Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Blessing Instead of Cursing

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: This is Revive Our Hearts for Tuesday, June 2. I'm Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

In just a moment we're going to continue the conversation we began yesterday with my longtime friend, Judy Douglass, about loving prodigals. But before we pick up with that conversation, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the images and the news that we are all aware of here in the United States over these last few days—including last week, the brutal slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis . . . a man created in the image of God, loved by God, and loved by his family. It's senseless; it's horrific.

In the wake of that, we are now seeing an outpouring of violence and chaos and destruction in many of our cities and neighborhoods.

As I'm listening and talking to others, I'm hearing a variety of emotions—and you likely have felt them yourself. There's deep sorrow, fear, confusion, anger. Injustice in any form angers God, and it should anger us as well. It can be really hard in a time like this to know what to say. Words fail us. But as believers in Jesus, we know that He cares, and we are called to care. Even if we don't know what to say, we can pray.

In fact, we took time yesterday in our daily videocast, called Grounded, to just cry out to the Lord in prayer on the behalf of all those involved and in behalf of the cities and our nation. We think this was such an important time that our team has come together and decided that we are going to preempt the program that we had scheduled to air tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. We are going to devote the entire program to pleading with the Lord, asking Him for wisdom, for compassion, for direction, and for healing for the great hurts and evils and wounds in our society.

I hope you'll join us and gather some others to listen as well as we cry out to Lord at this very troubled time in our nation.

Now, as we get ready to continue this conversation with Judy Douglass, I know that there are many moms and grandmoms with hurting hearts for their prodigals who are listening to the program today. So I'd like to take a moment to pray for you.

Oh Lord, we do lift up moms, grandmoms, sisters . . . those who care for prodigals, those whose hearts are heavy today in the midst of everything else going on in our nation and our world. They have personal hurts because of broken relationships and wounded hearts and prodigals who are far from the Father and far from home. Lord, I pray that you would minister tailor-made grace and hope and peace to those hearts this day.

Thank You for our friend, Judy Douglass, and for the grace that You've poured out on her family and on her behalf. Lord, on this Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day, I pray that much prayer would ascend to You and that hundreds and thousands of prodigals would be unexplainably drawn back first to Your heart and then to the hearts of those who love them at home. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you missed yesterday’s conversation on Revive Our Hearts, you have got to go back and listen to it! You can go to ReviveOurHearts.com. There’s a transcript there; you can hear the audio.

We’ve been talking with Judy Douglass. And Dannah, I know my heart . . . Even though I don’t have children of my own, I can’t imagine any parent’s heart not being really stirred by this story we’ve been hearing from the mother of three children—one of whom for years was a prodigal.

Dannah: Yes, my heart has been so stirred, Nancy. I’ve been taking notes. I think this is not just for parents of prodigals, but it’s for every parent to learn how to love our children the way God loves us. 

Nancy: Judy Douglass is our guest today. She and I and her family and our family go back many decades. I have had the joy of knowing Steve and Judy Douglas as I was growing up through my parents’ involvement with (what was then) Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru).

And Judy, I’ve followed over the years your journey with Josh. We’re having a fairly quick conversation . . . our time in these conversations is going very quickly. But when I commented on that after we finished yesterday’s program, you said, “But it didn’t happen fast” It was years in the making, this story.

Judy: Absolutely! I would say I lived a wilderness for about fifteen years, and it was challenging! No more challenging than lots of others—not only parenting situations but so many other hard situations in life. We go through these wilderness journeys.

And God did some really good things in my life. First of all, prayer became my breath; it became my lifeline! Now, in our ministry we pray a lot. Most believers, we pray in the morning and in the evening; we pray at our meals.

But in our ministry, we will pray before every meeting and during the meeting and after the meeting, and we pray days of prayer. I thought, I know how to pray, but Josh taught me how to pray . . . because there was nothing else I knew to do! We had done everything we knew to do.

He had made good progress and then crashed . . . which, by the way, is actually more normal than not with prodigals.

