Do you have a loved one that has strayed away from the Lord? It can be tough to watch. But it’s wise to remember that it’s even tougher for God to watch. He longs for all of his children to remain in his shelter. He doesn’t want any of his sheep to wander off. But he has given us free will, and unfortunately the temptations of the world can sometimes be too much of a pull and we head off in search of something we think we’re missing.
To explain his longing for the lost to come home, Jesus tells a parable about a son who did just that. As blessed as he was in the care of his father, he was convinced that the big world had more to offer him and off he went.
When Jesus tells parables, he means for us to get a message from them. So what can we learn about this story that could give us hope in whatever version of a “prodigal son” we may be dealing with in our own lives.
The story (Luke 15) opens with both of the man’s sons receiving all the wealth their father had stored up for them right up front. This is exactly what God does for us the moment we accept Jesus as our Savior. At that moment, we receive our share in the Kingdom right alongside Jesus. God doesn’t wait until after we’ve accomplished a certain amount of “good deeds” or read a certain amount of verses in the Bible. The moment we turn to his Son, Jesus – we become co-heirs. (Romans 8:17)
Both sons now had all that father had stored up for them and they were living safely in his care enjoying the daily blessings and provisions he gave them. They had it all…what more could they want? In comes the biggest lie that Satan feeds us – “You’re missing something!” And the younger son just had to find out what that might be. So he packed up everything and left the safety and warmth of his father’s home to explore the big, exciting world. I notice here that the father doesn’t stop him from leaving. This is the free will part. Certainly, God doesn’t want us to go because he knows what’s really out there and he’s promised us safety in his shelter. But the part that makes our choice to love him all the better also makes our propensity to wander that much more likely – free will.
So off the son went. And it seemed as though he might have been having fun for a while. Jesus tells us that he “wasted all his money in wild living”. And wild living can be a lot of fun…but along with it comes consequences. We can all picture a time in our life or in the life of someone we love that there were painful consequences to wild living. It’s not something you can keep up with forever. Suddenly it loses its glory and suddenly you notice that the hole in your heart meant to be filled by God alone is dreadfully empty. Now what?
In the story, it appears as though the son initially comes to his senses enough to give up the wild living – but he doesn’t go home. Not right away. First he went out and got a job, hoping to care for himself. Not wanting to have to go back to his father and admit his misadventure. I’m guessing he was probably pretty ashamed. Maybe he hoped he would get on his feet and then go home. I think sadly there are many “prodigal” Christians who may feel the same way. They might have realized that their journey apart from God was a colossal failure, but they also might mistakenly think that they need to fix themselves before they turn back to God. But God just wants them to fall to their knees and proclaim their return. Then he can wash their wounds and bandage them up. The Bible says there is joy in heaven when a lost sinner repents. (Luke 15:7) That just means turn around. Leave the wild living behind and cry out for God.
The way this parable ends is pretty amazing and it sums up God’s grace quite nicely. Rather than paraphrase, I’ll let you read it yourself:
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 Then what did the father do? He threw him a party! (v. 24)
Amazing! The father wasn’t sitting in his recliner resigned to the fact that his son had taken off. He was watching the horizon for his return. And when he saw him as just a shadowy figure in the distance – he ran to him! Arms and heart wide open.
I also notice that they didn’t sit down and have a talk about all of the bad choices the son had likely made while he was gone. The father probably had a pretty good idea, and God is certainly aware of what we’ve done, but there was no need to re-hash the past. It was over. And this was a fresh start.
Do you like that picture? I do. And that’s God! So whether you are a “prodigal son” or you know one, this is what you pray for. All that needs to happen is for the prodigal to turn around and take a step towards God. Then God will come running.