FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Guilt-Free Parenting

with Phil Waldrep | April 2, 2007
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Want to enjoy guilt-free parenting? On today's broadcast, find out how from father of two, Phil Waldrep.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Want to enjoy guilt-free parenting? On today's broadcast, find out how from father of two, Phil Waldrep.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Want to enjoy guilt-free parenting?

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Guilt-Free Parenting

With Phil Waldrep
April 02, 2007
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Phil: Rarely a week goes by that someone does not come to me and will say to me, "Brother Phil, would you pray for my" – son or daughter or grandchild or friend or whatever the case may be – and then they will say, "I don't know what I did wrong, and I don't know what I can do now – they're a prodigal."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 2nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you're the parent or grandparent of a child who is a prodigal, we have hope, encouragement, and some practical help for you today.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  I have heard you say that as you raise children you have to remember that children are not robots.  Yet I've also heard people say that if Christian parents will do the right things as we raise our children, it will essentially ensure that those children will have a vibrant walk with God as they grow into adulthood.

 So which is it?

Dennis: Well, some folks even quote the Scripture – "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he'll not depart from it."  And I think every parent who begins the process of raising children thinks "We're going to be different.  We are going to raise six children" – in fact, I remember thinking about this, Bob.  Early on, I thought, you know what?  God is going to enable us to raise six children who are all going to follow Him.  We're not going to be like some families who have children who go off on the deep end and make mistakes, and I have to admit here, before our listening audience, I was suffering from two problems.

 Number one, at the core – pride.  Because I think there is some sense of pride that is wrapped up around our children where we want to succeed because we want to look good, all right?  Just admitting that, that's who we are.

 But, number two, I was also suffering from, really, biblical ignorance.  I was just ignorant that the Scriptures really teach you know what?  All we, like sheep, have gone astray each to his own way.  And what is the statistical probability that Dennis and Barbara Rainey, even with the training they received at Dallas Theological Seminary, the experience they had with Campus Crusade for Christ would be able to take six, count 'em, six sheep and raise them to maturity without experiencing one of those sheep heading off in their own direction.

 Well, I don't think, from a probability standpoint, you'd expect it that you're going to bat 1,000.  You know, you're not raising robots, as I've said.

Bob: That's right, and all of us, as parents, have watched our children spend a little time off in a part of the pasture that we'd like to call them back from.

Dennis: All six of ours has.

Bob: Yeah, and yet some parents who are listening to us have watched a child wander completely out of the pen with no interest in coming back.  They've experienced the reality of a prodigal even though they look back, and they say, "We tried to do everything as best we could."

Dennis: And, Bob, that's why I am absolutely thrilled to be able to come to our listener audience and say to them that this week we're going to present a message by an evangelist, interestingly enough, an evangelist who talks about the needs of prodigals and their parents, and you gave me this message and asked me to listen to it, and I listen to messages when I jog, and I run slow.  But I have to say that I ran especially slow as I listened to this, because this is really, really good stuff.

 And I'd like to say to you, as a listener, right now, if you know of a parent who has a child who is a prodigal, you need to pick up a phone and call them and have them listen to the broadcast right now or call them after it's over and just see if I'm not right about this, and tell them to go to and listen online.  Because this message this week is going to, I think, really equip a lot of people and remove some guilt and some shame and bring some – well, I think, Holy Spirit freedom.

Bob: The evangelist you're talking about is Phil Waldrep.  Phil speaks at churches all across the country.  He and his wife, Debbie, live in Decatur, Alabama.  They've raised two children, two daughters.  And he's written a book on the subject of parenting prodigals, and in the process of writing the book he came up with six principles that parents need to embrace as we pray for our sons and daughters to come back to the faith.

 Let's listen together – here is Phil Waldrep.

Phil: [from audiotape].  If you have your Bible, I want you to open it with me this morning, if you will, to the familiar passage of Scripture, and the one that you probably thought we would eventually address while we're here.  It's found in Luke, chapter 15.  It is the story of what I like to call "The Wonderful Father," because it's telling – and our friend said last night, "it is the focus on this story is the father not the son."

