Luke 15:11-24 by Pastor Dan Walker
Seventy percent of youth from Christian homes wander from their faith and church involvement by the time they are in their twenties. Learn how to pray and act to bring the wanderers back to God.
Duration:30 mins 15 secs

Our message today is entitled “Dealing with a Lost Child.” What is a lost child? A lost child could be a child still living at home or one who has left home. Obviously a runaway child is a lost child. However, lost more commonly refers to the child’s spiritual condition. A lost child is a child who has wandered away from their faith in Christ. Perhaps the lost child is one who has never made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ.

When a child is spiritually lost, they will generally have relationship issues with their parents as well. There are many degrees of lostness, defined by the distance they have wandered from God. Some lost children have issues with various addictions, such as drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes lost children have gotten caught up with the wrong crowd. Other lost children are still doing well in school, not addicted to anything, but either have no relationship with God or have fallen away from it.

The number of lost children from Christian homes has become an epidemic. Recent research shows that now only three out of ten youth from Christian homes will maintain their faith in God and church involvement into their twenties.[1] That means that an astounding 70% of youth from Christian homes will wander from the faith by the time they graduate from college. Why is there such an epidemic of young adults leaving the faith and the church? Although there is no single reason, here are some reasons for this huge problem.

First of all, lost youth are a result of unbiblical parenting. Parents who did not follow godly principles in raising their children are reaping the results. The second reason is tied to the first. Our society and culture has drifted increasingly far from God. There are powerful temptations to lure youth away from the truth that have never existed before. Temptations in the form of the internet, smart phones, an increasingly ungodly education system, decadent entertainment and an atheistic media. What worked in parenting 30 years ago will not be sufficient to counter the downward spiral of our society.

The third reason is simply that young adults sometimes simply choose to make wrong choices and rebel against the truth, even though they have been well taught. Today, we are not going to dwell further on the causes, rather we are going to look at the biblical solutions for dealing with a lost child.

James 5:19-20 (ESV)  My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

As parents and as a church family, we have an obligation to seek to bring back the lost child, the wandering sinner, to bring them back to the truth of God and His church. Today, we are going to look at the familiar story of the prodigal son to better understand how a youth wanders from the truth and how they can be restored.

Understand the stages of a wandering child

Luke 15:11 (ESV)  And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.

This is a story, a parable that Jesus taught, primarily to teach us about the love of our heavenly father, who is represented as the father. In this story, the father had two sons. There is no indication that the father did anything wrong in his parenting of his sons. Yet, the younger son …

The child rebels against parents

Luke 15:12 (ESV)  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.  

Basically, the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive. This was very insulting to the father and very rebellious of the son. It is clear that the son wanted to get everything he could from his father, before he left him completely behind. Rebelling against parental authority is a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem.

The child rejects God’s Word

Luke 15:13 (ESV)  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  

Not only did the son take his inheritance, he wanted to get as far away from his father as possible. This is very common behavior for a child who is rebellious. The reason that he went to a far country is that he was intent in reckless or sinful living, wasting the entire inheritance on debauchery of all kinds and prostitutes. The son had rejected his parents teaching of God’s Word and thrown off all restraint.

The child reaps the consequences

Luke 15:14-16 (ESV)  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.   

The consequences of his rebellion and sin were that he had nothing left to feed himself. When his money was gone, his friends left him and the only work he could find was feeding pigs. Of course, feeding pigs was the last thing that a Jewish youth should do, as pigs were unclean animals. Even then, he didn’t have enough to eat. The son, had, as we’ll see, hit bottom.


The first two stages of rebelling against parents and rejecting God’s Word are intertwined and always go together. If you begin to recognize the warning signs of these stages in a child, begin to pray specifically for your child in these areas. Pray that power of the temptation to rebel would be broken. Oftentimes, although not indicated in this story, the rebellion is fueled by wrong relationships with ungodly friends. If these relationships can be broken, the child may change his course. If the child continues on his downward spiral of rebellion, he should be allowed to face the consequences. To protect a child from facing the consequences of his actions, can often lead to prolonged issues. Pray that the pain of the consequences of sin will cause the child to reconsider their choices.

