Day 22, Chapter 22: The Prodigal
In the book What Will It Take to Change the World by S. D. Gordon, he relates the story of a couple who discovered that their young son – we’ll call him Steven – had lied to them. He had skipped school for three consecutive days and was caught when his concerned teacher called his parents to inquire about his well-being.
The parents were obviously very concerned, more so over his lies than his missing school. After thinking about and discussing the situation, they decided on a very unusual and severe form of punishment. For the next three days, one for each day of his sin, he would be grounded to the attic after school, even eating and sleeping there. Steven had no choice but to accept the punishment, and headed off to the attic.
It was a long evening for Mom and Dad, perhaps even more so than for Steven. At dinner neither could eat, and after a seemingly interminable evening, at last it was bedtime. But bedtime brought no relief. As the hours ticked by, both lay awake thinking about how lonely – and perhaps afraid – Steven must be. At 2:00 a.m. Dad could stand it no longer. “I’m going to the attic,” he muttered as he grabbed a blanket and pillow. He was not surprised to find Steven still awake, his face wet with tears.
“Steven,” his father began, “I can’t take away the punishment for your lies because you must know the seriousness of what you have done. You must realize that sin, especially lying, has severe consequences. But your mother and I can’t bear the thought of you being all alone here in the attic for three days, so I’m going to share your punishment.”
Dad laid down alongside his son and placed his arm around him. Their tears mingled as they shared the same pallet and punishment – for three nights.
God can relate. Two thousand years ago He crawled “out of bed” with His blanket and pillow – actually a thorny crown, three spikes and a cross of crucifixion – placed His tear-stained cheek next to ours, and bore our punishment for sin.1
Our sin doesn’t lessen God’s love for us. I mentioned previously that I ran from God for a couple of years. Actually, I wasn’t running from Him; I was running from my pain. When I was seventeen, my father, who was a pastor, fell into adultery and subsequently left our family. It was devastating. (He was restored to the Lord a few years later and is now in heaven. We had a wonderful relationship the last thirty years of his life.) In my pain and confusion I turned to drugs and alcohol. The Lord was gracious and patient, and pursued me for two years. I ran hard, but He persevered and loved me back to Him.
For those two years of wandering I had a very skewed impression of my heavenly Father. While I was thinking of Him as angry, He was actually feeling my pain. Scripture tells us that Jesus, our High Priest representing us in heaven, sympathizes with our weaknesses, having been tempted with all the temptations we face (Hebrews 4:15). He also experienced rejection, betrayal, and the pain of broken relationships. The Lord knows how to comfort us.
Father God wasn’t condoning my sin, but He was merciful and patient. His desire was to heal me, not dole out condemnation and punishment. Ultimately, as the old hymn so clearly states, “when nothing else could help, love lifted me.”2
Most Christians know the story of the prodigal son, told by Jesus in Luke 15. This young man took his inheritance while his father was still alive, left home, and “squandered his estate with loose living” (Luke 15:13). Actually, the term prodigal doesn’t mean “lost”, “away from”, or “runaway” as many think; it means “recklessly wasteful; extravagant consumer; a squanderer.” He was “the squandering son”.
Just as in our opening story, one of the most significant points of the prodigal’s story is the heart of the father. Both are great pictures of our heavenly Father, who is quick to forgive and is even willing to restore our squandered inheritance.
“When the son returned home, while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.’” (vv. 20, 22)
If you – like the prodigal, the boy in the attic, or me – have sinned against God, His desire is to restore you. I pray that you find repentance and return to Him. Make sure you understand what repentance is. We’ve misdefined this, just as we have prodigal. Biblically, repentance doesn’t mean “turn from sin”; nor does it mean “remorse”. To be sorry for our sins is good, and to ultimately turn from them is necessary. But before these things can occur, we must receive revelation, which brings a change of thinking. This is the literal meaning of the biblical word for repentance. “A new understanding” and “think differently” are good definitions of repentance.
The prodigal experienced this. The passage tells us, “He came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). In the midst of his pain, shame, lack and condemnation, the young man finally saw through the fog. I could live better than this as one of my father’s servants, he thought to himself. With a new outlook, he returned home, humbled himself, and confessed his sins.
The repentance – understanding – I experienced was that God wasn’t angry at me and that I couldn’t keep running from my pain. He wasn’t disappointed with me, nor was He condemning and threatening me with hell’s fire. To the contrary, Abba came to me in a bar one night, put His cheek next to mine, and helped me grieve the loss of my father. I received a revelation of my condition and His love (true repentance), told Him I was sorry, and changed direction.
The Lord restored me to Himself – and to my inheritance. If you have failed in some way, perhaps have even run from God, He wants to do the same for you. Don’t accept a lie that says your sin lessens His love for you. Abba runs to meet His returning kids. Yes, He needs your humility, sometimes even your brokenness, but never the crippling paralysis caused by condemnation.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper: “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.”
Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died; a reporter had botched the obituary. However, the account had a profound effect on Alfred Nobel. He decided that he wanted to be known for something other than inventing the means for killing people in war, and amassing great wealth in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for those who foster peace. Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”3
Your story isn’t over – go home to Dad.
Pray with me:
Father, we thank You for entrusting us with so much and sharing all that You have. We don’t want to squander our inheritances. We want to be responsible stewards of Your promises and provision. Holy Spirit, help us to ascribe worth and rightly handle every spiritual blessing extended to us through the gift of Your Son.
Truly You are good in every way – a faithful Friend, a loving Father, and a gracious Comforter. You never give up on us. Thank You for drawing us back to Your heart with unfailing love. Thank You for Your redeeming heart.
Father, we love Your house! This is where we belong; the place where Your goodness and glory dwell. All our fears and failures disappear when we return to You. And the pleasure of Your company is, once again, our reward. In Your Son’s name we pray, amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
1. Adapted from S.D. Gordon, What Will It Take to Change the World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979, pp 17-21.
2. James Rowe, “Love Lifted Me,” 1912 (lyrics in the public domain).
3. David C. Cooper, Faith Under Fire (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2001), p 187.