 And we're not going to read all of the story, for the sake of time, but I do want to begin reading in verse 17 of Luke 15 – "And when he" that is, the prodigal son, came to himself, he said "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare and I perish with hunger?  I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee and am no more worthy to be called thy son.  Make me as one of thy hired servants.'  And he rose and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."

 Some time ago I spoke for a pastor, and I remember we were having lunch, and we had a wonderful time of fellowship, and in the course of our conversation at the noon meal, he shared with me that he and his wife had five sons.  All five were adults and all five were living away from home.  And I remember we just had the casual conversation, and they told me some about their boys, and then a few weeks later, I received a letter from that pastor's wife, and in the letter, in essence, this is what she said.

 She said, "Brother Phil, you may recall when we were eating lunch, that we told you about four of our sons.  You probably noticed we told you that they were faithful in church, they loved the Lord, they were leaders in their church."  One, I think was a youth director, serving on committees, doing all these activities.  "But you may have noticed that we omitted discussing our fourth son.  He is the one that breaks our heart.  Like the others, he grew up in church, he sang in youth choir, he went to youth camps, he did everything the other boys did.  He had the same teachers, same church, same adults in his life, and yet he made the decision to walk away."

 And she said, "But, Brother Phil, I'm not really writing you this letter to fill in the blanks for you, but I am writing to ask you two questions.  Question number one, what did we do wrong?  How can you have five boys grow up in the same household, have the same Sunday school teachers, be in the same youth choir, have the same youth director, and yet one of them becomes a prodigal.  With that child, what did we do wrong?"

 And she said, "My second question is, what can we do now to reach him and reclaim him for the Lord?" 

 Now, when I read that letter, I must tell you, that was not the first time I have heard those two questions.  As a traveling speaker, it is rarely a week goes by that someone does not come to me, even if I don't even mention prodigals, and will say to me, "Brother Phil, would you pray for" – my son or my daughter, my grandchild, my brother, my sister, in some cases, my mom, my dad, my best friend.  They're a prodigal. 

 And sometimes they say in their relationship I don't know what I did wrong, and I don't know what I can do now.  Well, I set out to answer those two questions because I do quite a bit of work with senior adults and, particularly, I heard that from them.

 So here is what I did.  I, first of all, spent time going through the Scriptures trying to find every verse I could find in the Bible that addressed the prodigal issue, and I studied those Scriptures in context.  But I've got to be real honest with you – after I had studied all of that material, I ran into a roadblock because it was like what sometimes people call "writer's block."  I had all of this information, but I just could not formulate it in a way that I could share it with people.

 And so I kind of pushed it aside, but it was one of those things that everyday, in my quiet time, the Lord just kept nudging at my heart and reminding me, "You've got to address this issue."

 And, finally, I was in Missouri speaking, and I went back to a hotel room and, for some reason, that particular night it was like everybody who said something to me shared with me a prayer request about a prodigal, and they began to ask me those questions.

 And so I went back to the hotel room and only a preacher, probably, would understand this, but I said, "Lord, we need to talk.  Now, either you make this clear for me, or else stop bugging me, because either I need to know how to communicate these truths to people and give them insights to help, or else I need to abandon the idea."

 So I went to bed and around 2:00 in the morning, it was as though someone came into my room and turned on the lights, that my eyes came open, and I immediately jumped out of bed, took up a pen and paper and began writing.  But, now, I didn't write an outline.  What immediately came to my mind were the names of people that I knew well who were either prodigals or they had been a prodigal and recently returned to serving God.

 So I began writing their names, and it was one name after another name after another name, and by the time I could write that name, I thought of another name, and I was just making this list of prodigals that I knew or people who had been prodigals who recently returned to the Lord.  And then, all of a sudden, I wrote the last name, and I could not have, for a million dollars, thought of one other name, and there was a list of 30 names.