Nancy: And let me just say, for those who weren’t with us in yesterday’s conversation, you and Steveafter already having had two daughters, biological children, brought Josh into your home when he was about nine years old. You cared for him as foster parents for three years, and then when the mother’s rights were terminated, you adopted Josh.

And it didn’t get better. He had this background with drug and alcohol-related issues in his upbringing. There were brain issues, behavioral issues, environmental issues . . . so many things that made your lives really, really difficult.

And through this whole journey—this “wilderness” as you call it—the Lord was working in Josh’s life. There was a point where Josh did come to make a profession of faith, but God was also doing a work in your life.

And let me just say, today Josh is thirty-seven years old, and he’s in a good place (because I don’t want to drag out the suspense too long). God has brought grace in this journey in this wilderness, not just to Josh, but to you and Steve as well. But God was working in your heart. Aren’t the most fervent prayers birthed out of desperation?

Judy: Absolutely! Scripture talks about that God welcomes that we cry out, that He wants us to come to Him in truth, so we need to be honest. I found that not only could I beg and beseech and ask, but I could get mad at God. I could say, “Tell me what to do!” and “This is too much! I can’t do it!” 

Time after time I would just sense that God was wrapping His arms of love around me, and that there was sufficiency. He says He’s enough! And He kept being enough for me, not just day after day, but year after year of this journey.

But the conversation now . . . Now I talk to God. When it says that we’re to pray without ceasing, I’m in this constant conversation with God. I’ll be driving down the road and my initial response to somebody who does something stupid is that I have a reaction. And then the Lord just reminds me to say “thank you.”

We had some challenging things not too long ago with somebody in our extended family, and we could just say, “Thank you, Lord,” even though it’s not an easy thing. But most of all, God will receive anything that I will bring to Him—even my pain that causes me to say things that I don’t really want to say. But I’m desperate, and I don’t know how to say it!

God receives it, and He gives mercy. He gives me this assurance of His love for me. And at that time, we’re not talking about Josh; we’re talking about me and God and our relationship. And so, my prayer conversation with God goes on and on and on, and that is a gift from our son.

Nancy: Wow, and something that God really used through the hard times with your son to birth in your life in a new way.

Judy: Oh, absolutely! We don’t pray as much in the easy times.

Dannah: No. Can I ask you a question about that, praying for a prodigal? Judy, did you and your husband have people praying with you? Were you transparent about the journey you were on and the pain you were in?

Judy: Yes. In fact, here’s what happened: When we figured out we didn’t have a clue how we were going to make it through this, I asked some people to pray. I have friends all over the world with our ministry, and I knew who some of the real prayer warriors were.

So I emailed them and said, “Would you pray with us?” We actually started a Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day for Josh on June 2, which is his spiritual birthday. And so for several years, each year this larger group would pray with us. 

But I had a few others whom I could contact anytime, and they would be willing to pray with me and Steve, as well.

Dannah: What an example, for you guys as ministry leaders to be transparent like that. I find that that is something that a lot of people who have prodigals are afraid to do.

Judy: That must have been a gift from God, also, that He did not allow us to hide it. Within ministry—especially, pastors, missionaries, other leaders in various kinds of ministry—there’s shame when your kids make bad decisions.

Dannah: It’s humiliating! It can be embarrassing, right?

Judy: Yes, and there’s fear even. I know one pastor who, when he found out his daughter was on heroin, he assumed they would fire him because he hadn’t managed her well, even though she was an adult. They did not, of course, but it was just . . . People were willing to let us be honest and open and not judge, which is a remarkable thing.

I think more than anything, it opened the door within our ministry for people to be willing to admit when they’re having trouble. People want to look at these ministry people, and their families should be, “Oh, they’ll be awesome! They’ve raised them right; they’ve taught them well; they’ve been in church.”

And so our willingness to be open was a very important thing for the people in our ministry, and that’s a whole other gift that came out of this. About three years into my prodigal prayer day for Josh, God said, “How about we open that up? There are a lot of other people.” And so we started, every June 2, a Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day.

