family, or whatever—that we care more about God’s story, and what He is writing, and what He is doing to redeem this broken world than we care about our own problems being solved. Sometimes, the mystery is just trusting: “I can’t see how You’re doing that God, and this makes no sense at all to me; but I know that You are good, and You do good.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 8th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Do we really believe that God is good and that everything He does is good? If we do, that should change the way we view our circumstances today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to be talking about how to let God write your story today with our guests, Robert and Nancy Wolgemuth.
But before we introduce them and get into that topic—if you guys will pardon us—we shared earlier this week about the video series that has just been completed. It’s a five-session small group series for couples called Vertical Marriage.
Dave: You ever heard that title before, Bob?
Bob: I have heard that title. [Laughter] This is based on the best-selling book that Dave and Ann Wilson wrote that came out last year. And now, to have it in a video format for couples to go through in a small group setting—we’re really excited about this.
Ann: We’re super excited to have people walk through this with us.
Dave: You know, what’s amazing is—Vertical Marriage is sort of based on one of the worst moments in our marriage.
Ann: That’s our story.
Dave: Yes; and at that moment, I thought: “Nobody will ever really hear this story. They don’t need to.” And yet, that’s how God is—He takes something that was dead, resurrects it, and then He says, “I want the world to know so that it can help others.”
Bob: And it has helped others because a lot of people have worse moments in their marriage; right? We all have times we look back on with regret or things we wish we could have done differently. You guys have been public about what that moment was for you and some of the other moments in your marriage.
Ann: There are quite a few bad moments, actually. [Laughter]
Bob: And we get to hear about that in the video series, which is now available. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’ve got a small group or a Sunday school class at church—you’re looking for something where you can focus on marriage for five weeks—this is great content from Dave and Ann Wilson. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the Vertical Marriage DVD series.
Now, we’ve been hearing, this week, stories of God’s providence/stories where God/where we can see the hand of God at work in somebody’s life. He’s always at work in our lives; sometimes, we just don’t see it.
In fact, we’ve got guests who are with us this week, Robert and Nancy Wolgemuth. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, guys.
Robert: Thank you.
Nancy: Thank you.
Bob: I was with the two of you on the day that your book—the book we’re talking about this week: You Can Trust God to Write Your Story—the book that you got your first copy right off the press; right?
Robert: That’s right.
Bob: And I told you, that day, it instantly brought to mind, for me, an old hymn. In fact, you want to go back and say, “We should have put that hymn in the book.” You want to go back and do an edit. The hymn is the hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way—William Cowper
Robert: His wonder—wonders to perform
Dave: Are you going to sing it Bob?
Ann: I’ve never heard this.
Bob: Listen to these lyrics: Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
These are the lines I love.
Robert: Oh yes.
Bob: behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
Bob: We can’t see the smiling face.
Robert: In fact, one of the lyrics there talks about Him planting His footsteps in the sea. I dare you to see your footstep after you take your foot out of the water.
Bob: You can’t see it.
Robert: You can’t see it; it’s there, but you can’t see it.
Bob: So here’s the theme/the message we’re talking about this week is: “God is at work in ways we don’t understand and don’t see: even in the trials, even in the struggles, even in the pain. We have to learn how to respond to God in those moments/how to trust God in those moments. That’s the subtitle of the book: Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. Those mysteries are sometimes prickly and hard to embrace.
Robert: That’s right; and you can choose to embrace them, even though you don’t want to: “I’m going to choose to embrace what I don’t understand. I’m going to choose to embrace what I may not even like.” What happens in that embrace changes my heart.
Nancy: I fully agree with that, but if I could just add a caveat to that. It’s not just bare- knuckled, “I’m going to choose this”; okay, sometimes it is. But in the bigger picture, I think there’s also this sense that we have a Father in heaven who loves us, and who wants what is best for us, and who is all powerful, and is so good, and is so faithful, and is writing a beautiful story. We have something to look forward to, even in our most painful moments. What does Paul say in Romans 8?—“I’m confident I know that the sufferings of this present time”—intense as they may be—"are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
I think, in high school, we read O. Henry—the man who was known for surprise endings. You would read these short stories by O. Henry; and he always had this—you never knew where this thing was going—and you get to the last page and it’s: “Whoa! I didn’t expect that! This was amazing! Of course, now this all makes sense.” He was the master of this surprise ending that made the whole thing come together in a way you could never have anticipated.
I think God is the master storyteller. Why would I not choose to embrace His providence?—if I know that He’s good, and He’s doing good, and that one day when I see what He has seen all along—when I know what He has known all along—I will say, “That’s exactly the way the story should have been written!”
