Missing Children

by Doug Batchelor


The grandmother's voice on the other end of the phone was frantic. "She was just playing outside-and now she has disappeared. ... This was two days ago and we have not heard a single word from her!"

The call was from one of my church members. She was at her wit's end, seeking prayers and advice. Her beautiful 14-year-old granddaughter had mysteriously vanished from the front yard, and there were no witnesses, note, or explanation.

As the days turned into weeks and the police became involved, all of the absolutely worst possible scenarios began to flood into our minds. Had she been abducted, abused, and murdered? Was she being held captive by some gang or sick pervert? As I spoke with the family, I could quickly see that the worst part of this nightmare was the silence and uncertainty. Not knowing what had happened to this vibrant 14-year-old was unbearable.

As the family was anxiously pacing the floor, I thought of a wonderful quote from one of my favorite book s:

"The continual worry is wearing out the life forces. ... Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet." The Desire of Ages, p. 330.

I tried to encourage the family. "Don't torture yourselves with fear and take countless years off your lives when you don't even know what has happened," I urged. "Hope, trust and work for the best unless you know otherwise." A few days later, the missing girl was located in good condition. She had run away and was staying with friends.

This experience made me think of the untold thousands of Christian parents everywhere with "missing children." Parents who are living with a dark cloud eclipsing all joy in their lives because their children have turned to the world and away from the Lord.

In my travels among churches, I have prayed and talked with thousands of these hurting parents about their missing children. They long to see them saved, and the thought of their children being lost for eternity is unbearable. For some, it shadows their whole experience with the Lord. To compound the anguish, too many parents blame themselves and constantly rehearse all their parental failures in their minds. "If I had only been a better example," or "I should have spent more time with them," or "I was too strict," or "I was too permissive," or "If only I had sent them to a Christian school."

I am sure that all parents can think of many things they would do different if given the chance to raise their children all over again. There are no perfect parents. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. But the purpose of this article is not to focus on our failures. Instead. I would like to offer some hope, comfort, and practical advice.

Let's begin with the most common "thorn" that pierces many a heart-"I was a poor example of a Christian."

Some parents automatically assume that when their kids leave the church, it is because they were bad parents. This is not always true. To keep the proper perspective, let's remember that the first rebellious child was Lucifer-and God truly was a perfect parent! Adam and Eve also rebelled, not because of God's bad example, but because we all have a free will. Ultimately we will all answer to God for our own choices. No one will be able say in the judgment day: "I can't help the way I am. It was my parents' fault!"

This reminds me of a cartoon in the New Yorker. It showed a father scowling over a very bad report card while his little boy stood by. The youngster asked: "What do you think it is, Dad? Heredity or environment?"

We are living in an age where everyone wants to blame somebody or something else for their failures. But the Bible says: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." Ezekiel 18:20.

This is one reason some families may have several children, all at different places with the Lord. One is in the church, one is in the world, and one may be tottering in between on the fence. Same parents, different children.

But let's suppose you were a bad example. What can you do now? If your children are still alive, do your best to be a better witness. Write them a gentle love letter and confess that you wanted to be a better example. Don't preach to them in the letter, but ask them to forgive you for not better representing Jesus. And most important of all, assure of your unconditional love-regardless of what their spiritual choices might be. Our heavenly Father loves us "while we were yet sinners." Romans 5:8.

While Elijah the prophet was staying with a widow in Zarephath during a famine, the woman's son became ill and died. She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin?" 1 Kings 17:18.

Notice her immediate reaction to blame herself for her son's death. Then Elijah said, "Give me your son." 1 Kings 17:19. The prophet prayed three times, and the boy came to back life. In this story, Elijah is a type or symbol of Jesus. When our children are spiritually dead, we must likewise give them over to Jesus and pray persistently for a resurrection.

For those parents who have become disheartened by their failures, remember Rebekah (Genesis 27). This mother had many good traits, but she also had a few glaring weaknesses. For one, she showed obvious favoritism toward her son Jacob, and that made his older brother Esau jealous. Secondly, Rebekah was a poor example of honesty. She persuaded Jacob to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Because of this bad decision, Jacob was forced to flee from his home, and his mother never saw him again. I can see Rebekah spending years in regret, praying that God would forgive her sin and save Jacob in spite of her bad example. God did forgive and save Jacob, and though Rebekah never saw her son again in this life, I believe she will in heaven.

Maybe you are discouraged because your lost offspring have wasted their lives and done irreversible damage to themselves. Then remember Samson (Judges chapters 14-16). This young man had every advantage to become one of God's shining examples of victory and righteousness. His parents were even given divine guidance in prenatal care and raising him. Yet Samson selfishly squandered his God-given gifts. He insisted on marrying out of the church and ended up a handicapped slave for the enemy. But in his distress, God still heard the prayers of Samson and his parents. In the last minutes of his life, God filled this formerly rebellious son with His Spirit, and he sacrificed his life to bring down the temple of the enemy. As the weeping family members picked through the broken rubble of Dagon's temple to find Samson's body, little did they know that someday Samson would be listed among the faithful along with Abraham, Moses, and David (Hebrews 11:32).

