Is there a more painful experience as a parent than to have a prodigal? I know that I have always heard that nothing is worse for a parent than to have to deal with the death of their child. I’ve been with some of those parents and I cannot imagine a greater grief. I also know many parents of prodigals and what they describe is much like death—the death of the child they once knew, the death of a relationship they once shared, and the death of dreams they once held for their son or daughter. I think the greatest thing that separates the two sorrowful experiences of these two types of parents is that the parents of prodigals at least have some hope that they will one day get their child back.
The stories of parents of prodigals share many similarities. With tears streaming down your face you stood there to welcome your most precious gift into the world. You held her like she was the Hope Diamond. You rocked her in the middle of the night when she could find no peace, no rest. You changed her when her cry let you know that she needed new “clothes,” dry clothes. You fed her when she was hungry. You taught her to talk, to walk, to tie her shoes. You knelt by her bed and taught her to pray to the Father who had given her life and dreams for the future.
As she grew and matured you showed her around the block. You are the one who looked out for her when she was naïve and vulnerable. You are the one who defended her when the bully on the block was picking on her. You held her in your arms when her boyfriend dropped her like a bad habit. You stroked her hair and called her your “Princess” when she tried out for cheerleader only to be told that her services wouldn’t be needed.
When she disobeyed you prayed before you disciplined so that you might correct her errant ways, but never undermine the love you felt in your heart. Through the years you constantly sought the Lord’s lead, His counsel, so that she might she a reflection of His love and grace in your every word and deed.
Could the comfort you gave, the love you offered, the constant support and affirmation you lavished upon her through the years have formed a more solid bond? Yet, somewhere along the way things began to change. You caught her in a lie and she was defiant. You found notes that led you to believe that she was sexually active. When you confronted her, with concern in your voice, she was defiant. “You have no right to even be in my room so I don’t want to talk about it,” she screamed. Her grades began to drop like shooting stars falling from the heavens. Her friends were not the kind of friends that you would have chosen for her.
You would cry yourself to sleep at night wondering where you went wrong. You went to a family counselor to try and gain insight. You tried new things, new techniques, to try and draw her back to your heart, but she continued to withdraw and become more and more agitated and defiant. She said, “I can’t wait to get out of here!” any time an issue needed to be dealt with.
When she graduated from high school she did leave. She loaded up her car and headed out. Where? She wouldn’t say. When would she be back? “Never” she said through gritted teeth. You pleaded for her not to leave. You said, “Honey, you are so young. Let us help you.” She would have none of it. She left. As she left your shattered heart felt like it stopped beating. Would it ever beat again? Would she ever come home again? Would you ever hold your daughter again?
Are any of you familiar with this story? It is a story told over and over again as parents who have loved their sons and daughters more than life itself have watched their children turn their hearts from home, from mom and dad, in defiance. I received an email from the mother of a prodigal this past week. I have no doubt that she typed these words wiping tears from her eyes.
I have questioned everything about myself before my Lord. I have done an inventory of my very being before the throne. No act of kindness, support, or love is accepted as simply and kindly as it is given. It makes me question everything I ever did in my son’s life. I pray constantly for God to use me as an instrument of His love and healing.
This letter could have been written by any parent of a prodigal who is experiencing the loss of the relationship they have given their life to develop and nurture. When a child walks away it causes you to question everything…everything. So what is a parent to do? Do you cut your losses and move on? Some do. I’ve known some parents who have chosen to do this, but I don’t see how. Do you try and do everything in your power to win your prodigal’s heart back? Bribe them, entice them, try and manipulate them? Do you buy them things to try and win them back? Do you bail them out when their bad decisions require them to pay a price? I’ve known some parents who have tried this path because of their great pain and desperation, but I’ve never seen it work. What do you do? That’s a great question! We do the best that we can don’t we? We pray like we’ve never prayed before and seek God’s counsel through His Word. Let’s take a look at a story Jesus told about a prodigal son, a lost son. Turn with me to Luke 15:11-32 and read together.
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27′Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31″‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32 NIV)
If you will remember back to last Sunday, we have been studying Luke 15 in which Jesus told three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Jesus ends this chapter with the most beautiful picture of God’s love found anywhere in God’s Word. Let me set the scene for you.
