My brother, who was 6 years older than me, informed me that we were going to runaway from home. He was my caregiver while my mother worked, and I was charged with obeying him. So, we packed PBJ sandwiches and headed out to escape the poverty and dysfunctional life we lived. Our neighbors down the street had their door open and their TV was blasting one of our favorite programs. We stopped our great adventure to watch for a while and the neighbors called our Mom and revealed our plan to run away. The consequences were a whooping and a dose of Castor Oil. We tried one other time, but we were never particularly good at running away!
I had shared the biblical story of the prodigal many times during my ministry years. I could even act out the father watching for his son to return. I could give you the account of the older brother and his feelings and could empathize with both of them. But I never quite got the “reality” of this Biblical parable in relation to the 21st century until recently.
Luke 15: 11-24 gives us the story. “Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So, he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
Many times, parents of the 21st century prodigal blame themselves, others, or society. In order to bring the prodigal home, we have to stop this and allow the responsibility to sit squarely on the shoulders of the child who made the decision to depart. Only then can we pray in faith believing that God can and will speak the prodigal’s heart.
Secondly, we need to pray as in verse 17 that the prodigal will “come to himself”. Until there is a change of mind there will be no remorse and return. There has to be that moment of reality when the prodigal looks at his life and the mess he has made and says to himself –“Enough! This is not good. I’m going home.”
Thirdly, we must move in faith and not fear. Fear communicates with Satan the way faith communicates with God. It’s hard to not imagine the worst, fear for the life of the prodigal, and worry 24/7. But the Bible says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. We have to commit to the fact that God loves our prodigal much more than we do, that He has loved him from the moment of conception and will love him until eternity calls.
Finally, prepare your heart for the prodigal’s return. Forgive the hurt he has caused. Build yourself up in the word of God and in fellowship through a local church. Give to others who are hurting. Never stop watching and believing for the child’s safe return.
Every year, according to the Polly Klass Foundation, as many as 2.8 million children run away from home. Most runaways are between the ages of 10-14. Some leave because of abusive home situations but increasingly there are children from homes with provision and great family values who are running away. This trend needs to end. Healing and restoration must happen in our families! Let’s join together as a community, as family and as local churches to bring the prodigal’s home.