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This reading group guide forPrayers and Promises for Worried Parentsincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Robert Morgan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Life as a parent can be exhausting as well as exhilarating, but when a child decides to walk the path of the prodigal, there are often few voices speaking into the pain and confusion that parents experience. What does it mean to follow Jesus in the midst of the storm? How can parents know the peace that passes understanding while all hell seems to be breaking loose? Drawing from the depths of his own journey through the valley of the shadow of parenting a prodigal child, Rob Morgan offers signposts of hope and encouragement to parents who long to walk with God and be transformed by their suffering.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the Foreword, Stephen Arterburn describes God as a parent who “has had nothing but trouble with his children,” in spite of His perfect love for each one. How did seeing God in this light impact you?
2. In the first section entitled “Praying,” the author describes the power of praying with scripture. Have you done this before? Do you have any “prayers for prodigals” from scripture that have been especially meaningful in your journey of parenting?
3. In chapter 10, “Prevailing Prayer,” which quote impacted you this most? What resonated with you about it?
4. What gets in the way for you of trusting God with your children and their future? How can you invite Jesus into that place of fear or unrest?
5. In chapter 17, “Leave Room for God,” the author quotes Cameron V. Thompson: “We must let God work. That is, we should not try to answer our own prayers, unless the Lord Himself should lead that way.” What are some ways you have tried to answer your own prayers? How did God use the devotionals in this section to nurture your trust in Him?
6. How did the story of Alice Taylor in chapter 32 impact you? What do you learn about the exercise of faith from her story?
7. What do you learn about God from the section on “waiting”? Read John 11:1-5. How does it impact you to read “…he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”? How do you make sense of the delays of God in response to our requests and prayers?
8. In chapter 40, the author describes the religious, cultural, and political circumstances that surrounded Jesus’ birth, and how these conditions provided the perfect time for the gospel to be made known throughout the world. How does this information nurture hope about God’s mysterious timing and movement in your life?
9. Is there a difference between leaning on God’s promises and leaning on God Himself? Discuss.
10. On page 112, the author says, “…we often get into emotional trouble when we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves.” What are some anchors of truth that you have established to speak to yourself in times of uncertainty or anxiety?
11. In chapter 58, the author quotes J.I. Packer: “Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into His plan for us and brings good out of them. This is part of the wonder of His gracious sovereignty.” Can you think of examples from your life where God has redeemed or restored what was broken? How does remembering these times encourage you in the midst of uncertainty or more brokenness?
12. How has God changed you through the experience of parenting a prodigal child? In what ways has parenting opened your heart to examine your own experience of being a child? How has this book impacted the posture of your heart?
13. In chapter 67, the author describes eight strategies that have helped him navigate the darkest days of the journey. Which one of these spoke to your current place of need?
14. On page 158, the author describes the contrast between a whirlpool and a whirlwind. With which one do you most identify? What does Romans 4 reveal about the path out of the whirlpool into the whirlwind?
15. What is one spiritual practice from this book that you want to consistently integrate into your life?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Get a copy of the poster, Return of the Prodigal by Rembrandt, and spend 30 minutes just sitting and contemplating the scene that Rembrandt portrays. At your next book club, discuss which character(s) stood out to you, what you felt as you allowed the painting to impact you, which person you most identified with, etc.
2. Read Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God, and discuss how the God Keller describes in the book differs or is similar to the God you know or have learned about. How does this encourage you as you seek to parent and love your children?
3. Go to the website http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-what-how-why-of-prayer/praying-with-scripture/ and print the instructions for gospel contemplation. Using these instructions, pray with the gospel passage from Mark 2:1-12, imagining that you are being carried to Jesus, weary from the pain and struggle of loving your child. Allow yourself to fully enter the scene and invite Jesus to speak to you and show you what He longs to give you.
4. Watch the movie Les Miserables. Pay particular attention to the scene at the beginning of the movie when the priest speaks to Jean Val Jean when he is returned to the priest’s home after stealing from him. How is the priest a picture of our “prodigal God”? What other scenes from the movie expand your heart as a parent?
A Conversation with Rob Morgan
1. You say in the book that you wrote this collection as a form of journaling during your own journey of parenting. What prompted you to publish them?
We went through several years of stress and strain, and my wife handled it all better than I did. When it comes to parenting stresses, sometimes the mother handles it better; sometimes the father does. I was a basket case for several years, and to keep myself functional, I collected Bible verses, stories, poems, words of encouragement, fragments of inspiration, biblical insights, and everything else I could find. I made a sort of personal scrapbook. As time went by, I realized that perhaps these clippings and quotes – prayers and promises – would be helpful to others as well. When the opportunity came to publish them, we took it as an open door from the Lord.