In Jesus’ story there was a man who had two sons. The younger son was tired of being tied down on the farm so he went to his dad and said, “Give me my inheritance.” How rude can you get! How insensitive! How disrespectful of the son to talk to his dad in such a tone! According to Jewish law the younger son was entitled to 1/3 of the estate of his father, the older son got 2/3 of the estate. (Deuteronomy 21:17) The fact that the father gave his young son his inheritance was very unusual to say the least.
The son had one thing on his mind as he demanded his inheritance and it was not his father’s feelings. We read in Luke 15:13,
13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13 NIV)
As soon as the boy got what he wanted he was out the door. He had been dreaming of the day he would be free, free from his father’s rules, so that he could finally do what he wanted to do. Jesus tells us that he set off for the “far country” where he “squandered his wealth in wild living.” There are a couple of important words that we need to understand to get a glimpse of what was foremost in the boy’s mind.
The first word I want us to look at is the word translated, “squandered” in our English Bible. The Greek word, “diaskorpizo,” and it means, “to scatter abroad, disperse, to winnow.” The word is used to describe the process used to separate wheat from chaff. Long ago, wheat farmers would take a double hand full of wheat and throw it up as high as they could so that the wheat and chaff would separate in the wind. This is the picture of what the boy did with his inheritance—he took the money that his father had worked so hard for and he threw it into the wind. Jesus used the same word in another parable He told about a man who was in charge of managing his boss’ estate. Read along with me from Luke 16:1.
1Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.” (Luke 16:1 NIV)
This young man knew better than to do what he was doing. He was taught God’s Word as a young boy. He knew where the wild life would lead him. I have no doubt that the boy had listened to his father read to him from Proverbs 23:19-22 on more than one occasion. Listen to these words.
19Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. 20Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, 21for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. 22Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (Proverbs 23:19-22 NIV)
This past week I was thinking about how timeless God’s Word and His lessons are for us. There is not a day go by today that we don’t hear of some life that has been derailed because of loose living—drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, greed, lies, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes folks will suggest that our day is unlike any day that has ever been in the history of the world, but listen to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Romans.
13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Romans 13:13-14 NIV)
The human heart is wayward. We crave that which will destroy us just like the young son did when he would lie in his bed at night and think about all that he was missing while being confined in what he saw as his father’s religious concentration camp. Dad was a prude. He needed to loosen up. He didn’t read Playboy, he read Proverbs. He never brought in women for the hired hands. He never threw a “kegger” on a Friday night. They never played “quarters” around the dinner table late at night. Life is short. You got to have some fun.
The second word that I want us to take a look at is the word that is translated, “wild living” in your Bible. This is the Greek word, “asotos,” and it means, “decadently, recklessly, licentiously, or debauchery.” This word gives us further insight into what the boy was doing while he was living in the “far country.” Read along with me from Ephesians 5:18.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18 NIV)
“Debauchery.” The word even sounds raunchy doesn’t it? Take a look at 1 Peter 4:3-5 and you will see what lies at the end of the road for those who choose to make their way to the far country, far away from God’s will.
3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do– living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3-5 NIV)
This is what the boy had his mind set on when he asked his dad for his inheritance. It is interesting to me that after we read about the boy setting out for the far country and his living on the wild side, we read in the very next verse what soon followed.
14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. (Luke 15:14 NIV)
It was gone. He spent his last dime on what he wanted and where did it get him? He found himself in need. This is the same word that Paul used in Philippians 4:12 to describe his situation.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12 NIV)
This boy started out living in plenty, he was living high on the hog, but after a short while he found himself in dire need. He didn’t have the peace and contentment that Paul described in Philippians 4. He was hungry. He didn’t have any money and his friends were no where to be found when his pockets were empty. The roar of the crowd at the club was exchanged for the roar of his stomach.
Being both broke and hungry can be a great motivator to find a job. Dad’s dinner table was no longer available so the boy found a job. It wasn’t the job a Jewish boy would normally take on, but the fact that he was willing to work with hogs tells us how desperately in need the boy was at this point in his life. Hogs were despicable, detestable, unclean animals to the Jews (Leviticus 11:7).