When you pray for your missing children, always remember that it would be better to have them be failures in this life and a success for eternity than to prosper in the world and be lost forever!

Some parents have lost hope for their children's salvation because it seems they have gone so far from God. Their children are so deeply mired in the world that the parents have trouble believing there is any hope for their conversion. Remember Manasseh. This wicked king had a godly father, Hezekiah. Yet he went farther from God than any king before him (2 Chronicles 33:1-13). Rebellious Manasseh could have won the Olympic gold medal in apostasy. He offered his own children to the pagan fire gods and put devil idols in the house of the Lord. And this was just for starters!

"So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken." 2 Chronicles 33:9, 10.

When Isaiah the prophet tried to appeal to the wicked prince, Manasseh had him killed by sawing him in two. Perhaps your child has likewise become angry when you try to reason with them. Do not lose hope; keep praying.

I believe that before Hezekiah died, this godly father sent many prayers to heaven for his son. This may be the reason why Manasseh reigned longer than any other king.

God finally allowed trouble to come to Manasseh in order to save him. "Wherefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God." 2 Chronicles 33:11-13.

No one in Jerusalem would ever have guessed that Manasseh would be converted after living so long chained by the devil. Never underestimate the power of God! If He can reach wicked Manasseh, he can reach your lost son or daughter, too! Hezekiah never lived to see his son's conversion, but God still answered his prayers 55 years after his death.

I have witnessed this type of miracle many times myself. For example, the godly old pastor who baptized me prayed every day for many years that his granddaughter would accept Christ. When she was a child, he took her to Sabbath School and church. But as often happens, she wandered from the teachings of the Bible. Then a few years after his death, I conducted an evangelistic series in that town and she came regularly. The seeds sown in her youth soon began to sprout, and she was baptized. Then a few more years went by, and I baptized his great-granddaughter in the same baptistry where he had baptized me! What a joy it will be in the resurrection when that pastor finally sees the fruit of his earnest prayers!

Here is a wonderful promise that has brought comfort to thousands: "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. ... But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children." Isaiah 49:22, 25.

Here are a dozen things we can do to reach our missing children:

1. Have faith that God can reach them. A father brought his devil-tormented son to Jesus and said, "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Mark 9:22-24. We may also have to bring our children to Jesus and say, "Help my unbelief."

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:31.

2. Pray persistently and patiently, as did the widow in Luke . It may take years, so don't give up! "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" Luke 18:7.

3. Pray for the Lord to use someone else to reach them. Children are often more resistant to their own parents "preaching" than a third party. God used a stranger named Ananias to reach the apostle Paul (Acts 9:10).

4. Share spiritual truth if they will listen. Be careful not to be pushy or drown them with information. Little bites are better. (You can make a person sick if you feed them too much of even good food!) Be willing to listen to them. If they are ever going to be open to what you have to share, you also need to be open to hear them (James 1:19).

5. Be a good example. Even after children are grown, they still watch and learn from the pattern of their parents.

6. Forgive yourself. Don't spend all your time pining over past mistakes. If you want your religion to be attractive to your kids, then be as positive and joyful as you can. If you are always acting gloomy and guilty, they will be repelled by your religion. You will catch more bees with honey than vinegar!

8. Don't nag, condemn, or criticize. People generally know when they are doing something wrong, and no one appreciates being reminded. Some parents preach at their children through prayers in their presence. They might say: "Dear God, thank you for this meal-and oh yes, save Fred here from his life of sin and wickedness he is living."

Remember, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:17.

9. Give them to God for blessing or trouble. We automatically pray that God will bless and protect our children, that may be the wrong prayer. If God needs to allow trouble to bring them to their knees, then release them to the Lord for whatever He deems best, in order that they might be saved for eternity.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6.

Some redwood seeds remain in the ground for years, and only after a fire passes by will they sprout. You must give God permission to send them fiery trials and to put them in the pig pen if that's what He needs to do to bring the prodigal home (Luke 15:11-32).

10. Never speak evil of the church or pastor. Many parents have done untold damage to their children's concept of God and religion by constantly criticizing church members or leaders in their presence.

11. Do not put conditions on your surrender, such as: "Lord, save my son or daughter; then I will serve you."

"And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death." John 4:46-50.

Evidently this father was saying in his heart, "If Jesus heals my son, then I will believe." This is why Jesus said to him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way."

"The very hour that Jesus spoke the word the son was healed and the whole family became believers." John 4:53.

The first miracle of Jesus was to turn the water into wine. This experience was the second miracle of Jesus to remind us that he wants to heal and save our children even more than we do (John 4:54).

12. Remember that the very best thing you can do for your children is to love God with all of your heart. "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:37.

The first thing you must do to save your children is to make sure that your own life is totally surrendered to your heavenly Father. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." Matthew 6:33.

For one thing, your prayers will be more effective. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." James 5:16.

Finally friends, do not lose hope. Always remember that the One who watched His Son die on the cross to save your children loves them a thousand times more than you do! Our Lord is desperate to do everything He can to have them in the kingdom. If God did not care about our missing children, He would not have died for a runaway world.

"Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." Isaiah 60:4.

"Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border." Jeremiah 31:16, 17.

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