When Someone You Love Turns Away from God

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As I write this, we’re entering another holiday season. No time of the year is more intimidating for people who must deal with difficult family members. And no family member is more difficult than the one who once had a vibrant faith but has since turned away from God. For some, it’s even harder because it’s not the uncle they see once a year but a child, a spouse, or a parent. The holidays only deepen the sadness over that person’s ever-present lack of faith.

The Bible gives us a well-known story of a loved one who turned away from God:

And [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 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. 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. 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. “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! 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.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 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.’ 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. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
—Luke 15:11-32 ESV

What can you as a believer in Jesus do? I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue, but I will offer the following.

1. Understand that turning away from God is turning to self

The “oldest lie in the book”:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—Genesis 3:1-5 ESV

Back in my youth, people who turned away from a Christian view of God often turned to other faiths. Today, in contrast, my experience is that most people who reject Jesus don’t go elsewhere. They instead reject all belief.

Or this is what they claim. Fact is, though, the “reject all belief” option doesn’t reject all belief. It instead accepts a belief that I can be my own god. Sound familiar? If anything, it’s the ultimate in self-centered thinking. When someone we love turns away from God, it is an act of extreme selfishness, and we must understand it as such.

2. Understand that turning away from God is a sin

Black sheep with white sheepRomans 14:23 makes it clear: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Don’t candy-coat another’s walking away or call  it by some romanticized nomenclature such as “going on a quest” or “finding herself.” This is a genuine battle, and it should never be excused or downplayed. Faithlessness is a sin.

3. Understand that you are likely NOT the one who will restore that lost person

As Americans, we want to fix problems. Something in our national psyche makes it impossible to sit still while a problem exists. We demand change. And if someone else won’t make change happen, then you and I will.

Don’t go there. In the story of the prodigal son, the father understood that whatever change would come over his lost child, he would not be the one responsible for it. Let God work in His timing in the life of a prodigal. Most likely, God will bring awareness, as was the case in the prodigal son.

4. Pray for that lost person

My advice for prayer is to pray that God would…

…break the power of sin in the prodigal’s life.

…run that prodigal to the end of his or her means.

…show the prodigal that he or she is incapable of assuming the role of God.

…show that prodigal that God alone fulfills.

…bring that prodigal back “home.”

5. Never stop praying for that lost person

Pray always. Never give up. Never, ever give up. The Bible does not say explicitly, but I believe that the father of the prodigal son never stopped praying for him. The father’s response to the son is exactly the kind one would expect from someone who never gave up on prayer.

6. Never stop showing lovingkindness to that lost person

Obviously, we love this person if we care enough to worry about his condition. But too often we resort to “tough love” when we should instead display lovingkindness. Always respond to the lost person with lovingkindness. You will be tested in this perpetually. Be kind, and never think that harshness will triumph. Sometimes, you may have to speak a difficult truth. Do so only when guided by God and not by your own desire to change the person. Again, you are likely NOT the change agent in that prodigal’s life. Instead of trying to be the hammer, be the place of safety.

7. Never stop trusting God

I cannot add to this:

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
—Psalms 18:30 ESV

I don’t believe there is a believer in Jesus in this big country who lacks for a family prodigal. We are all in this together. If you know someone who is distraught from watching a loved one go astray, be there for that fellow believer. Perhaps you can pray for each other’s prodigals.

Never stop praying. And never, ever give up hope.

25 thoughts on “When Someone You Love Turns Away from God

  1. Pingback: Edelen: When Someone You Love Turns Away from God
  2. Brenda P

    I am thankful to God that I discovered this site.
    I literally have a prodigal son whom I love so dearly. And my
    heart aches. He is 21..this article was a breath of fresh air
    for me…a reminder of the rest I must take in the Lord almighy.
    God Bless…Thank you

  3. Anne

    Thank you for the prodigal son advice. I have been praying for my son for 5 years since he turned from the Lord, and have kept a diary of the ways the Lord has encouraged me. I would share 2 texts which may help others : 1 Tim 2.4 ‘God desires all men to be saved’ and 1 John 5.14,15 ‘If we pray according to his will, we have confidence that he hears and will answer'(my paraphrase). God’s will is for all to be saved (that includes my son/your loved one) and therefore if we pray according to that will, we can have confidence that he has heard and will answer. [This was George Muller’s practice – 5 people he faithfully prayed for over decades finally came to the Lord, one after GM’s death]. Even if not in my lifetime, I can have joy NOW knowing my child will return to the Lord.Keep praying on with faith and patience.

  4. Sam

    So thankful for this page, received news that my best friend has denounced his faith. This has reminded me that God is in control no matter how hard that seems right now.