Jesus tells us that the boy longed to eat the pods that the hogs were eating, but that nobody gave him a thing. He couldn’t even get a meal with the hogs he was taking care of. The boy had shunned his father’s lessons, he had cast his money to the wind, and now he was living in the consequences of his own decisions. He had nobody else to blame but himself. Jesus says,
17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ (Luke 15:17-19 NIV)
The phrase “he came to his senses,” means he finally started thinking right, he regained his sense of what was going on and how it all happened. The boy had lost his mind, but the tough times he had been experiencing was making it all clear. Funny how tough times do that isn’t it? We won’t listen to folks who try to give us good, godly counsel, but then when the roof caves in and we are sitting in the rubble of our lives, rubble that was created by own hands, we are more prone to humility.
The young man decided it would be better to live like a slave in his daddy’s house than to keep living like he had been living. His heart wasn’t right. Oh, he decided to tell his dad that he had sinned against him, but was he really sorry, or was he just hungry? Was he really remorseful for throwing his father’s hard-earned money to the wind on wild women and partying every night? He was in a fix and he wanted out. The only way out was to go home.
The boy headed home. He rehearsed what he was going to say. His palms were sweaty, his breathing was shallow and rapid like he had just run a marathon as he took his first steps out of the pigsty and onto the dusty road that led home. Then we read,
20So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20 NIV)
Oh, how I wish I had two weeks to talk non-stop about this beautiful, powerful little verse of God’s Word because it is so full of meaning, lessons for you and me, as we try to understand who God is, and who we are as sinners in relation to our holy and righteous God. Did you notice that the father saw the son while “he was still a long way off?” Don’t you know that dad was looking out his front window every day since the day his son left home? Don’t you know that he went to the mailbox every day hoping, praying for his son to come walking down the dusty road? The father had wanted to track his son down. He had struggled with the desire of his heart to know his son was safe, to follow him, check in on him, but he knew that he could not rescue his son—he had to allow the Lord to take him to class for a hard lesson. When he saw his son coming from way off in the distance the father was thrilled that the “semester of study” in the school of hard knocks was over for his son!
The son may have rehearsed his lines, but he couldn’t get a word in as his father ran from the house, down the road, and swooped his son into his arms kissing him over and over again. That’s what God’s Word says. The word that is translated “kissed” is taken from the Greek word, “kataphileo.” Listen to the definition of the word—“to kiss much, kiss again and again, kiss tenderly.” Can you see it? Can you feel the love of the father for his wayward son who has come home? No explanation is needed, none required—he’s home!
I need to tell you that what the father did was highly undignified. In Jesus’ day men wore long robes. If you were a man and you were going to run you had to gather up your robe in your hands so that you wouldn’t trip over it. The only problem with that is that it would show the world your legs—that’s just not cool. Dignified men, respectful men, did not run. This daddy knew all of that, but he threw dignity and sophistification to the wind because his son was home!
As the father was kissing his son the boy tried to stop him so he could deliver his well crafted speech. After all, he had worked hard on it while he was walking that long road home. Dad didn’t even respond. He called to his servants and had them bring the best robe to put on his son. The stench and filth of the young man was covered with a beautiful, clean robe. What a picture of how the Father clothes us with the righteousness of our Savior. He had them bring the family ring and put it on his finger. Sons were often given family rings that had the family seal on them. The son probably left home with his ring, but he had pawned it along the way. His dad put a new ring on his finger and sealed any question of the boy’s standing with his father. He had them bring sandals, something a hired hand didn’t wear, and put them on the feet of his son. Last of all, he had the servants kill the fattened calf so that they could get the party started because, as dad said, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” Let the celebration begin!
I’m not going to spend any of our time talking about the other son, the good, compliant son who was seething when he saw his lost brother coming home. I’m not going to spend any time talking about him because I want to use my time to tell you that this picture we’ve just taken a look at is not a picture of any man, but this is a picture of the Father of all fathers. This is a glimpse into how God welcomes sinners who come home. What a glorious relief that is to folks like you and me!
