How to Win Your Prodigal Children

NASHVILLE. A “Not Now!” sign is on my door all this week, a sign that everyone in the Every Nation office is ignoring. Try as I may, I obviously don’t intimidate anyone around here.

I am in writing mode, working against a speeding deadline, trying to finish a book that does not have a title yet. Two possible titles: “The Heart of Parenting” or “My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting.”

I am taking a break from chapter seven to post this blog. Chapter seven is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal.” (The other chapter titles are at the bottom of this blog. As you can see, they are all borrowed from classic books.)

After applying the principles of the Parable of the Prodigal Son to parenting, the chapter I’m working on finishes with three tips called, How to Win Your Prodigal.

Here are those three tips.

1. Be a parent, not a pastor. In the course of their lives, my sons have had many pastors. But they have only had one mother and one father. We can outsource the pastoring, but not the parenting. If I don’t fulfill the role of pastor to my sons, there are plenty of other pastors ready and willing to step into that void. But if Deborah and I don’t fulfill the role of parents, no one else can.

2. More praying, less preaching. I am not sure, but my guess is that the father of the prodigal in the parable did a lot more praying for his son than preaching to his son. In the end, after much pain and shame, it turned out better than ok for the famous prodigal family. If you have tried preaching to your prodigal, and he is still far away, I suggest muting the sermons and replacing them with prayer.

3. Look for progress, not perfection. As soon as the prodigal turned toward home, when he was still far off, his father ran to him. He was far from home and far from perfect, but he was finally pointed in the right direction. As soon as your prodigal makes a turn and takes a step in the right direction, rather than criticizing how far away he still is, why not try running to him and throwing a party?

Please pray for me as I attempt to finish this book in the next few weeks. I am just over half way finished. As you pray for this book, I am praying that prodigals will turn toward home and toward God.

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Here’s the book. Bold chapters are finished, and getting shredded by my copy editors. Non-bold are scattered noted in my iPad and stories in my head that are trying to find form.

FORWARD by William Murrell, Jr,  The Three Musketeers: What My Parents Did Right

PART 1: HISTORY

CH1: Gone with the Wind: Seize the Moment Before the Moment is Gone

CH2: The Old Man and the Boy: Lessons from My Father

PART 2: HEART

CH3: The Godfather: God’s Heart for His Children

CH4: The Heart of Darkness: Every Child’s Heart

CH5: War and Peace: Every Parent’s Heart

CH6: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Seven Deadly Heart Issues

CH7: Pilgrim’s Progress: God’s Heart for Your Prodigal

PART 3: HOME

CH8: Where Wild Things Are: Discipleship Starts at Home

CH9: Great Expectations: Leadership Development Starts at Home

CH10: A Tale of Two Cities: At Home in Manila and Nashville

CH11: All’s Well that Ends Well: What I Would Do Differently at Home

 

 

 

The Greatest Accomplishment of the World’s Greatest Explorer

In 1984 the Guinness Book of World Records named Sir Ranulph Fiennes the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer.” That was at the beginning of his amazing career as an adventurer and explorer. Thirty years later, in his 70′s, Fiennes hasn’t slowed down one bit.

Fiennes’ accomplishments include being the first person to cross Antarctica on foot, the first person to visit both Poles by surface means, the oldest Brit to climb Mt Everest, the only person to circle the world along the polar axis by land and sea, and this is just the beginning of his death-defying adventures.

My favorite Fiennes story followed his failed solo unsupported walk to the North Pole. After suffering severe frostbite on all the fingers on his left hand, Fiennes had to abandon the adventure. The surgeon recommended he wait several months before amputation, to allow possible regrowth of nerves. Tired of the pain, Fiennes amputated his own fingertips. With a saw!

Perhaps his craziest adventure was running seven marathons, on seven continents, on seven consecutive days, just four months after suffering a heart attack and undergoing double bypass surgery. Here’s his post-surgery marathon schedule:

26 October – Race 1: Patagonia – South America
27 October – Race 2: Falkland Islands – “Antarctica”
28 October – Race 3: Sydney – Australia
29 October – Race 4: Singapore – Asia
30 October – Race 5: London – Europe
31 October – Race 6: Cairo – Africa
1 November – Race 7: New York – North America

Reflecting on these marathons, Fiennes said, “In retrospect I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t do it again.” Wimp.

When asked about what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment, Fiennes responded in his classic upper-class British accent, “Actually, it was being happily married for thirty-four years (to childhood sweetheart, Lady Virginia Pepper Fiennes). I was incredibly lucky.”

Conclusion: A happy marriage is an exciting adventure and a worthy accomplishment to pursue.

Question: What are you trying to accomplish with your life?

 

 

 

Wise Leaders Listen to Old Men

It seems like every time I get around leaders my age the conversation eventually meanders to the topic of multi-generational ministry and succession planning. Some already have a succession plan. Some are working on a succession plan. Others have no interest in succession plans because dying is not in their plan.

