Heart sorrow is to drive the ones praying for lost children back to where they need to go, to their only hope. To the gospel, where they remember that Christ was separated and cursed by God so that His people could be brought back to Him. Surely each anguished tear of the grieving Christian parent, preserved in His bottle and recorded in His book by the Lord (Ps. 56:8), is a cry to that end.
How do Christian parents pray for straying covenant children? For those who know the faith but have long abandoned it?
The Apostle Paul gives us a model in the opening words of Romans 9:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Here Paul considers his kinsmen according to the flesh, meaning the Jewish people. As he looks upon the nation
- whom God greatly favored above all others as recorded in the Old Testament;
- those who were known as the “children of God;”
- the people to whom God through the centuries sent His signs and prophets;
- those from whom the Messiah came and to whom the Messiah was sent;
- and sees that though their Messiah came to them as Jesus Christ, in large measure they rejected and spurned the Holy One of Israel;
what is his response? Paul expresses that he has a “mega sorrow” (what the Greek says) and an anguish in his heart that will not stop. By way of contrast, the Apostle John said that he had no greater joy than to hear of his children walking in the truth (3 John 4). Certainly then there is no greater, unrelenting sorrow for a parent than a child walking the other way.
And it is most fitting that Romans 9 begins with this expression of grief. For Romans 9 is perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible for people to receive, as it expounds upon the doctrine of predestination. This chapter of the Bible tells us that not only has God elected some to salvation, but deliberately passed over others. Thus, this expression of Paul here instructs in this manner: the only type of heart that can properly handle doctrines such as predestination is a broken one. A heart that, even when faced with seeing once-professing people exhibit reprobate behavior, still cries out for God to redeem.