You know, it’s not huge, but it’s all a virtual community. Most of them don’t know each other face-to-face, but people come and we have a website (it’s a secure one). They put in prayer requests, pour out their heart. Others come along and write out their prayers for those people.

Do you know what that does for someone to be able to say, “Help! Help! Help!” and others who have been walking on this path are writing out prayers for them? It’s just such an incredible blessing!

Nancy: I know a lot of our listeners are going to say, “Where is that website? I want to be a part of that!” We’re going to link to that website, that information, at ReviveOurHearts.com, so you can go there. 

I hope the system doesn’t crash, because I just know this is a huge, felt-need issue among God’s people. They want to have a safe place where they can say, “Could we pray together for this child?” 

Dannah: Yes, that safe place is so important! Several years ago I was traveling with someone when I was teaching, and her son was walking through a prodigal period in his life. That was heavy on my heart when I spoke, so I just felt led to say, “Hey, is there anybody in this room,” (a small room of maybe eighty people), “that has a prodigal in their life, that would like us to pray for you?”

And nobody stood up! 

Judy: That’s amazing!

Dannah: I thought, Oh, I’m such a fool. I wasn’t hearing from God. But they came to me in the quiet places, one after one—a few dozen of them: “I have a prodigal brother who’s transitioning to be a sister. I have a prodigal grandchild who’s living with her boyfriend in California.” There’s so much shame!

And coming to a day like this allows us to walk in the power of Matthew 18:20: “Where two or three are gathered in my name [and you bring things to Me in prayer], there am I among them.” When I’m praying for my kids in tough times, I want someone praying with me, because the Bible says there’s power in that!

Judy: Yes, that’s so true!

Nancy: Judy, as you reflect back on those years . . . and now I’m sure that mothers, grandmothers of prodigals come to you out of the woodwork. You’ve probably heard more stories than you ever would have heard had you not been through that journey. 

How do you pray? What are you praying for that prodigal? What do you counsel other moms to pray? How do you pray?

Judy: Well, I pray what’s on my heart, what I see as needs there, specifically, but mostly I pray two things: I would pray Scripture. I find Scripture of what God wants to do in our lives, and I pray those verses.

Nancy: Are there any particular ones that just kept coming back to you, that kind of were mainstays for you?

Judy: Well, I often prayed something like that, “You would capture their hearts,” (because He wants to do that), “but even as you convict them of sin, that You would capture their hearts.” Of course, you ask me that and my mind goes blank!

Nancy: That’s alright, you can think about it.

Judy: Well, I would tell you another thing I pray, and that is blessings. We all need to be blessed! I found what I can do the best is take some Scriptures, and I turn them into blessings. I can read a couple of these for you here from my book (assuming I can find it right here).

Nancy: While you’re finding that, we haven’t mentioned your book yet today, so let me mention that now. It’s called When You Love a Prodigal, and the subtitle is Ninety Days of Grace for the Wilderness. 

Here’s for people who are walking through wilderness experiences—whether with their prodigal children or siblings or even a mate—but it’s a wilderness experience where you need God’s grace! You love this person. You want to love them well, but you’re fragile, you’re dry, you’re struggling.

This is a book of short readings, ninety days of readings, that will infuse the grace and the wisdom of God’s Word into the heart of someone who loves a prodigal. At the end of this conversation today, Dannah’s going to share how you can get a copy of this book. But, go ahead, Judy.

Judy: Okay, so for me, there are two things I do with these blessings. One, as much as I can, I speak blessings to anybody, but especially I did to Josh. I learned to do that. I take Scripture . . . So taking Micah 7:8 and 9, I turn it into a blessing: “May you rise when you fall and come out of the darkness into God’s light.” 

And in Jeremiah 24:6–7, “May you be built up, not torn down; planted, not uprooted. May you return to God with all your heart.” And let me read one more for you, that I really love, from Jeremiah: “May you comfort him, that it gives God joy to always do good to you.”