I’ve been thinking about my Manila succession plan for about thirty years. That does not prove that I am good or even marginally adequate at advanced strategic planning. I am not. Because I was only planning to stay in Manila a few months, I figured I better find some next generation leaders to equip and empower. In those days the next generation was two to five years younger than me. Now they are twenty to thirty years younger.

King Solomon got off to a great start because he understood multi-generational leadership and the importance of continuity. Consider his prayer in 2 Chronicles 1:9.

“O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.”

Unlike so many young insecure leaders today, Solomon was not looking for a “new word” from God. He believed that the old word that God gave his father was still valid for his generation.

Solomon prayed, not for his own mission/vision/word to replace the mission/vision/word of his father. Rather he saw himself as a continuation of God’s purpose. He did not need his own unique mission/vision/word. He embraced a multi-generational mission/vision/word.

Solomon’s multi-generational mission did not start with his father’s generation. In his prayer, Solomon recognizes that it started long before David. Being king over “people as numerous as the dust of the earth” harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unlike his father Solomon, Rehoboam “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (2 Chronicles 10:8). Rejecting the wisdom of old people who represent previous generations is always a bad idea for a young leader.

Solomon recognized the importance of multi-generational continuity. He remembered the wisdom of his father David. He even acknowledged he was in some way building on the foundation of God’s promises to Abraham. Because he “listened to the old men” Solomon had a strong foundation to build on and a clear mission to accomplish.

Lesson for young leaders: Patiently listen to the “old men” who repeat the same stories over and over and over.

Lesson for old leaders: Never grow tired of reminding young leaders of God’s promises and purpose so they can build on ancient foundations rather than starting over and building on nothing.

Summary: “Listening to the old men” means we don’t have to start over from scratch and make it up as we go.

Leaders Lead

Leadership is not complicated. It is simple. I’m not saying it is easy. Just simple.

Want to be a leader? Then lead. See, it’s that simple. But difficult. And costly. And time-consuming. And painful. But you need to lead anyway.

Stop waiting around for someone to give you a title, a salary, a budget, a staff, an office, an invitation. Start leading. Now.

Who should I lead?

First lead yourself. Motivate yourself. Encourage yourself. Strengthen yourself. Build yourself up. Self control is foundational to leadership.

Then lead your kids, if you have some. Leadership starts at home. If I can’t lead those closest to me (and smaller than me), then no need attempting to lead others.

Then lead anyone who happens to see your example. At work. On campus. At church. In the gym. Leadership is by example, not by position. When people see a worthy example, they instinctively follow that example.

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly.” -Judges 5:2

Leader, are you willing to TAKE THE LEAD? As soon as you do, people will FOLLOW WILLINGLY.

Why We Need Big Brothers

NOTE: While doing research for the parenting book I am trying to write, I stumbled on an old blog from deep in the archives that needed to be re-posted. Enjoy.

“I’ll only go if James goes.”

Jonathan, my five-year old, absolutely refused to go to children’s church alone. We were in the States and I was the guest preacher who was expected to stand up and be anointed in about five minutes.In the meantime, all the children quietly vacated the auditorium and settled into their own service, complete with puppets and snacks. They were all doing as expected, except Jonathan. I understood his dilemma. This was not our church. We were guests and he didn’t know anyone in his class. It was a little intimidating for him. He had no idea what evil lurked beyond those sanctuary doors. Fear of the unknown paralyzed him. So, he refused to go, that is, unless James, his seven-year old brother, would go with him. Ah, what a difference big brother makes! James wanted to stay in the big service and hear me preach. But somehow, I was able to coerce him into going to children’s church. So, Jonathan scooted off into the vast unknown in the safety of big brother’s shadow. I don’t like to admit it. But, like my five-year old son, I’m often intimidated by unfamiliar situations. All too often, when God challenges me to take a new step of faith, my first reaction is to stay in my comfort zone. Why? Because I might get rejected out there. I don’t know anyone else going that direction. I might fail.

If not for leadership in my life, I would have never gotten a passport or a plane ticket to go on that original “one month” outreach to Manila’s University Belt in 1984. Like Jonathan, I silently said: “I’ll only go if Rice goes.” Well, Rice went. And so did I. The only difference is that he returned the States after that summer outreach. I stayed.

Thank God for big brothers who challenge us to take big steps of faith.

Daniel was one of those big brother type leaders who had the ability to get people to do things they would never have done if left to themselves. The Babylonians had captured Daniel and his three best friends. They were hauled off to a pagan land far away from all forms of godliness and out of the sight of parents, prophets and priests. New temptations and opportunities to compromise assaulted them. How did they handle the situation? Notice Daniel’s response: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself. …(Dan. 1:8).  Daniel did not wait until the temptation moment to decide what to do. Way before he had the opportunity to compromise, Daniel already decided what he would do and what he would not do.

When explaining his stand to the Babylonian officials, Daniel said, “Please test your servants. …Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink” (v.12). We know that Daniel made a resolution not to defile himself. But who are these servants and who is this “us” that Daniel spoke of? It seems that Daniel dragged his three friends along with him. He took them where they probably would not have gone on their own. That’s what leadership is all about. Maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We’ll only go if Daniel goes.” Well, Daniel went. And so did they.