 Now, whether this is coincident or not, I do not know, but of the 30 names I'd listed on that pad, 15 were still prodigals, and 15 had recently returned to serving God.  And so when I returned home, I contacted all 30 prodigals, and I said, "I know you well.  Would you be willing to have lunch with me or let me sit down with you in the privacy of your office or somewhere, and I want to interview you, and I promise you, if you will be honest with me, I will not preach to you."  And they all agreed, and over a period of several weeks and months, I met with all 30 of those prodigals.

 And as I began to listen, I began to notice a pattern that no matter what their story, there was a couple of things that I realized – that those who decided to return to serving God, found, when they made that decision, or like the prodigal son in the Scriptures, "when they came to themselves," or as we might say in Alabama, "when they got a little sense in their head," when they decided to go home, there were no barriers between them and their earthly father or earthly mom or their friends or their grandparents and their heavenly Father.  The decision for them was easy.

 And in the story of "The Wonderful Father," the prodigal son we read this morning, did you notice that the young man never contemplated, for a moment, whether he would be welcomed.  There were no barriers between he and his earthly father or between he and his heavenly father.

 So the first thing I discovered was is that prodigals need people in their life who are diligently removing the barriers so that when they come to themselves, they will find it an easy experience not a troubling experience.  And then I discovered in those who were still away from the Lord, that often parents or grandparents or siblings or children or friends had erected barriers that was making it difficult for them to return to the Lord.

 And in that material, I went back to the Scriptures and found that the father in the story of the prodigal son did everything right.  And not only did he do everything right, but I discovered what the other Scriptures were trying to tell us about prodigal children.  And so to help us comprehend the truths, I developed it into what I call "The Six Principles" for getting your son or daughter or your friend or your bother or sister back to God.

 So what are those six principles?  Principle Number 1, and I believe for you today, it is the one you can walk out of here today, you can apply, and will help many of you the most.

 Principle Number 1 is this – you need to learn to live guilt-free in your Christian life.  Too many people who have prodigals in their life have allowed the waywardness of the prodigal to destroy their joy in their Christian life.  I've met people who refuse to serve on a committee in a church, they will not teach a Sunday school class or sing in the choir because of the waywardness of someone in their family or a close friend.  They feel unworthy because of the sinfulness of another person.

 I've heard parents say, "You know, I just cannot teach that class knowing that my son or my daughter is away from the Lord."  I remember one incident where I looked at a man, and I said, "But, sir, let's put it in perspective.  You were 70, and your son is 50."  I said, "You've got to get a perspective.  I understand you think everybody thinks that – nobody knows your son is a prodigal."  He lives in another town, but yet the devil had destroyed his joy because of the waywardness of a son.

 Well, why is it that we feel so guilty when we have someone in our life, particularly if it is a child who has wandered away from God?  Well, I think I've traced that guilt to two sources.  One, is we forget a fundamental truth of the Bible.  Now, we all know this truth but we never apply it to our children, our grandchildren, and to our friends and people in our family.

 And here is the fundamental Bible truth that we need to remember – we are bent toward sin.  You see, the issue we probably need to consider is not why that one child that I mentioned in that family of five chose to become a prodigal.  The miracle is why the other four chose to serve God.  Because he was doing what came natural for him.  You may not know this, but the people in your life around you, family and friends, are bent toward sin.

 You don't have to tell them how to lie or teach them to be dishonest.  Selfishness is not a family trait that you must work to pass on to your children.  It comes naturally.  And so when we think about prodigals in our lives and in our family, we need to remember that they're already bent that way, they're just doing for them what comes naturally.

 But I discovered, for parents, in particular, that guilt comes from a misinterpretation of a passage of Scripture in the Bible, because every time I say to people when they ask, "What did I do wrong," and I have a standard answer for that.  "You may not have done anything wrong, you might have done everything right," they will always say, "Well, what about that verse?"  And that verse, and you don't have to turn to it, I'll quote it for you, is Proverbs 22:6.  It is the verse that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

 Now, doesn't that verse say that if I do right they'll always turn out right?  Well, you may be surprised to know that I cannot locate one serious conservative Bible scholar who interprets that passage that way.  As a matter of fact, I find there are three interpretations of Proverbs 22:6.  But when I read all of that material, I thought, "Well, how could I communicate the truth of Proverbs 22:6 so that people understand what it means and yet, at the same time, I don't strip it of its original meaning.

