We need to understand how God works in the hearts of men. God does not “change“ the behavior of people involuntarily. God does not interfere with or override the free will of man[1] (God has limited himself in that sense). But isn’t that how we often pray for people in rebellion toward God; “Lord, change the heart of that rebel soul”? The depth of concern in that prayer is certainly understandable, but God just doesn’t work in that way.

God does NOT go about forcing people to think or do what he wants them to do, like dropping a “Fizzy” into a glass of water, it dissolves and becomes a flavored drink. God does not drop a “holy fizzy” into the heart and mind of the wayward, prodigal soul. Then, “BOOM!” the person suddenly thinks something different. That is fatalism or determinism. Fatalism says your choices don’t matter; what will be will be. Determinism says that the choices have already been made for you. Either way, man has no control in or by his/her choices. On the other hand, God says man’s choices in life are the only things that matter. God created man with a free will. Man makes choices and decisions in life and those choices affect his/her destiny.

How then does God work to effect change in hearts? What God will do, by his Holy Spirit, is confront and convict people of their sinful behavior; behavior that is contrary to the Word of God. It then behooves the sinner to repent and confess, allowing God to bring about the needed change. (To be clear, God is always at work in and through the affairs of men, whether one is rebellious or surrendered wholly to God. God’s strategy is always the same.

God always has a purposeful strategy to draw people to himself. He works through many CIRCUMSTANCES of varying kinds, challenges, adversities, and degrees. At the same time, he is also using VOICES OF INFLUENCE in strategic places to speak truth into the life of the rebel heart. At the same time the HOLY SPIRIT STRIVES in earnest TO CONVINCE men to seek the heart to God, to reveal God to men. Along the way in that process, GOD GIVES AN INVITATION to come, TO SURRENDER to him.

Through life there will be multiple invitations. It is at these points along the way in life that man has choices to make. He/she may follow God’s loving plan or continue along his/her own rebellious self-determined path. If it is the later, then the process of circumstances, influences and striving by the Spirit will begin again. It is like remediation. The wayward prodigal gets to “repeat that grade” over again. Why? Because God loves us and he is longsuffering. But the rebel heart beware: Scripture says, the Spirit may not strive with man forever.[2]

So how do we pray for the Wayward, Prodigal Heart?

First, we (friends, family, prayer warriors) must surrender to God all the CIRCUMSTANCES surrounding that rebel heart. Release your desire for some magical change in exchange for God’s strategy of intervention. That doesn’t make you a bad parent or friend. You are praying for God to do whatever is needed for the best outcome. You are praying that “Hedge of Thorns”[3] around the wayward prodigal heart. Pray for circumstances to lead that wayward heart to the throne of grace, to a face-to-face encounter with the living God. You may be aware of some, if not all, of those circumstances. You can pray in specific terms. Pay close attention to what is going on in his/her life. Pray that any or all of those circumstances will reveal God to the rebel heart.

Second, pray for VOICES OF INFLUENCE to speak into that prodigal’s life:[4] parents, grandparents, parents of friends, godly friends, ministers, teachers, coaches, etc. Pray for influencers to be listening to God and/or used of God. You may know the names of specific people in strategic places of influence surrounding the prodigal’s life. Pray over these influencers and their relationship to the one for whom you pray. Pray that the heart of that rebellious one will be open to common sense and spiritual insight[5] wrought by voices of influence. 

Third, turn the wayward heart in question over to the Spirit of the Lord. Pray that the striving of the SPIRIT MAY CONVINCE him/her to seek the heart of God. Pray that the light of the Spirit will illuminate the prodigal heart towards God.[6] Pray that the Spirit might confront and convict them of sin; give them no rest until surrender comes.[7]

Finally, pray for an OPENNESS, a willingness, of that prodigal’s heart TO RECEIVE GOD’S INVITATION as they are offered (there are many in life); that he/she will respond in an ultimate surrender of his/her will to God.[8] Give thanks for God’s long-suffering.[9] Pray that the wayward prodigal’s heart will yield sooner rather than later to God’s invitations. They must willingly decide to open their heart to God. It is a choice that he/she must make. That is how God works to bring rebel hearts to himself. It is a choice every person must make. God won’t make it for them.

So, here is how we…


Pray That Circumstances Will Point Clearly to an Encounter with God

Pray That Influential People Will Speak Truth for God

Pray That the Holy Spirit Will Work Earnestly on God’s Behalf

Pray That the Response Will Lead to an Open Surrender at God’s Every Invitation

[1] Deuteronomy 30:15-18; Matthew 23:37-39; John 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 22:17

[2] Genesis 6:3

[3] Hosea 2:6,7

[4] 2 Samuel 12:1-7; John 1:43-45; Acts 9:27

[5] Psalm 1:1; Proverbs 13:20

[6] 1Co 2:12-16; 2Co 4:3-6

[7] John 6:44; 16:8; 1Jhn 2:20,27

[8] 2 Samuel 12:13; Revelation 3:20

[9] Psalm 118:1-4