How long do you keep praying the same petition? How long do you pray for your covenant children who have gone astray? Do they ever get too old to pray for?
Let me share a remarkable story of answered prayer that should encourage you to keep on keeping on.
In 1963, when I came to Pilgrim Church in Bangor, Maine, Tom Littlefield, the older of Jack and Kay Littlefield's two sons, was in his early teens. Since his parents had been part of Pilgrim Church from the very beginning, their boys had participated in the strong program of catechetical instruction that characterized Pilgrim Church in its formative years, and by 1963 Tom was a member of an active group of young people in the church. As he went on into his teen years, however, Tom more and more turned his back on the teaching of his home and church, and he frequently got into trouble at school.
His high school experience was so unsettling that his father took Tom to a school near Waterville that specialized in troubled, rebellious, incorrigible students. You can imagine the emotions of Jack's heart as he enrolled Tom at the school, got him settled in his room, and drove back alone to Brewer.
Now imagine the sudden twist of Jack's emotions as he drove across the Penobscot Bridge from Bangor into Brewer and passed Tom slouching along the sidewalk! Tom had slipped away from the school, hitchhiked some rides, and gotten back to Bangor ahead of his father.
After some time in the service, Tom banged around, living a life apart from God, and finally settled in Manchester, New Hampshire. Meanwhile, his father continued to pray for Tom, year after year. Finally, Jack passed away, his prayers seemingly unanswered.
But his mother, Kay (Danforth, now), never stopped praying for her wayward son. She kept on praying for him as persistently as Augustine's mother, Monica, prayed so many years for her son. Kay also sent Pilgrim's church bulletins to Tom over the years.
In 1993, Tom learned from his mother that Greg Reynolds had moved to Manchester with the intention of planting Orthodox Presbyterian churches in New Hampshire. Tom phoned Mr. Reynolds, explaining that he had strayed from his upbringing in Pilgrim Church, but wanted to return to his roots. When Tom found that Orthodox Presbyterian church services were not yet being held in Manchester, he seemed to drop the matter.
In 1996, as Mr. Reynolds was beginning a Bible study in Manchester, he tried to call Tom, but the number had been disconnected. Mr. Reynolds prayed for Tom and left the matter in God's hands.
In the meantime, Kay continued to send church bulletins to Tom. Early in 1998, he received a bulletin that announced the first morning worship services at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, just fifteen blocks from Tom's home.
The Lord used this news to rekindle Tom's interest. Taking a Bible, he opened it at random. It opened to Psalm 23, which he knew by heart, but had never understood. Suddenly it made sense to him. He grasped the reality of God's saving grace. After praying, he immediately called Mr. Reynolds and told him what had happened. That Sunday, Tom went to church with two of his daughters, and he has never stopped going.
Shortly after Tom's first visit to the church, Mr. Reynolds called on him at his home and quickly found what a changed man he had become. Tom is unusual among newborn babes in Christ because he understands more than most, due to his study of the Shorter Catechism during his youth. After Tom read Mr. Reynolds's book, Making a Good Profession, he asked to join the church and to have his younger daughter, Sarah, who lives with him, baptized.
Mr. Reynolds reports that on April 5, 1998, Tom made a "refreshingly clear" profession of faith, and Sarah was baptized. "Tom's life is full of Christ. He is a new creation and it shows. He is a full participant, seeking to help in countless little ways. What a delight to his mother's heart, the heart of a Reformed pastor, and all covenant parents. The Lord never forgets the covenant youth of his church and never fails to answer the prevailing prayers of their parents. Read Psalm 128."
The hearts of those at Pilgrim Church who knew Tom as a youth have been deeply moved by this demonstration of the Lord's unfailing grace.
So, how long should we continue to pray for our covenant youth, even when they have grown up and strayed from the faith? Tom's story presents the resounding answer: never stop praying. Be encouraged by Tom's testimony to be constant in your prayers for your own children and the other youth of the church. In this matter, as in others, do not grow weary in prayer, but pray without ceasing.
Mr. MacDonald is an elder at Pilgrim OPC in Bangor, Maine, and a member of the OPC's Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1999.