So I have a whole chapter of blessings in the prayer chapter.

Nancy: Now, that’s kind of counterintuitive in a way. Because when this child or other person in your life is acting out, is making your life miserable, is resisting you, blessing isn’t really what you want to give. 

Judy: Oh, right!

Nancy: You want to give the opposite, right? Words are so powerful, words that we think and speak to and about others. So, naturally, you want to curse—not in the sense of swearing, necessarily—but in the sense of, “You’re making my life difficult! You need to . . .” And there are hard words that need to be spoken. But to speak words of blessing?!

Judy: Well, Scripture’s pretty clear. I mean, He tells us we are to bless even our enemies. And in some ways, this child you love still seems like an enemy, because they cause you so much pain! And so, God has commanded us to bless, not curse.

I also have a chapter on grace, and part of that is called, “The Voice of Grace.” In that I just talk about the words that we speak. God says our tongue is supposed to be filled with grace, what we say.

And so, even when we have to say hard words, because we do when there are consequences, when there is truth that needs to be recognized, but they can be said with grace and not with condemnation. And so, people will receive that, they will feel blessed, they will be lifted in their spirit. They might even rise to that, as opposed to resisting that you’re condemning and putting them down all the time.

Nancy: And that really illustrates what Proverbs 18:21 says, when it says that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” 

Judy: Absolutely!

Nancy: So what does that mean? Well, here, an application of that is that our words, if they’re reflecting our heavenly Father’s heart, if they’re wise, grace-filled, humble loving words; they can actually be a means that God uses to bring these prodigals from death to life.

Judy: Absolutely!

Nancy: Now, that’s not a promise, that if you pray blessings on your child his heart’s automatically going to come back to the Lord.

Judy: No, that’s not a promise. 

Nancy: But it certainly is a means that God can use in that process.

Judy: One of the things that I say there repeatedly is, “I can’t give you any guarantees. I will not tell you, ‘If you do this, it will be fine.’” I would never say that, because I have no ability to make that happen. 

But I do know, from my own experience and from all these years now of working with others who have prodigals, that love and grace and mercy do more to woo them back than the hard words, than the harsh words.

Again, truth matters. You have to speak some of that, you have to do some consequences, but how you go about it makes a lot of difference. Romans 2:4 says that God says, “Don’t you know it’s my lovingkindness that brings them back?” (paraphrased)

Nancy: Brings them to repentance.” [ESV uses “repentance.”]

Judy: And that’s what has driven me, almost, to keep doing love and mercy and grace in my needing to still make sure things are being done well.

Dannah: I think this is speaking to my heart, because what comes out of me naturally when I’m frustrated with anyone—my children, my spouse, my friends—is all the things they’ve done wrong to bring us to this difficult place! And whether I like it or not, I naturally keep a record of how they’ve hurt me.

Judy, did you always speak this language of blessing? Did it naturally come out of you? You make it sound so easy! Or did you have to choose this?

Judy: I definitely had to choose it! God was patient, because it wasn’t an easy thing. I actually have a lot of opinions and am pretty good at speaking them, usually. I said some pretty harsh things to him. A specific friend, who was my most faithful prayer partner, really called me on it. She said that I needed to not speak that way to him!

And so God began to work. It would be like He would call me up short when the wrong words or the wrong tone of voice, even, would come out. Especially when he would say things like, “You’re not my real mother!”—which was pretty devastating. He would say that sometimes when he was angry.

But one of the things that helped me learn to bless was to do something tangible to bless him. When we had had some conflict, and he had left and had not having apologized or anything. I would go and get his laundry. (Because for my kids, one of their main chores was to do their own laundry.)

I would put it into the washing machine one piece at a time, and I would say, “This is a blessing to you, Josh. I bless you Josh. I bless you Josh.” Until I filled the washing machine up. I washed his clothes and I dried them, and I put them back in his room.

