My last post was a review of a book called Prayers for Prodigals. Before I posted that, my pastor spoke on Luke 15, which includes the parable of the prodigal. He spoke on the two parables before this, the man leaving his ninety-nine sheep and the woman’s lost coin, but it fit so well with my prodigal review that I wanted to share some thoughts with you on the hope for prodigals in this passage and the peace it can bring for the anxious believer.
First, most of us know someone who isn’t walking with God. And for the anxious soul, it’s easy to worry and fear over those souls. It feels justified. Why would I NOT worry about the heart status of my loved ones? How could it possibly be wrong?
Well, it’s not wrong to pray. It’s not wrong to hope. But worry… Yeah, that doesn’t really help, but oh, I do it, too. Much too much. But maybe a few words from Luke 15 can encourage you—and me—and help us in our quest to love and hope and pray and not worry.
First, these are parables, and it’s easy to overboard interpreting and seeing what’s not there, so I hope not to do that. But there are some things that hit me as I read them that gave me a little hope while praying for my wanderers.
This is all about mercy. It’s one of those overused words that, honestly, has almost no meaning to me any more. But put this abstract word into practical use… Yep. Mercy becomes a beautiful thing. God gives us blessings we don’t earn. He frees us from punishment we do earn. And, in the context of these parables, He pursues those He desires, regardless of anything. God is the only hope for prodigals, and that’s a comfort, because God is bigger than anything my prodigals cling to.
The energy of mercy
My pastor had several points to his sermon, but the one that hit me the deepest was the energy of mercy. Raise your hand if you grow weary of praying for those you love. Or weary of praying for your town or your country or your politicians or anything. The world is dark, and sometimes it seems our prayers aren’t bringing light.
I am tired. I write down my burdens every morning as part of my quiet time, and some days I simply scribble “same old, same old.” That’s as much energy as I have left to hope for my people.
But look at these parables. There is hiking, carrying, sweeping, searching, and running. The shepherd looking for the sheep leaves the pasture and searches out his lost sheep, then slings him onto his shoulders. The woman gets on the floor and sweeps her lamp everywhere to find her coin. And the father with two sons—well, he starts running when his son is still a long way off. Running.
God isn’t tired. He won’t run out of energy or patience before he gets to our people. I run out of energy all the time, so it’s a good thing I have Someone else who cares for my people as much—and more—than I do.
And the energy in waiting
This energy isn’t limited to God. Isaiah says I can find strength and energy in the waiting. Waiting is a big deal in Scripture. God’s timing is his own, and we are called to wait for the blessings. I love Isaiah 40:31 “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Honestly, I’m not sure how this works. It’s almost miraculous, the idea that waiting can strengthen me. Some days I don’t see it. But I also know I keep praying. I suspect you do, too. We mount up with those wings because God says to trust, even if we feel like we haven’t the energy to flap. And somehow, every day, the flapping happens. That has to be God. I’m not that patient and persistent on my own.
The value of the sinner
Another point made by my pastor was that God sees sinners differently than we do. The opening of Luke 15 has Pharisees grumbling that Jesus eats with sinners. That’s when he starts to compare sinners to treasure—lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons. Oh, those of you with prodigals, have you been judged? Have your wandering loved ones been judged? Jesus says my lost ones are treasures to be pursued, not mistakes or regrets or hopeless cases. He leaves the ninety-nine not because they no longer need watched. He leaves them because the flock is incomplete without that last sheep. For reasons known only to the shepherd, each and every sheep has value, and each and every sheep should be home.
Right now, some of the sheep from my fold are still roaming. I pray with hope that The Shepherd is out there looking, that He will travel the hills and valleys and then, when He finds those sheep, He’ll put them over His shoulder, holding onto their legs so they can’t squirm away, and He will love them back to where they will stay.
Chasing down the strays
This is where I am probably going to overstep the meaning of the parables, and I apologize ahead of time, but my wanderers are currently doing nothing to get home, so I need this point.
Neither sheep nor coin were looking to be found. The son was still a long way off. In all three parables, in connection with the energy of God in searching for the lost is the lack of energy on the part of those who are lost to get back. Yes, the son was heading that way, but the father intercepted him from a far distance. One was running, and the other was not. The coin, obviously, is a coin. It’s not doing much of anything. And the sheep—who knows about the sheep. Was it eating? Trapped in a bramble? Was it bleating for help or mindlessly wandering? I have no idea, but whatever it was, the shepherd didn’t think it had the mettle to get itself home.
I love that God pursues us. That is my biggest hope, the belief that God will pursue, that the closed hearts of my loved ones can be opened, that God has more energy to find them than they have to stay lost. The patience of God is staggering, and I’m counting on it. Because every day I grow wearier and more frustrated and less patient, but God doesn’t. He is the hope for prodigals and the strength for those who love them.
The part with the party
The final point is the celebration. This one hurts a little, because I’m not there yet. I haven’t participated in the celebration of the found sheep or the found son. I haven’t yet called my neighbors to celebrate the return of the lost coin.
David, in many Psalms, celebrates ahead of time. (Try Psalm 7 or 13) These Psalms follow a pattern. David is in trouble, usually with enemies. He asks God for help. Then before the prayer is answered, David does one of two things. He either praises then and there, or he says, “Then I will praise.” He expects to be heard and answered, and he expects to celebrate. Sometimes he celebrates ahead of the fact, and sometimes he simply promises to celebrate, but joy is going to be the result. He asks God for big things, expects big answers, and gets excited in anticipation. Before the request leaves his lips, he’s planning the party.
I can praise now. I can promise to praise later (while also praising now, because I’m pretty sure I have plenty of reasons to praise now.). But praise is part of dealing with God. Always. It helps me wait, gives me something to anticipate, buoys my spirit on the hard days, and of course gives my joy an outlet when something that hurts my heart is made better. Say nothing of the fact that it honors and glorifies God.
Anxious friends, we can hope. We can pray. We can trust that God isn’t tired. He hasn’t run out of patience. He prefers to see us living in eternal love over dying in wickedness (Ezek. 18:23).
There is plenty to do for our loved ones without worrying. Cast your cares on Him. Trade those cares in for action—prayer, praise, hope. Soak up His Word and all the wonders of His Character. God’s mercy is alive and active, filled with energy and joy. Cling to that, dear anxious friend. And I will try to do the same.
(I would love your comments below, especially if you are praying for a prodigal or any lost soul—I would love to say a prayer with you over your people—or if you have a wonderful story of how God brought your wandering loved one back to the fold.)
Note: If you are praying for prodigals, James Banks, who has written prayer book for parents of prodigals, has a prayer wall on his website. Go ahead and post prayers for your child and let others share the burden of praying for them.