Bob: We talked about trusting God in the midst of marital challenges. You brought up another category though, where I think, for moms and dads, to trust God in a season when a child is wayward, and we’re talking about eternity being in view. Those are times when our faith is tested at a deep level to go, “Is God going to rescue my child from the path that they’ve wandered down?”
As you talked with parents on this journey, what did you come away with that caused you to say, “This is helpful for other parents who might be going through this”?
Robert: Well, for starters, there may be no pressure quite like the pressure on a marriage to have a child either die or be a prodigal runaway. What we learned from these amazing people was their faith in God in spite of what they could see.
One dad, in particular—he was very methodical about what he trained his mind to believe and to not believe about—
Nancy: Can I read that here, honey?
Robert: Oh, please do.
Nancy: Talked with this couple whose child is out in the tulies and no sign of coming back, and actually trying to justify some really unbiblical choices with Scripture. It’s just very confused thinking and it’s upset the eco system of the whole family. I mean, everything changes; all the kids are affected. There’s no end in sight.
But this dad said to us—they came to realize three things. He said: “One, you cannot change your child’s heart. Two, it’s not your responsibility to fix your child. And three, you can’t quit.” So he perseveres—he and his wife—we talked with them together. There was a time, early on—I was with them, early on, when this began to unravel. There were lots of tears—and still are—and just aching over the choices of this young adult child. But the grappling, the striving, the trying to give this child books to read and things to listen to—and all the things that parents do to try to fix this—they finally settled into a—not that they love their child less/not that they care less—but realizing: “We can’t change their heart. Only God can do that, and it’s not our job to do that. But we can’t quit praying; we can’t quit loving; we can’t quit trusting God to write, not only our story, but the story of the one that we love.”
When we met with them, they’re at peace in a situation that any parent would consider really painful. It is still painful; and yet, there’s this peace that God is writing this child’s story: “We’re going to be there; we’re available, but we’re trusting God to write our story and this child’s story.” It’s not glib, but it’s really robust visceral faith that clings to God when there is nothing else to cling to.
Dave: And that’s a real trust because you can imagine—I know I would feel like a failure, laying in bed at night, going: “What did I do? How did I fail?” And being able to take that belief, which is really a lie, but to take that and go: “I can still trust God. God is still good in this.”
Nancy: These parents, in multiple situations, we’ve talked to—they have said: “Lord, if there are things you want to teach us, or show us, or change us, we are sinners who have parented sinful children.” So they’re not saying, “We were perfect parents”; what parent is? There’s a humility that allows God to speak into their lives.
But they’re also saying, “This child is responsible for his or her choices.” You have to, at some point, let go of the shame and the sense of guilt, once you’ve been humble and confessed any sin God reveals to you, and say, “Lord, only You can do this in my child’s life as well.”
Ann: One of the things that you said was you’ve been walking with this couple, which to me says they’ve opened up their lives. I think, sometimes when we’re in those predicaments, we can hide in shame, feeling like it’s our fault, or feeling depressed, and feeling like we don’t know where to turn. But the fact that you’ve walked with them, I think that’s really key and critical in relationships—that we have someone walking with us, holding our arms up. When we can’t even pray anymore, they’re praying for us and with us in our situations.
Nancy: And you know how we do that?—out of our own pain/out of our own experiences. In this conversation we’ve had over the last few days, multiple times, your eyes have filled up with tears. The listeners can’t see that, but I’m watching you. I don’t know you that well; but as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking: “If I were in a really hard place, here’s a woman I could talk to. She may not have been exactly where I’ve been, but she’s been in some hard places/she’s experienced pain, and she has found God to be faithful in the midst of that pain.” That draws me to you.
Our tears from our own painful experiences/our own challenges of embracing the mysteries of God’s providence, that’s part of what gives us the tools and resources to be an encouragement and a blessing to others.
Ann: Yes; it’s that beauty of fellowship.
I’ll never forget the time I was sharing my testimony; I shared about my sexual abuse—but how God had redeemed it, and God had restored me, and healed me. I got a letter from a woman who said I had glorified Satan that day. I went into my home, and I did not come out; because if there’s anything that could have hurt me more—there couldn’t have been anything that would hurt me more than those words—because I wanted to bring glory to God. I hid in my house.