Next time the three amigos made a bold stand for righteousness, Daniel was nowhere to be found. When they faced crazy King Nebuchadnezzar at the door of the fiery furnace, they were on their own. This time, they were not following leadership. They were leading. Once again, God met them there in the scary unknown.

Meanwhile, back to the church service. My younger sons made it safely to children’s church. I preached my best mission sermon, challenging the church to get serious about reaching the world. Deborah and William, my oldest son, heard the same sermon for the 10th time. James and Jonathan enjoyed a Christian puppet show, met some new friends, and ate some snacks. And I saw a picture of how desperate we all are for leadership in our lives.

Thank God for those men and women of great faith who, when they get a vision from God, say, “We” and “Us” rather than I.

Our Christmas Eve Disaster

This blog was originally published in Evangelicals Today magazine over twenty years ago. Since then I have occasionally re-posted it in December. I thought some of you, especially those with small children or grandchildren, might find it helpful this time of year.

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’Twas the night before Christmas, and the scene of the crime was Savannah, Georgia. The year was 1989. William, was three and a half. James was one and a half. Jonathan was still inside trying to kick his way out.

This was the year William realized that Christmas meant gifts. He knew that at my in-laws’ house, the gifts are divided into piles. All gifts that say “To William” are put in a pile. All the “To James” gifts are put in another pile. Once all the gifts have been put in the right pile, they are opened one at a time beginning with the youngest and continuing to the oldest. This meant that James was first, then William, then older cousins, uncles and aunts, then Mom, Dad, and finally, grandparents.

Like all Christian parents, we had attempted to teach our boys the true meaning of Christmas. We recited the story of the incarnation over and over. We didn’t expect much from an eighteen month old, but we assumed that William understood the Christmas spirit. You know, God so loved the world that He gave His Son . . . That’s the spirit of Christmas – giving.

What happened that night let us know that our children had completely missed the point, and that we had to adjust the way we would celebrate Christmas in the future. (It also confirmed the “T” in TULIP.)

All William wanted for Christmas that year was a bow and arrow. His little mind was made up. He knew what he wanted and he would not be denied. Since he knew Santa Clause was a fraud, He prayed to God for it, and just to be sure, he repeatedly reminded us about it.

One day, to make sure I understood his request, he said, “Daddy, I want real arrows.”

“Real arrows?” I asked, wondering what kind of damage a three-year old could do with real arrows.

“Yeah, you know the kind with the red rubber things on the end. Real ones, not just toys.” He was serious about this.

“You mean the kind that stick to windows if you lick ’em before shooting?” I responded, hoping I knew what he meant by real arrows.

“Yeah! Like in Toys-R-Us.”

Back to the Christmas Eve crime scene in Georgia.  Here’s what happened. James was first to open his gifts. Like every eighteen month old, he was more impressed with the colorful boxes and bows than with the contents.

Then came William’s turn. As James continued to play with ribbons   and boxes, William anxiously ripped through his first gift in world-record time. He completely ignored the contents and immediately tore into the next one. (At least James played with the boxes.) He only got the wrapping paper half way off this one before tossing it aside and grabbing the next one.

Deborah and I discerned that something was wrong here. “William, maybe you should say thanks and at least act like you appreciate these gifts. What’s wrong with you?”

On the verge of tears, he said, “I thought I would get a bow and arrow, with real arrows. That’s all I wanted, and I didn’t get it. I got all this other stuff instead.”

He did get a bow with real (rubber-tipped) arrows, but it was buried under a mountain of shredded green and red wrapping paper.

That was quite a memorable and frustrating Christmas for us. We knew something was wrong and we had to fix it.

The first step in fixing it was to admit that we were part of the problem. In 1989, we asked William what he wanted to get for Christmas. He wanted to get a bow with real arrows. Christmas Eve came around. It was William’s turn to open gifts. He was totally oblivious to what others were getting and to what others had given. He was upset because he thought he didn’t get a bow with real arrows.

The root of the problem is in the word get. We will always have a problem when we focus on what we get. Christmas (and life) is all about giving, not getting. The greatest joy in fulfillment comes as we give. Like many young parents, we had helped our children miss the point.

Here’s how we fixed the problem. From then on, rather than asking our children what they want to get, we started asking them what they want to give to their brothers, their relatives, and friends. For weeks building up to Christmas, our children learned to focus on what they would give rather than what they would get.

From then on, when gift opening time comes at the Murrell house, we put all William’s gifts in a pile, all James’ in a pile, all Jonathan’s in a pile. We separate Mom’s and Dad’s into piles of their own.

In William’s pile are all the gifts that say “From William” on the tag. In James’s pile are all those that say “From James.” The “From Jonathan” gifts are in another pile, as are the “From Mom” and the “From Dad.”

Once all the gifts are in the piles, each person can now take his turn to give gifts. This way, the focus is on giving rather than getting. Over the next few years our boys learned to be just as excited about giving as getting.

They discovered that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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