I don’t know about you, but when I know that I’ve messed up I am so filled with shame. I wince when I think about how well God knows my sin and how I’ve grieved the heart of God. This story shows me that the Father is waiting, anxiously waiting for me to acknowledge my sin and head back into His arms of grace and mercy. The Father is waiting to lavish His healing, welcoming kisses upon lost sinners who come home. Pastor Spurgeon has written,
Slow are the steps of repentance, but swift are the feet of forgiveness. God can run where we scarcely limp, and if we are limping towards Him, He will run towards us… The father kissed his son much to make him quite certain that it was all real. The prodigal, in receiving these many kisses, might say to himself, “All this love must be true, for a little while ago I heard the hogs grunt, and now I hear nothing but the kisses from my dear father’s lips.” So his father gave him another kiss, for there was no way of convincing him that the first was real like repeating it; and if there lingered any doubt about the second, the father gave him yet a third. If, when the dream of old was doubled, the interpretation was sure, these repeated kisses left no room for doubt. The father renewed the tokens of his love that his son might be fully assured of his reality. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Many Kisses for Returning Sinners, or Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son, December 27, 1891.)
How great is the sin of the wayward human soul? So great that nothing in all of the world can turn it around and thwart its desire to head to the far country. Oh, but while we throw our lives and resources to the wind in the far country there is the sound, the quiet sound of a Father’s strong love calling us home. How great is the Father’s love!
Just recently Ruth Bell Graham went home to be with the Lord. There has never been a more well known godly couple in your lifetime and mine than Ruth and Billy Graham. Yet, Ruth and Billy know full well the heartache of having a prodigal—they had two of their five children who headed to the far country, far away from the way they were raised.
Billy and Ruth struggled to try and raise their sons, Franklin and Ned. In Ruth’s book, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, she writes about a time she got so frustrated with Franklin when he was young that she stopped the car and made Franklin get out and get in the trunk. Ruth Graham locked her son in the trunk of her car? You got it! When they arrived at a drive-in restaurant, other customers were shocked when she opened the trunk and asked the boy what he wanted to eat. Franklin popped out of the trunk laughing and called out, “I’ll have a cheeseburger without the meat.” Franklin was the epitome of the strong willed child.
Through Franklin’s teen years and early 20’s he was bent on breaking free from his mom and dad. In His book, Rebel With A Cause, Franklin talks about his smoking, drinking, and spiritual rebellion. Franklin wrote, “Expectations other people had for me ticked me off. I wanted my own identity.”
Franklin’s younger brother, Ned, was no easier to raise. Ned rebelled against his Christian upbringing. His rebellion led him into drugs for a time while he was in high school and college. Some thought it more likely that he would end up in jail than in the ministry. It was tough on Billy and Ruth, but they continued to pray. Ruth writes in her book.
I prayed to the Lord day and night, month after month, year after year. Was God deaf? Was He indifferent? No. He had His reasons. Something to accomplish in the heart of that loved prodigal. Something to accomplish in my heart. Some prayers are answered even after we’re gone. (Prodigals, page 131)
Ruth and Billy found comfort and consolation in the story of the Prodigal Son. They knew that the Lord loved their sons, they were convinced that the Father’s work was ongoing, even while their sons were in the far country.
If you are the parent of a prodigal this morning I want to encourage you to continue to pray for your child. Don’t try to buy them back home. Don’t try to give them big Bible lessons to lure them back to the Father’s heart–they know what you believe, what you have taught them. Don’t condemn them or condone what they are doing, but love them. Above all else pray for them every single day and allow the Lord to remind you that His work is ongoing, even in the far country.
If you are a prodigal to Almighty God, our Father in heaven, then won’t you come home? Aren’t you tired of living among the ruins of your life? Aren’t you tired of living in the rubble of your life, rubble that you’ve created with your own hands? Can’t you hear the Father’s voice calling you, beckoning you to come home? Come on home.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 4, 2007
Pastor John Piper’s son, Abraham Piper, is a prodigal who has come home. He has written a wonderful article that gives parents of prodigals some great counsel. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Point them to Christ.
This can’t be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.
It’s not so that they will be good kids again; it’s not so that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not so that they’ll like classical music instead of deathcore; it’s not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it’s not so that they’ll vote conservative again by the next election; it’s not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.
And not only is he the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.
He will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up. (http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Desiring_God/Article.asp?article_id=1503)