I’d like to say he went, “Oh, thank you so much!”—but not too often. It may not have had much impact on him, but it had a very strong impact on me to do this tangible, visible thing of blessing when he didn’t deserve it at all.

Nancy: And this is right out of the Scripture. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount. And it also talks about blessing your enemies here in Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

And then it says, verses 18–20, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (ESV).

And then that summary of this whole section of Romans 12, the last verse, verse 21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And isn’t that a word that every parent needs—every person needs? That’s why it’s in the Scripture! But we so easily are overcome by the evil in others or in our world.

Judy: Or in ourselves. 

Nancy: Or in ourselves. And God is saying, “Let me fill you with My love, with the blessing of Christ that you have received, then you become a channel of that blessing to others.” And in so doing, the good of God’s character overcomes the evil that we were reacting to . . . not necessarily . . . as you said, Josh didn’t change overnight by any means. This was a long, long haul for you! But God began to change you as you were responding to His Word and His Spirit. 

Judy: Yes, I spent a lot of time in His Word! I found the book of Isaiah especially helpful, especially the second half. There are so many Scriptures that God gave me there. He was so kind. He also told me something very specific. He said, “Judy, when you make mistakes with this boy . . . and you will, [and of course I have!] make them on the side of grace,” which is not what you normally get told.

It’s, “If they’re being rebellious and acting out and doing all these things, bad behaviour, you need to be tough with them.” You do need to be firm, you need to be clear, you need to have expectations, boundaries, consequences. But you need to be full of grace and tenderness toward them, because in many cases there are reasons.

Even if they’re your own child and you’ve done well by them and loved them well, there could be things in their lives that were traumatic that you really have no idea of . . . an illness or a new baby coming and replacing a child. Those things all require a gentle and gracious way of dealing with them, as opposed to telling them how bad they are.

Nancy: Well, we know for sure that there is an enemy of all of our souls—including our children’s. He comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. Those are his weapons; that’s his goal. And so, for a mom, a grandmom, a loving family member to come alongside and say, “I want you to know the Christ who gives life and gives it abundantly! I want you to experience that!”

And to also lead with grace. You need grace and truth. “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged,” Proverbs 16:6 (KJV) tells us. You need both! But to lead with grace, as God leads with grace in our lives, what a precious gift that is to those whom we love!

Judy, we’re going to pick this conversation up tomorrow here on Revive Our Hearts, but I want to make sure our listeners are aware of this book you’ve written. I just think we’re going to have a lot of moms and grandmoms who are going to want to get a hold of this book. 

It’s called When You Love a Prodigal. And the subtitle is Ninety Days of Grace for the Wilderness.

Dannah: If you find yourself feeling like you’re in the wilderness Judy has been talking about, why don’t you contact us for a copy of the book? This week, it’s our way of saying “thank you” to you for your donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts.

Our web address is ReviveOurHearts.com, and our phone number is 1–800–569–5959. When you contact us, ask for the book on loving a prodigal. 

And don’t forget that today is Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day. If there’s a prodigal you love, that you’d like others to pray for, you can share your request in a safe anonymous way today and others will lift your loved one up in prayer. There is more information about how you can be involved at our website. I think it’s cool that Judy chose June 2 to be this Prodigal Prayer Day, because it’s the day her son, Josh, gave his life to the Lord.

Nancy: It is so sweet. I've watch Judy and her husband Steve and their family walk through this journey over the years. It has been a beautiful thing to watch God writing their story and their son's story as well. I know God's in the process of doing that for many of our listeners today. You may not be able to see what God is doing, but He is at work in the life of that prodigal. You can trust that. Wait for the Lord, and trust Him to write the story only He can write.

There's more to Josh's story. We're going to continue this conversation with Judy Douglass on Thursday and Friday of this week, as Judy shares some of the lessons she's learned in loving a prodigal. In the meantime, be sure to join us tomorrow as we take time out to weep and pray for our nation, here on Revive Our Hearts.

Challenging you to bless, even when it's difficult, Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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