Virtually no one remains unmoved by reading the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 about the two lost sons. Many will focus their attention on the younger upstart. I believe the reason for this is simple: everyone, at some point, has either been or will love a “prodigal.”
The reason being is this: a prodigal is not limited to a son. A prodigal could be a daughter, or a grandson or granddaughter, or a father or a mother, or a brother or sister, spouse, former spouse, or a friend.
With this in mind, I shared these thoughts on Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago and share them here with you as I continue to learn and grow.
- Realize you are not Alone
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1Co 12:26 ESV)
One of the most astounding things in churches is the continued silence and solitary suffering and anguish individuals and families go through. Pastors and ministers often will be aware that this person on this pew is actually facing the same thing as that person on the other side of the building two rows up. I have read that there is a “broken heart on every pew” but I have a growing sense that it is actually true there is a broken heart in every seat. The only question is when. With this in mind, the body of Christ should be a safe place to be candid about what we are facing as well as be consoled by knowing others genuinely care. This is especially true when it comes to loving a prodigal.
- Commit to Prayer.
Commit to daily prayer for your prodigal. One of my favorite quotations from the well-known devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest is:
“Prayer is not preparation for the work it is the work.” – Oswald Chambers
Here are a couple of further reasons prayer is helpful: 1) It is hard to stay angry with someone when you pray for them. 2) It is even harder to worry when you continually pray. So pray for your prodigal. Pray for his safety. Pray for her repentance. Pray specifically about your prodigal’s sins. Pray for as long as it takes. I know one lady who often lights a candle and brings out objects from her prodigal’s past as she prays for repentance. We will never waste a single hour in prayer.
- Recognize God Loves Your Prodigal more than you do.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2Pe 3:9 ESV)
The essence of the Gospel is: God loves to save sinners.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:6 ESV)
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8 ESV)
This means that God does love your prodigal more than you do. You may say, “I know that is true, and I know that I am not God, but I am a mom.” Okay, you may not say that, but you will think it. Consider this:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)
Jesus longed as a mother-hen for the people of Jerusalem who would not repent.
- Realize you are not his or her Savior.
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. (Rom 9:3 ESV)
One of the most perplexing verses in the letter to the Romans is not one of the ones people often debate over. It is this one, where the Apostle Paul essentially says if he could be separated from Christ for the sake of Israel he would. However, Paul cannot will it. He is not their savior any more than you are I are our own savior or the savior of our prodigal. His or her eternal destiny and daily decisions are up to God and his or her response.
- Remind them of the Gospel over and over.
Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, (1Co 15:1 ESV)
It is always proper and profitable to repeat the gospel. Do so in word and in action.
The story is told of Martin Luther and one parishioner, how a man complained that it seemed Luther preached nothing but the gospel week after week. He took his complaint to Luther, insisting that perhaps it was time to move on to something else. Luther’s reported response was, “I am going to keep preaching the gospel until you come in here looking like you believe the Gospel.”
When it comes to our actions, Jesus gives the greatest instruction in the Sermon on the Mount:
37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,let him have your cloak as well. (Mat 5:37-40 ESV)
As they test your limits of love, test their limits of acceptance of your love. But here is a word of caution: There is a difference between helping and enabling, and for that we must pray for wisdom and have discernment and the will we will need when the time comes to practice it.
- Forgive even when they do not know what they are doing.
That’s a Golgotha-sized forgiveness.
34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luk 23:34 ESV)
At the same time, remember that tolerance does not equate acceptance. So in whatever you do, always maintain your family standards that are set by the word of God. The rest of your family depends upon it and your prodigal’s return may hinge on it.
Hard love may not only be necessary, but the right thing to do. The apostle Paul references in two places the “handing over” of individuals to “Satan” that individuals may learn and ultimately be saved. ( 1Timothy 1:18 – 20, 1 Corinthians 5:15 – 20)
- Give your Prodigal to the Lord.
2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen 22:2 ESV)
Though it’s that simple, it is also that hard. Can you let your loved one go and give they, their souls, and their future over to God? He has instructed us to literally “throw” all our anxieties on Him. (1 Peter 5:7)
I have found this statement from Martin Luther immensely helpful: “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
- Rejoice for Repentance
7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luk 15:7 ESV)
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luk 15:10 ESV)
When the time comes, it is appropriate to celebrate. There is a time to kill the fat cow, to bring out the best robe, and to hire a band. Do not let those moments pass by. Celebrate like crazy.
At the same time we must recognize this reality:
Not all prodigals come home. So, it is of the utmost importance that we operate truly as the body of Christ as we: 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:15 ESV)