These three things may seem like totally unrelated subjects, but let me try to connect them. Over the last few months I’ve talked to many Christian friends who are deeply grieved over family members, especially adult children who have turned from God and seemingly are on a self-destructive one-way journey out of God’s kingdom.
I have seen the deep pain and self-blaming in the lives of good people grieving over kids gone wrong. Let me start by stating the obvious – you can’t make someone do something that they do not want to do. God created us with a free will.
Our children may have all kinds of reasons or excuses for being mad at mom and dad and God, but the real reason is a heart one. Arguing with them often results in angry words and a slammed door. This scenario plays out in too many homes. So, what is to be done?
One day I had the opportunity to pray for a distraught believer, grieving over her kids and their spiritual state. As I prayed for her, God gave me this word for her. I saw her walking down a long straight gravel road, a nice road with a bright light on the horizon. It was her gospel road, her destiny in God, her personal path to God. But she had stopped and turned to look in the ditch where her children were standing in the mud and garbage that a ditch would contain.
She was torn between following Christ (staying on God’s road) and joining her kids in the ditch to persuade them to join her on God’s path. I felt like God was telling her to continue to love them, pray for them, pray for them, and did I mention pray for them, while she was to continue on God’s path for her.
As Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1) One of the root Greek words used here is the word “mimos”, from which we get the word “mimic”, or “imitate”. You can’t shove sheep very easily, but they will follow a good example who leads them down a good road.
As I saw this believer turn back onto the path of life and follow Christ, it was as if the camera panned back on her kids in the ditch, and standing behind her kids watching over them was a large angel. The message to her was to just keep praying for them and follow Christ, and let God soften their hearts.
This word has encouraged me and many others who have become exhausted trying to argue and contend with the mental games often being played by those in the ditch.
Now for the “deer” referenced in the title. Before I started writing this article I was standing in my living room praying, and I believe God gave me a natural illustration to reinforce this. It was mid-December, and there was snow covering the ground. In the evening we get white-tailed deer making their way into town by well-worn trails to safe places like our front lawn where they love to eat frozen apples from our tree.
It is the older mature deer who make the safe trails to the safe places where food is available, and the young follow. Like the deer, parents must continue to follow Christ to safe places and feast on His Word – “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23). As we press through the snow (hardships) and pursue God, we are marking a trail that the young can eventually follow.
Finally, let’s look at the example of Christ. As Christians, we believe Christ was the perfect example, Emmanuel – God with us. So how did He do with His “family”?
First, Israel as a nation rejected Him. Then, of His hand-picked specially trained twelve disciples, they all denied Him and ran scared during His crucifixion. Judas betrayed Christ and hanged himself.
What of His home town? Mark 6:1-6 records that when Jesus preached in His home town, many were offended (vs. 3). The word “offended” is the Greek word “skandalizo”, which is where we get our word “scandalize”. It means to trip up or stumble.
Jesus following God’s perfect path for Him found many in His home town stumbling in the ditch because they were scandalized. In verse 6, Jesus marveled at their unbelief. The Greek word for unbelief is “apistia,” which includes the concept of disobedience in its meaning – so Jesus also marveled at their disobedience.
How many parents have not felt like that?
What of Jesus’ own family? Joseph and Mary did not understand fully, but they did believe who Jesus was (Luke 1:30-38, Matthew 1:20-25). John 7:5 tells us that Jesus’ own brothers did not accept Him as Christ the Son of God and Saviour. He was the oldest and after Joseph’s death, Jesus probably helped raise His siblings and helped feed them, yet it was not until after the resurrection that His own siblings finally accepted Him as Lord.
Acts 1:14 and I Corinthians 15:7 tell us that after the resurrection His siblings finally believed in Him as Lord and were in the upper room waiting with the eleven for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Parents, be encouraged! Keep imitating Christ, keep making a clear path by your actions through the dangerous snow of doubt to that safe house where you can feed on God’s apples of wisdom, and thrive. If your kids are so far behind you that you can’t even see them anymore, just keep pursuing God and keep praying for them, just as Christ prayed in the garden for His followers who were way behind Him.
To finish, there is a fascinating archeological find which not only supports the Bible, but it gives hope to families for their loved ones. James’ ossuary or bone box was discovered a few years ago. At first it was discredited by the skeptics, but after it had been tested by experts it is now believed to be an original ossuary from the first century A.D., the patina in the inscription being found to be 2000 years old.
The inscription on it reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
From what I’ve researched, it would have been customary to inscribe on an ossuary, “James, son of Joseph,” mentioning the father. It would not have been usual to mention a sibling. The exception would be if one of his brothers was famous, a person of note.
We know that James the (half) brother of Jesus became a leader in the early church in Jerusalem, and it was more than likely he who wrote the book of James, (just as Jesus’ other brother Jude wrote the book of Jude.)
James’ death as a martyr for believing in his older brother Jesus left us with such a fascinating piece of evidence. Not only does it support God’s Word, but it also gives hope to families who wonder if that “deer” left far behind in the world’s ditch will ever make it. Although James did not start out following his brother, Jesus, he did respond and served Him with his whole heart and his life.
Father, my prayer is that hurting families will follow and imitate Christ, so their prodigals will follow them to Christ.