 And I want to tell you what I believe the real message and promise of Proverbs 22:6 is – I believe the promise is, as a parent, if you teach your children the things of God, if you teach them the Word of God, if you teach them right from wrong, and they, like the prodigal son, choose to walk away, what you taught them will be a persistent conviction in their life.

 You know, when I interviewed prodigals, one of the things that amazed me was they would begin to tell me some things they were involved in that were wrong, and they would always say, without me prompting, "Now, Phil, I know what I'm doing is wrong."  And I would say, "Stop, just a minute, who told you that your behavior was wrong?"  And they would say, "Well, my mother and dad, they taught me.  I know right from wrong."

 And I sat there, and I thought, "That's the promise of Proverbs 22:6.  If they choose to walk away, we have the promise that in the quietness of hogpens, there is the convicting power of the Word of God and the Spirit of God at work in their life because we taught them the Word of God."

 So one source of comfort for you, particularly if you are a parent or a grandparent, is if they've been taught the Word of God, no matter what the behavior may be, quietly in the inner chambers of their heart, there is a conviction.  You may never know it but, trust me, it's there.

 You say, "Well, Phil, I'm still struggling with this issue that I may have done something wrong."  Well, let me answer that question again very clearly and very plainly.  "Phil, what did I do wrong?"  The answer may be "You did absolutely nothing wrong."  I mean, you could be the poster parent for every Christian family organization in America and still have a child who becomes a prodigal.

 You say, "Well, I really don't see that."  Well, let me see if I can help you.  If you believe you can do everything right in a relationship, and the other person always turns out right, then would you please explain to me today what God did wrong with Adam and Eve?  Or what Jesus did wrong with Judas?  They did everything right, but the other party decided to walk away.

Bob: That is Phil Waldrep with the first of six principles for parents of prodigals, and that's a subject the Phil is going to address on the program this week.  But I want to encourage listeners to get a copy of his book, which is called "Parenting Prodigals, Six Principles for Bringing Your Son or Daughter Back to God," and along with that, I'd encourage you to get a copy of Stormy Omartian's book, "The Power of a Praying Parent."  And, together, I think those two books will help you as a parent or as a grandparent think rightly about this subject and know how to pray and what to do, how to respond, in situations with your child.

 You can go to our website at to request copies of these books.  We have them in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to, you'll see a red button on the home page.  If you click that red button, it will take you right to an area of the site where there is more information about these resources, and if you order both of these books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD that has Phil Waldrep's entire message on it including portions that we've had to edit because of time restrictions here on our program.

 Again, our website is, click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and you can get more information about the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today.  Or call us – 1-800-FLTODAY if that's easier.  1-800-358-6329, which is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 I think most of you who are regular listeners to our program recognize the fact that FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported ministry.  We depend on contributions from folks like you who listen to our program in order for the program to continue and for the other outreaches and ministries of FamilyLife Today to be able to go forward. 

 Our website, our international outreach, our resources, our conferences – all of these could not continue if it weren't for folks like you who help us with our financial needs.  In fact, more than 60 percent of our annual revenue comes from donations. 

 And this week we wanted to say thank you to those of you who could help with a donation for the ministry of FamilyLife Today by sending you a copy of "The Jesus Movie" on DVD.  This is the most viewed motion picture in history.  It has been completely digitally remastered.  It tells the biblically accurate story of Jesus's life, His death, His crucifixion, His resurrection.

 Again, the DVD is our thank you gift this week when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  So if you can help with a donation this week, simply go to our website,, and make a donation online.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.

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 Tomorrow we are going to be back to hear Part 2 of Phil Waldrep's message to parents of prodigals.  I hope you can join us for that. 

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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