But I had shared with my best friend one time, “When I get down, I hide and isolate; and I don’t want to talk to anybody.” And isn’t that where Satan does his best work?—when we’re alone and we’re isolated? She would call me and call me, and I wouldn’t pick up. Finally, one day, she’s knocking at the door. I wasn’t going to answer; and she said, “I know you’re in there, hiding; let me in!”
Nancy: That’s a real friend.
Ann: Isn’t that a good friend? But we all need those good friends that can love us in the midst of our pain and we’re in the valley. Because sometimes, that’s what helps draw us to Jesus and back into the Word.
Dave: What a vision the church would be if it was known for that. The community of God/the people of God would be a place—even unchurched people that don’t believe in God: “I want to run there. I hear those people”—are like you said Ann is—“are compassionate; they’ll walk beside you. They won’t judge; they won’t come and tell you what you need to do. They’ll just embrace the mystery of providence of God with you in the middle of that.” I think your book helps people do that—to walk beside.
Bob: They will do what Job’s friends did, at first, instead of what Job’s friends did later; right? They will come and sit in silence and bear the weight with you—
Nancy: —be there
Bob: —and be very careful. It’s not that we never offer counsel; because admonishing one another or encouraging one another—we’re called to do that—but you got to be very careful and make sure that you are pointing somebody in God’s direction when you do that.
Robert: Yes; I’d love to go back to the prodigal thing for a moment. Of course, we get the word from Luke 15—this young man, who takes off on his own. This was a parable; this wasn’t necessarily a true story, but something happened while he was in a faraway country. His dad—let’s just say—must have done something/said something—whatever—that the boy believed that, when he came home, his dad would be there. Now, he thought he was going to be a slave and that would have been good enough.
But I love the idea of doing—even when your kids are very small, and even through the mistakes that you make, as parents—you can draw your kids back, way later, when those seeds take root and your kid is miserable and he’s thinking: “You know what? My dad loves me, and he would take me if I’d come home.” That’s what you pray for—for your prodigal.
What you say to those parents is: “Don’t give up. Be the prodigal’s father”—which is really a picture of God—“of patiently waiting: praying for your kids, longing for them to come home, and then”—listeners can’t see this; but the image is the daddy looking down that lane, with his hand over his eyes, shading the sun, just waiting for his son to come—“and then, of course, we know he hiked up his robes and ran to meet him.”
That’s what you do, as a parent, of a prodigal: you’re patient. What Nancy just read is right. You can’t do anything about it except: wait patiently, pray like crazy, and be ready for when they come home.
Nancy: And related to that prodigal, and some of the people we talked to, I think another important takeaway was for parents to be careful not to rescue their children from the cross—not to try and fix or change things to make life easier for their child if God’s trying to get the child’s attention and bring that child to Christ and to the gospel.
Parents want to fix; they want to change—you know, it’s a mommas heart, “I don’t want my child to hurt.” But it was through the prodigal’s coming to the end of himself and to the end of his resources—that’s what ultimately brought him back home. We’ve heard parents say, “We need to be careful that we don’t rescue our children from the story God’s trying to write in their lives.”
Bob: Nancy, how do you trust God though? It’s one thing when you can look at somebody and say, “The story isn’t over”; but then, what do you do when the prodigal has gone and they die in the foreign field?” When the [prodigal] you have prayed for dies with no evidence of ever having repented, and you think: “How do I trust God? I prayed all these years; I hoped all these years; and now, it would appear that my child…” As a parent, “ How do you trust God with this?”
Robert: So one of the things that you said was: “You’ve not seen the evidence”; but you don’t know. You don’t know what’s happened in the quietness of the heart of the child in terms of them coming to terms with their own sinfulness. Again, this is the seeds that parents plant; and pray like crazy that the Lord will water that and grow that into some kind of relationship with Him. You don’t know; you don’t know. But that’s why it’s mystery; if we had this figured out, this book wouldn’t be necessary.
Nancy: I think, also, we have to come to the place in any of these stories—whether it’s our health, or our finances, or our family, or whatever—that we care more about God’s story, and what He is writing, and what He is doing to redeem this broken world than we care about our own problems being solved.
That can seem cold-hearted or hard-hearted in the moment of somebody’s pain; but ultimately, we know the judge of all the earth will do right. He will do right; He is going to vindicate righteousness. He’s going to judge the unrighteous, and He is going to be glorified. He is writing a story that, in the consummation of all things, is going to be grand, and glorious, and beautiful. Sometimes the mystery is just trusting: “I can’t see how You’re doing that God, and this makes no sense at all to me; but I know that You are good, and You do good.”