  5. I absolutely love this article! My brother recently declared that he has become an atheist and denounced God’s existence, I was and maybe still am at the end of me, feeling like nobody else understands and he literally broke my heart with that… This message is exactly what I need to hear right now

  6. Shan

    My brother turned away from god, every time I tired to talk to him he shuts me off.. every time I tired talking about god, advice him to go to church and pray he tells me to shut up and etc. He seems so closed and cold
    I tired loving him but he doesn’t care but I’ll still love him.
    Please help me to have hope and faith in you lord and to love him.

  7. Craig

    Hi, i’m glad i found this. My question is, if it’s somebody you’ve been friends with since “before” God, but then somebody who cleaned their life up far before you, and now has decided to return to a sinful lifestyle and put God out of the picture, should i still be that person’s friend? i tried doing it, after having plenty of talks with him about what he’s doing, but the funny thing is i knew him before he got saved and after, and who he is today now that he’s walked away, is somebody i’ve never known, blatantly unrepentantly living in sin, i’ll pray for him but should i remain friends with him?

    • Craig,

      If Jesus didn’t walk away from you or from me when we were lost and in need, why should we walk away from a friend who is lost and in need? Fact is, you may be the only source of light amid your friend’s darkness. Be the person who’s there for him when no one else is.

  8. Sherri Akitoye

    I’m in a very diffcult place husband of 30 years, has walked away and filed for divorce. There is witchcraft involved, he has nothing to do with me or our children, or grandchildren. Does not want to hear about God. Just had a support hearing and he just went in and told lots of lies. He’s 68 years old and is out partying and drinking . I’ve prayed, forgave him, but I’m so weary of this battle. Where do I go from here.

    • Sherri,

      I prayed for you just now. A few things I can offer as someone who is NOT a licensed marriage counselor nor local to you:

      1. Get support locally. Who can help you where you live? And I mean both help for the two of you and for you alone. Also, if your husband has male friends, do they have any insights into what is going on in his life? Perhaps a godly man who knows him can connect with him. He needs support as well.

      2. Lead with love. You can choose to react with fear and anger or you can choose to lead with love. Ask God to make your every interaction with your husband as loving as it can be.

      3. Lean into God. Keep taking EVERYTHING back to Him. Every time you feel like you’re discouraged, hurt, angry, or fearful, go to God and seek refuge in Him. Don’t rely on your own understanding, but learn to hear His.

      4. Never stop praying.

      5. Never give up.

      I am no counselor. I can’t offer you licensed advice. What I wrote above is what I think is a good start to finding resolution. But you need local support from solid people. I prayed that you would find them and that they would come your way. Don’t neglect to meet with people and don’t shut yourself away. Be available to connect with people who can help.

      Thank you for being vulnerable. God bless.

      Dan

  9. Anne

    I’m glad I came across this post. Just last night my sibling, whom I live very much, made a very brash statement that shook me to the core. I didn’t react in the way I should have. She has gone down a self indulgent path and has blamed everyone but herself for the outcome. I’m weary and in a depressed state of mind.

    • Amelia

      Hope since then your sister has turned her ways and submitted her mind and soul to Jesus Christ. And hope since then you are now finding yourself in a joyful state of mind. God bless you sister.

  10. Tracy Salas

    Please pray for my prodigal husband we are separated I don’t know if there is another women but he has walked away from God and me and I haven’t heard from him, I’m praying as I know this is a spiritual warfare against the devil, I’m standing for my marriage to be restored as his wife standing in the gap for my husband salvation . I try not to contact him as it may upset him, I’m trusting in God and believing he is working on my husbands heart of stone and giving him a heart of flesh, thank you!

  11. DuckyDog

    I’m also standing in the gap for my husband who claimed and acted like a solid Christian. When we met and married 9 1/2 yrs. ago, I gave 2 boundaries, don’t lie to me or cheat on me. I asked if he had an accountability partner, he said he did. I was 44 he was 39. I was physically very healthy, training for Ironman. He was 6 mos. Shy of 10 yrs. of sobriety when “he took a drink at me.” 2 mos. Into the marriage he secretly returned to his porn addiction. I had no idea as he even viewed it. He led me to believe he had never looked at it. I’m an atypical girl. I traveled the world by myself, I’ve built my own house, 2 college degrees, raced motor cycles, and have modeled.

    Suffice to say it started on my honeymoon that had to wait a week a a week cause hubby had to have 40th b’day party. He said, “I want the money for our honeymoon. ” We didn’t need it.