2. Were there any surprising joys that came out of writing these reflections and prayers?
Our time in a parenting valley proved the verse in Psalm 23 that says even in the valley the Shepherd is with us. I’ve never prayed harder than during those days nor leaned harder on the Lord. I’ve never searched His Words for promises as I did during those days. It was the greatest time of spiritual intensity (and growth) I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I’m very thankful for all I learned and for how the Lord answered prayer.
3. I read in another one of your books (The Lord Is My Shepherd) that you own sheep. What have you learned about parenting from being a shepherd?
Parenting is like shepherding, and of course, our lambs sometimes stray. I’ve wondered if that’s not the real meaning behind the little children’s song, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep.” The song says, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home…” There is some truth to that. The father in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 was rather passive. He prayed and waited, but he didn’t go running after his son. But we need the wisdom of God to know how to shepherd our children, when to prod them and when to leave them alone, when to be passive and when to be assertive. In other words, we need the Good Shepherd to shepherd us as we shepherd our children.
4. When you talk with parents after speaking at a conference or preaching a sermon, what is one of the main things you hope they walk away from the conversation knowing?
There is hope for your prodigal; there is help for you. We cannot give into despair. Every distressed parent who came to Jesus in the Gospels was helped—every one of them. The prodigal son came home in Luke 15. The Bible gives many verses as to the power of prayer, and tells us that the prayers of an earnest parent are powerful and effective. God wants to increase our faith as we’re waiting for Him to help our youngsters.
5. How has parenting a prodigal child impacted your marriage? What counsel would you give to couples who are in the midst of a season of parenting a prodigal child about sustaining their marriage relationship?
Katrina and I joined together in tears, prayers, and song. She couldn’t always understand the depth of my pain; she handled things much better. I thank the Lord for that! If we had both been as pitiful as I was, we’d have been in real trouble. She just assumed our daughter would turn out all right in the end, and there were many times when her encouragement to me saved the day.
6. What have you learned about each child being created in the “image of God” through the process of parenting?
Each child is beautiful, with strengths and gifts that are God-given. Yet every child has an element of free will and is responsible for his or her own moral choices. That means that every child struggles with growing up in a fallen world. So every child needs the prayers, love, and support of a praying parent.
7. In the book, you mention The Kneeling Christian and the significant impact it has had on your prayer life. Are there other books or mentors who have helped shape your posture of prayer in the midst of painful life circumstances?
In Prayer and Promises for Worried Parents I tell about a friend of mine, Bob Hill, who was a tremendous encouragement. He’s in heaven now, but I don’t know what I would have done without his Scripture quotes and personal stories. He was a prayer warrior for his own children, and he taught me how to pray for mine. I also found the Bible to be the world’s best prayer book. Almost every verse within its covers can be turned effortlessly into the most powerful prayers ever uttered.
8. Which section of the book was the most difficult for you to write?
Some of the pages—especially quotations from my journals—were written in incredible pain and through tears. The single most difficult page of the whole book for me was a poem I wrote as a prayer entitled “The Fourth Watch.” I wrote it late one night when I was in the grip of fear and didn’t think I could ever go to bed. The ending of it says: “To Him who tucks me into bed: / Please station angels around his head, / and guard my child wherever he be, / and bring him back, dear Lord, to Thee.”
9. What do you enjoy the most about the process of writing?
This book was a therapy for me. I was self-medicating on Scripture. To me, sharing this book is simply letting others listen in to the sermons God was preaching to me.
10. How has traveling through this experience of parenting a prodigal child changed you?
I understand pain, and I understand the struggles of anyone who is codependent or worried about another person. Thankfully I also know the joy of answered prayer.
11. What’s your favorite part of being a grandfather?
The love between grandparents and grandchildren is the simplest and most uncomplicated love in the world. I love to bake cakes with my grandchildren; and we put in a little above-ground swimming pool just for the grandkids. There’s nothing like being with them. My grandson can wear me out in the pool. He likes to be tossed up out of the water so he can splash back in; but it’s a workout! It’s also a little hard to have them all at once (we have 12). I prefer them by ones and twos.
Rob J. Morgan is the pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has served for thirty-three years. He has authored more than twenty books, including The Lord Is My Shepherd, The Red Sea Rules, and Then Sings My Soul. He conducts Bible conferences, family retreats, and leadership seminars across the country. He and his wife, Katrina, live in Nashville. His website is RobertJMorgan.com.