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How the Death of a Deist Launched America's First Missionary

10/02/2013 02:58 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Parents have every reason to worry about sending their children to universities where the worldview is often hostile toward people of faith and where moral habits take a battering. But you never know how things will turn out. Adoniram Judson, a Boston preacher's kid, went to Brown University at age sixteen and graduated valedictorian of his class. While there, he became best friends with Jacob Eames, a Deist, who was, in practical terms, atheistic in his views. Ridiculing Judson's faith, Eames challenged him with the writings of Voltaire and other French philosophers. Judson returned home an atheist, much to his Christian parents' distress. All they could do was love him, pray for him, try to keep communications open, and give the Lord time to work.

Meanwhile Judson migrated to New York City to establish himself as a playwright, then he headed west to explore the American frontier. One day, weary from traveling, he stopped at an inn. The proprietor said, "Forgive me, sir, but the only room left -- well, it'll be a bit noisy. There's a young fellow next door awfully sick." Too tired to care, Judson took the key.

The night became a nightmare. The tramping of feet coming and going. Muffled voices. Painful groans. Chairs scraping against the floor. Judson felt troubled by it all, and he wondered what his friend Jacob would say about fear, illness, and death. The next morning while checking out, he asked about the young man in the next room. The proprietor said, "I thought maybe you'd heard. He died, sir, toward morning. Very young. Not more than your age. Went to that Brown University out East. His name of Jacob Eames."

The West abruptly lost its allure, and Judson turned his horse homeward. Soon he gave his life to Christ and, shortly afterward, devoted himself to missionary service. On February 6, 1812, he was commissioned as North America's first international missionary. He, his wife, and his companions sailed for Burma the next week, launching the era of organized American global missions. Behind the unexpected turn of events were the faithful and quiet prayers of godly parents.

I don't know how to explain it, but there's undeniable power in praying for our children, and for their worldviews, their guidance, their friends, and their spiritual well being. I have three daughters, and at various times I've suffered anxiety for each of them. But one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned is the secret of turning Bible verses into prayers on their behalf.

For example, Psalm 40 is a song of praise written by King David, which says: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." With a couple of changes to the pronouns, those words become one of the most practical and scriptural prayers imaginable for a loved one in crisis: "Lord, left him out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; set his feet on a rock and give him a firm place to stand. Put a new song in his mouth, a hymn of praise to God."

You can offer that prayer morning, noon, and night. You can memorize those words and pray for your loved one when you awaken in the night gripped with fear, or when you're commuting to work with fear tugging at the corners of your mind. Passages like Psalm 40, when rewritten as prayers, have a salubrious effect, not just on the ones for whom we're praying, but on us too. If, in dealing with your children's problems, you find your stomach knotting, your head pounding, and your teeth clenched, discover the simple remedy of bending your knees. Find some verses and put your children's names in them.

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, said, "Prayer delights God's ear, it melts his heart, it opens his hand; God cannot deny a praying soul." Oswald Chambers said about influencing others: "Come on them from above! By intercessory prayer we can hold off Satan from other lives and give the Holy Ghost a chance to work with them. No wonder Jesus put such tremendous emphasis on prayer!"

I once read that prayer is the key to the morning and the bolt of the evening. Worrying about our children and their choices is endemic to being a parent, especially as they gain independency in an age as corrupt and confused as ours. But parents have the most powerful weapons imaginable to help safeguard their children -- love, communication, wise counsel, godly modeling, and most of all -- prevailing prayer. If you're concerned about someone dear to you right now, open your Bible, find a verse, put his or her name in it, and turn it into intercession. Prayers formed from God's Word reflect His will, and many a child, drawn by the unseen prayers of a loving parent or grandparent, have sooner or later turned their horses toward home.