Prodigal sons and daughters cause great heartbreak to their parents when they rebel. It’s not just the rebellion against the parents that causes them pain, though. It’s also painful for parents to watch their children willfully turn from God.
But does a descent into sin mean there is no coming back? Does it mean there is no hope for the person who turned away? Absolutely NOT! God excels in the resurrection and restoration business. We all love comeback stories, stories where people screw up royally but then turn their lives completely around.
So, if there is a love of such stories, why do we sometimes act as if people who turn away are beyond the reach of God’s grace and have committed the unpardonable sin? We can’t look at anyone as a hopeless case. We have to look at even the worst of sinners as a redemption project and someone worthy of God’s grace. Remember, Paul could not have been further down the wrong path. He was against Jesus and was a terrorist to Christians.
But Paul explained God’s unconditional love, grace and patience shown to him when he wrote in 1 Timothy 1: 13 – 16,
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Paul wrote of God’s amazing grace and unlimited patience. God wants to show grace. God wants to show love. God wants prodigals to come home and He draws them to Himself with His love and grace.
It must be the same with us. If we want the prodigals in our lives to come home, we can’t browbeat them. We can’t berate them. We can’t shut them completely out of our lives. Yes, we may have to let them go their own way, even if we know they are going the wrong way. Yes, we may have to speak God’s truth in love. We may even warn them in love before they go, telling them that they are headed down a dangerous path away from God.
But prodigals need to know that the door has not been shut. Now, of course, we don’t affirm or condone the prodigal’s sin. Sin is sin, no matter who commits it. Prodigals need to know, however, that we still love them despite their sin and that, when they choose to come home, they won’t see us with our arms angrily folded or pointing a judgmental finger that says, “I told you so.” They need to know that they are coming home to nothing short of unconditional love and grace. Guilt trips never work. It is grace and unconditional love that will draw a prodigal back home.
It’s like the story a prodigal daughter who left home soon after her father died. Night after night, the mother prayed and waited…but her daughter never came home. At her pastor’s suggestion, the mother printed off pictures of herself and wrote, “Come home” on the picture. She hung the pictures all over surrounding towns in tough places where she thought her rebellious daughter might go. One night, the daughter saw a picture of her mother with the simple message, “Come home”…and her heart started to be drawn home.
She arrived early in the morning, surprised to find the door to the small apartment open…where she found her mother awake, praying, and crying. The mother threw her arms around her long-lost daughter, so glad she was home. The daughter, overwhelmed by her mother’s love, asked, “Mom, why did you leave the door open?” The mother responded, “Oh, Louise, the door has never been closed since the day you left. I left it open all the time expecting your return. I didn’t want you to find it shut when you came back.” That’s the way it is with God. Oh, you may think you’ve done something so bad that you can’t be forgiven. But you are NEVER beyond the reach of God’s grace! Forgiveness is always available because, when it comes to God and Jesus, the door is never closed. All we have to do is come home and ask.
Do the prodigals in your life and mine know the same? Do people who have hurt us, disappointed us, angered us know that we still love them and have never stopped? Despite their descent into a sin-filled life that is not honoring God, do that know that amazing grace and forgiveness are still waiting at home for them?
As with the Prodigal Father, the door of our hearts must always be ready to welcome them back home. We must be patient, as God was with us, praying and waiting for prodigals to come home. Like God was with us, we must maintain unconditional love for prodigals while they are away. And like God was with us, we must show amazing and undeserved grace when they come home. The prodigals in our lives need to know that home is a place where the grace and love of God is always waiting for them. So, whoever the prodigals are in your life, whether family members, friends, or church members who are missing, open your arms and your hearts…and always be ready to welcome them when they come home.
Jim Fontaine became the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Brimfield, MA in July 2016 after completing a 13-year pastorate at Burncoat Baptist Church in Worcester, MA. Jim has been married to his wife, Paula, for 24 years and has four children.