Pray for the child to change

A lost child is ultimately a spiritual issue. So, the main key is prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to work and bring conviction into the child’s life. So, let’s see what happened to this prodigal son.

The child remembers his parent’s teaching

Luke 15:17 (ESV)  “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!

The child came to himself. In other words, he remembered who he was, he was the son of his father, a godly man, who had taught him well. He began to realize that he had made some very wrong choices. Choices that had resulted in him being far worse off than his father’s servants. As the son began to remember his family and his upbringing, he began to long to come home again. Because of his parent’s teaching, he knew that he must …

The child repents to God

Luke 15:18-19 (ESV)  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’  

Notice that the son decides to return home to his family. Then he decides to repent, first of all to God and then to his father for his rebellion. He realizes that he was not been acting in keeping with his position as son. He simply wants to return to his parents as a servant. We can see that all pride and rebellion is not gone from the son. He has a repentant heart and an evident humility.

The child returns to his parents

Luke 15:20a (ESV)  And he arose and came to his father.

So, the son carried out his plan and returned from the far country to his father. Now, what was the father doing all the time, at least months, maybe years, that the son was gone? I believe that the father was praying for the son, longing for him to return. Praying for the son’s protection and change of heart. The father was praying that the teaching the son had received in his younger years would be remembered and acted upon.


Parents of lost children, must pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to convict the lost child of their sin, so that they will repent. Sometimes, not always, the child has to hit rock bottom, before they come to their senses. For sin and rebellion inevitably leads people to make wrong choices that lead to disastrous consequences.

In this story, the father had no contact with the lost son. If you have contact with the lost child, continue to speak God’s truth into their lives, even if it seems that they don’t receive it. God’s Word is a seed that will bear fruit in their lives in the long run.

Have a godly heart toward the lost child

One of Jesus’ main points in this story is the heart of the father to the returning son. The heart that is expressed at the son’s return is the same heart that the father had during the son’s absence. We can learn much from this, both what God is like and how we should be.

Have compassion as a parent

Luke 15:20b (ESV)  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  

At this point, the father had no idea what the son was going to say. It’s not clear if he knew what the son had done. But most probably, the son’s clothing and appearance indicated that he had not done well. The father’s heart had compassion for his lost son and he ran toward him, embracing an kissing him. Rather than being angry or harsh with him, the father showed a heart of love.

Forgive as a parent

Luke 15:21 (ESV)  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  

The son carried out his plan to repent of his sin to God and his father. He asked not to be returned to the privilege of the son. The father accepted the son’s apology without questioning it and forgave his son completely. We see the father’s joy at his son’s return as he prepared to … 

Celebrate as a parent

Luke 15:22-24 (ESV)  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.   

The robe, ring and shoes were a clear indication that the father was receiving his son back as his son, not as a servant. The focus of the father was not on the son’s misdeeds and rebellion, but on his return to the family. The lost son had been found. He had been dead, as it were, to his parents, but the relationship was now restored. The relationship both with God and his family had been restored. So, the celebration began.


Of course, this story applies to lost people being saved and being accepted into the family of God. Yet, oftentimes, the lost child is spiritually lost and needs salvation to have their relationship with God and their family restored. There are times when children in Christian homes, have never made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, even though they know intellectually about Jesus. Sometimes, it takes hitting rock bottom in life before they truly make their own commitment to the Lord. We mustn’t miss the fact that the son repented before he was reconciled to his father. You cannot be reconciled to God without a repentance of sin. Nor can a lost child be fully reconciled to their family without repentance. This story of Jesus gives us great hope that a child who has been taught God’s Word will eventually return and repent of their sin and be restored.


Today, youth becoming lost to the church and to their families is an epidemic. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son helps us to understand how a child can wander from God and their family. If you begin to notice the signs of wandering, begin to pray specifically for your child. Engage others in your Life Group to pray for your child. Pray for God to work in the wandering child’s heart to convict them of sin. Pray that the child would repent and return to God and their family. Ask God to help your heart to be filled not with anger, but with compassion and faith. Faith to believe that God is able to bring the lost child back, that they may be found.

[1] “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts,” Barna Group, accessed September 12, 2017,