    Suffice to say it started on the honeymoon. He felt the need to confess who his who he was still in love with, who gave the best” “, who was the best at ” “. You get the picture. I went into shock while I watched his eyes glaze over reminiscing. When we got home, I went to my pastor who told me that my husband was just probably nervous. That I should extend grace and forgive. I got hurt at work (union heavy equipment operating engineer specializing in cranes) discs in my neck. They were bulging on 2 sides. But he still demanded sex. I had to take 3 Oxy’s because of the pain and then he would yell at me for being selfish. Found out years later that when he was 14 he raped his sister, she was 12. I’m pretty sure he has given me date rape drugs over the years. To date, we’ve seen 5 pastors for counceling. We had to switch churches when the pastors pushed him to repent. 1 outside Christian Counselor together. To which he walked out of sessions. I put myself in counseling last year. He started counseling on his own, but dropped “because the counselor didn’t know what he was talking about.”

    He went to work in ND in 2012 and that was the worst (besides marriage) decision ever!!! In 3 yrs. time, we had a BK, I sold my SUV and truck ( I pd cash 4 both B4 marriage) to pay the rent. He made $327,000. In 3 yrs. After all expenses accounted for, he cannot account for 124k. $1299 in 1 day of gaming, $800, 700, and random 500 withdrawals. He said he took the guys out for dinner. He claims I spent it. I couldn’t have, it was in an account in his name only. When he got fired and was on his way home, he offered (an unsolicited) STD test to prove he was faithful. Yep, and he brought home HPV and Herpes 1 & 2. If I’m clean then i know how he got it. I stopped having sex with him it’s too disgusting. Ive been getting tested 4 times a yr I’m so paranoid.
    We’re seperated again. I’ve lost count. He has played the victim card “ad nauseum” He always runs home to mommy and she always takes him in. Very unholy soul ties as my husband can remember playing with her breasts in the bath and shower between the ages of 5-9. (Sic!)

    On his Facebook page he was foolish enough to post pictures of his most recent date… a married woman that he had unprotected sex with and my MIL posting the likes if “Don’t kiss on the first date.”

    He has not returned the sepperation paprework either. I suspect so he can control me.

    I’ve asked the 2 other Christians in the family and have been ignored. I forgave them but it hurts that they know the truth and won’t do anything about it.

    I’m so sorry for the ramble as only a couple people know what I going through.

    God’s grace has kept me from going completely insane. My relationship with my Heavenly Father is so much stronger than ever!

    I’m exhausted to the point of having developing a rare orphan central nervous system disease called NMO, Neuromyelitis. I’m going blind in one eye. I have Fibro, the biomarkers for Lupus, Sclerderma, and Hypothyroidism. 32 prescription pills a day. I’ve been cut off financially from husband as he and his mom (who ignores her husband) are having a great time being each other’s functional savior, the fill in spouse, co-dependant enablers.

    As a mother, I cannot for the life of me understand why his mother refuses to acknowledge his addictions of porn, alcohol, drugs and gaming. I would go to hell and back for my children’s health.

    I love Jesus more than anything. I really need some prayer.

    Be blessed!

    • Ashley

      I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you. That sounds like a rough journey. You need to move forward with your life and focus on your health. Your husband has turned away from you. It sounds like you have done everything you can. I’ll be praying for you.

      • Amelia

        Praying for you. May God renew your strength and fill your life with joy, peace, wisdom, health, prosperity, stability, calmness, and all the things that come from His superabundant love.

  12. Thank you for this. I’ve been feeling the strain of an entire family who seems to be turning away from God. I feel alone and abandoned and betrayed. My grandfather accepted Christ on his deathbed, so I know that there is hope, but it is so much harder and more personal when a loved one has walked away from Christ.

  13. roxy

    I’m so sorry that you are going through this mess. My loved ones just don’t get that “eternity is a long time to be wrong”.

    A friend of a friend turned me on to Brian and Jennifer Johnson with Bethel Church Music. I’ve been listening to it everyday and it gives me comfort.

    I will be praying God’s will for you. Never ever forget that you are a beloved child of God and he will bring good from this. Your prayers and tears do not return void! You are deeply loved by your Father. You are loved sister.

  14. Ezra

    Thank God for letting me find this site. I today talked to an old friend who had been Christian, but because of family dying from cancer she refuses God and is getting bullied for the fact that she believes(/believed). She wanted to try an ouiji bord (if that’s how you spell it) to try and see if her niece who died at the age of 5 (from cancer) is ok, because she couldn’t say farewell in a normal way. She is also having a rough time at home, because her brother is kind od going insane; always shouting, throwing stuff at her family and recently started heavily drinking. She sometimes literally cries herself to sleep and is afraid to go home. Volleyball is her only escape to this, but says she now has no time for God. She can’t make time for Him because it’s soaking up her whole life, and above all mostly asks why God hasn’t done anything after praying so much to help cure all the diseases. She also has ADHD, but doens’t even want to heal because she sees it as part of herself now. All in all, she is saying that the devil doesn’t exist and has went to look at everything in a scientifc way (so she said) I hope that if anyone reads this they will also pray for her and let God have his way in her life. Gods bless (if you were amazing enough to read this all)

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