Praying for a Headstrong Teen

A Lesson for Parents from Judges 13-16 — 

Manoah and his wife had all kinds of expectations for their unborn son. An angel of God announced his arrival. The couple was elated with the news. After years of barrenness, Manoah’s wife would finally conceive. The angel informed them that the child would be special, a Nazirite, set apart for God. There were special guidelines to follow. Manoah’s wife was told to avoid alcohol and restricted foods, and to never cut her son’s hair.

Like a typical parent, Manoah worried about things that don’t really matter. He needed details about how he should raise this child. When the angel reappeared, Manoah was quick to ask what the child’s occupation should be. The angel never answered that question. All that mattered was for his wife to follow her instructions.

As promised, Manoah’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, and they named him Samson. Samson’s early years were promising. His parents were pleased to see confirming signs that this boy was on his way to greatness. God blessed him and the Spirit of God began to stir within him. They were like the proud parents whose child won every memory verse award at the year-end AWANA banquet.

When Samson was a young man, he met a Philistine girl and quickly became infatuated with her beauty. His parents were distraught. It was the nightmare of every Christian parent on earth. What was their son doing with this godless, immoral girl? They tried to dissuade him, imploring him instead to consider the nice, Jewish girls in the synagogue youth group. But the headstrong teenager Samson would have nothing of it. He was completely taken by this Philistine girl. Speaking on behalf of centuries of naive, teenage boys, Samson summed up his decision to get married against his parents’ wishes with the simple statement, “she looks good to me.”

When I put myself in the sandals of Samson’s parents, I see many similarities. I have often struggled with judging my children’s choices. I love them all dearly, but I can’t always stand behind their choices, as much as they desire it. I know they secretly long for my approval, but I am too often unwilling to give it. The problem comes when parents see their children’s choices as a direct reflection on themselves. When children seem to do well, parents puff themselves up. When children choose badly, parents own the failure. They get angry and resentful. They wonder, “why don’t they listen to my advice?” Or, they blame themselves. “Maybe I should’ve been harder on him”, or, “maybe I was too hard on him.” 

As we see in the life of Samson, all that parental fretting is for naught. 

The lesson of Samson is that God has plans, and He uses people to carry them out, including headstrong teenagers. As we see in Judges 14:4, God was using Samson’s waywardness to accomplish His work. 

“However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.” — Judges 14:4

God was “seeking an occasion against the Philistines”. There was nothing his parents could have done to avoid Samson’s rebellious ways.  His hardheadedness was ordained by the God of Heaven. His rebellion was part of a greater plan.

Unfortunately, Manoah and his wife could not see this. They “did not know it was of the Lord.”. If Manoah and his wife could see what God was doing, could realize that all of Samson’s deeds were prescribed and orchestrated by God, could get on board with God’s plan, and pray that His will would be done, how different would their attitude be toward their son?  If they could only believe that God is sovereign and had control even over their son’s stupid decisions, how much more relaxed they could have been. How much easier it would be for them to give affection to Samson instead of disappointment. How much more confident they would be, not beating themselves up for parental shortcomings. If their goal was to see God glorified, and if their trust in God was strong, they would have cause for rest, confidence, and rejoicing, even when their son made mistakes.

To his parent’s chagrin, Samson made true his commitment and married the Philistine girl. During the weeklong wedding celebration, the friends of Samson’s bride manipulated her into nagging Samson. Samson grew weary of her pestering. Perhaps realizing his mistake for the first time, he was stirred with a sense of vengeance. He saw that he was dwelling in the midst of God’s enemies, the Philistines who had oppressed his people for forty years. The Spirit of God aroused Samson. His nostrils flared as he approached the Philistine stronghold at Ashkelon. In his first act of deliverance for Israel, he passed through the city gates and proceeded to kill thirty of their number in cold blood. God accomplished His purpose. God got the “occasion against the Philistines” He had sought. In this first sign of Israel’s deliverance, God smote the Philistines through a headstrong teenager.

Parents need to see wayward teens with this in mind. God is always working a plan. It is a plan He has been carrying out since the beginning of time, a plan to glorify His name to the entire spiritual and physical creation. God is actively working His plans through people, including headstrong and rebellious teenagers. Parents should thus pray, not that the kids “straighten up”, not that they would be perfect, not that they would only date Christians. Parents should pray that God would be glorified and accomplish His plans through them. That is really what God is trying to do. He works in ways we don’t understand, some of which we would never condone. Parents should never get on their holy high horse and tell God what is best for the child. God gives children to parents for a reason. He accomplishes His purposes through them. 

At the end of his life, God opened Samson’s mind to see the light. There was a lot of suffering for Samson because of his wayward folly. The Philistines afflicted him mightily. They imprisoned him, put him under heavy forced labor, and gouged out his eyes. He was mocked, beaten and tormented. But even in this, God was accomplishing His plans. 

On Samson’s final day on earth, God had the Philistines post him between the pillars of a great temple in which 3,000 of their rulers had gathered. Here, in Samson’s final hour, God opened Samson’s heart to believe. Samson looked to heaven and prayed his own version of the “sinner’s prayer”, asking God to “remember him” and “strengthen him” one last time. His parents never saw it, but if they had, they would have rejoiced. Samson’s prayer was exactly what God wanted. For once they were aligned, and God answered him. His hands on the supporting pillars, Samson gave a mighty shout and pushed with the mighty power of God. The temple collapsed and those vile, oppressive, and godless enemies were crushed. The deliverance of Israel was complete.

I believe that someday we will see Samson in heaven. I can’t wait for that moment. I want to hug him, joke with him about his stupid choices, and tell him I love him.

In the meantime, I will give up my place as judge of my children’s decisions. I will free my heart to love them and give them the acceptance they need. I may not condone their choices, but I won’t allow those choices to spoil my affection for them. I know that God is behind every choice. He is working something I am not aware of. I will trust Him in that, and love my children. I pray with all my might that God will glorify Himself through them.

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