Bob: I’ve been thinking, over and over again, as we’ve been talking about this, about that scene in Job, Chapter 2, where after financial ruin and the death of children—
Nancy: —ten children.
Bob: —and now disease that has you covered in sores so that you’ve got broken pottery as you try to—
Ann: Is this that hard for anybody else to read?—like Job is a difficult book to read.
Dave: Yes; sure.
Bob: Then his wife says to him: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he says to her: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil? And in all of this, Job did not sin with his lips”; and then later he says, “Though He slay me, I will still hope in Him.” That’s the kind of trust we’re trying to cultivate/the kind of faith we’re trying to get to. We say: “Whatever the frowning providence/whatever the circumstance God is going to bring my way, even if it’s death, I’ll trust Him. He’s good; He knows what’s right,” and “His plan and His ways are perfect, when mine are imperfect, and flawed, and fallible,” and “My hope’s going to be in Him all the way to the end.”
Nancy: —not in the circumstance being changed but having hope in God.
Bob: Well, your book is a gift to all of us. In fact, we’re going to keep, at our house, about five copies on hand just so we’ve got them; because already—we had two, and we’re down to one. We’ve got to go replenish the stock.
Dave: You’ve already given it out?
Bob: We just keep running into people, where we’re going—hearing their story, and we go, “I’ve got a book for you that you need to read.”
Dave: I was thinking, “If this book had been out four or five years ago, I would have had 53 of them in the Detroit Lions’ locker room; because we faced a lot of adversity.” [Laughter]
Bob: What was the record that season? [Laughter]
Dave: I’m kidding; 0-16. I’m kidding, because those are trite—they don’t really mean anything—but to them, going through an NFL season, where you don’t win a game, it feels heavy; and they needed perspective that there is a God that’s in control and you can trust.
But obviously, in the real battles of life, what a gift to be able to help people walk through that.
Ann: And what great stories because stories motivate us, and move us, and change us. To read these stories, of God entering in and reminding us of who He is, has been a gift. Thank you.
Nancy: Thank you.
Bob: We do have copies of Robert and Nancy’s book, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story: Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to order your copy of the book.
As we have been talking to Robert and Nancy this week, I’ve been thinking about people, who are facing storms in life—who are trusting God, right now, to write their story—but I’m also thinking about those, who are in a pretty good place and thinking, “Well, it’s smooth sailing; I can kind of relax.”
David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife®, is here with us. Just because things are going okay doesn’t mean you can relax; does it?
David: Yes, this conversation is such a gift because seasons of trial, or waiting, or suffering are never too far away in this broken world. I’m caught up in Nancy’s picture she gave us of pouring a foundation to fuel our faith in God’s providence before the storms hit. She said no one pours a foundation in the storm; you pour the foundation during nice days before the storm.
For me, it’s kind of said: “Okay, what are passages of Scripture I want to memorize anew in this moment/in this day?” or “What are dates I need to take my preteen daughter on, right now, before we’re in the thick of the teenage years?” Also, I’m just kind of convicted—like, “Alright, I want to get back in the rhythm of taking walks with my wife so that we have those rhythms now when the next crisis hits.”
I’d just ask you: “What is God prompting in your heart as you hear this conversation?” God is good and is faithful toward you, no matter what. Choosing today something that will help you, as the storm comes or as the waves get bigger than they currently are, may make all the difference.
Bob: Sounds like we’ve looked at your New Year’s resolution list a little bit. [Laughter]
David: Maybe, I need that; yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Thank you, David.
Speaking of New Year’s resolutions, we’ve got a lot of listeners, who made New Year’s resolutions to spend more time in God’s Word in 2020. We were talking with our friends at Logos, back before the beginning of the year; and we said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to get more people using your Bible software?—and if that could be catalytic to people spending more time in God’s Word in the year ahead.”
We put together a plan to make their Bible software, along with a library of more than $2000 worth of books and resources, available to FamilyLife Today listeners for free. Our hope is that having Logos on your computer, or on your mobile phone, or on your mobile devices/your tablet, that will be catalytic to have you spending more time in God’s Word in the year ahead.
Of course, the folks at Logos are hoping that, once you start using this software, you’ll want to add books to your library. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; click the link for the Logos Bible software, and you can download the Logos system immediately and start using it today. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and the link for Logos is right there.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk to a husband and wife, who have had to learn how to let God write their story; because God took them through a very difficult circumstance—one where they saw victory, but it was in the midst of tragedy. You’ll meet Tony and Kelly Trent tomorrow as we hear the story of their son, Tyler. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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