Jump Start # 1997
Luke 15:17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!’”
I taught a class this week about the prodigal. Love that story. So powerful, true and so much like us. Our class focused upon how to get prodigals to come back. That’s tough. It’s one thing to show someone Jesus but how do you reach someone who once walked with the Lord, but since has chosen to walk away?
The far country has a pull on so many. All they see is the glitter of fun and excitement. Satan has them only thinking about today. The consequences, the eternal results, what the far country does to body, soul and mind are never thought about. It’s the thirst for alcohol. It’s the appeal of drugs. It’s the lust of immorality. It’s the thrill of power and possessions. All of that seems so much more exciting than sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning. Fun, wrapped around sinful choices, can be so appealing that one takes those steps to join others in the far country.
There’s hardly a church and hardly a family that does not have a prodigal someone. When the prodigal is not part of our immediate family, we can forget about them. We can forget to think about them. We can forget to pray for them. We can forget to “throw out the life line,” as the old hymn went.
There are reasons why people leave the Lord. It may be that they were never fully engaged, taught and grounded in what the Lord expects. Maybe they just always kept one foot in the far country and never fully left. It may well be that they have too many friends who are in the far country and their influence is too great for them. Some may have had a bad experience with brethren. It’s easier to just quit than to face those who seem rude, pushy and offensive. The reasons are many why some leave.
But getting one to come to his senses is what is most difficult. The far country seems like a blast. As long as the money lasts and the friends hang around, the good times, as they believe, are lasting. With the prodigal, a series of things happened.
First, he ran out of money. Dad wasn’t sending any more to him.
Second, a famine took place. He didn’t figure that into the equation. Famines always come.
Third, he became desperate. He was hungry.
Fourth, he had no one to help him.
It was at that moment that he realized the far country lied to him. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t better off. He wasn’t on top of the world. He was miserable. He was alone. He was helpless. The only place he thought he could turn to was home. Broken and changed, the prodigal came home.
There is something about this that connects with us. It’s hard to talk to prodigals while things are going well with them. Money is good. Fun is happening. Friends are plentiful. They think, “I don’t need God.” I have all that I want. But when the rug is pulled out from them, then is the opportunity to be there as a friend to talk with them. When they are sitting alone in a hospital surgery waiting room, or, when they are at the funeral home, it is then that the famine has begun to hit.
Don’t go with both guns blazing. Don’t go with the attitude, “I told you so.” Go, as a friend. Comfort. Help. Sit with them. Let them talk. Don’t preach. Don’t say stuff like, “This wouldn’t have happened had you been in church.” You don’t know that. Don’t push the church. It’s Jesus that they need to connect with again. Sympathize. Encourage. Share your story. Don’t white wash it or sanitize it. Let them know that you love them and they are always welcome back. Buy their lunch. Offer to help. Just be there.
You are trying to get them to come to their senses. You want them to see what’s missing in their life. Sometimes they sit in fear. Sometimes they hold on to the idea that God will not take them back. Sometimes they see themselves as much worse than everyone else. Often, they fear the church. What will people say? Will they just stare? Will there be talk? You can help with that. You can build bridges with them.
Across this land, if every congregation and every family kept everyone from going to the far country, our church buildings would be bursting with enormous crowds. Too many have walked away. Too many have walked away and nothing was done to try to bring them back. Too many walked away and too few noticed or cared. God does.
The father in Luke 15 never gave up on his son. He never stopped loving him. He never wrote him off. He was always hoping and longing for the son to return. We ought to pray for those who no longer walk with the Lord. We ought to put some energy into reaching out to those who have given up the journey with the Lord. Each one has their own story and their own reason. Sometimes it’s nothing more than they needed some attention. Little ones are like that. We have a bunch of young grandchildren and I see that in them. Give them a book and tell them to go sit and read doesn’t work on these little ones. They want PJ (that’s me) right beside them. Where I go, they are right behind me. They want to hold my hand. They want to sit on my lap. They want to pull on my pant leg. They want me to make a big deal about them. And, some folks are like that spiritually. They need TLC and a bunch of attention. Don’t give them a passage to read. Don’t send them off with a booklet to study. They need you to be with them. They want to talk. They want to have lunch with you. They want to be around you. They need that. And, when that is lacking, they’ll find it with friends who are worthless and godless. They will be accepted, loved and wanted by those friends. Fellowship is more than a name in a directory. It’s warmth. It’s love. It’s togetherness. It’s PJ spending time with the grandkids. I had one the other day out back picking up leaves with me. It was a slow process because she was picking one leaf up at a time and running to the woods to drop it. We did that for a long time. It didn’t even seem like work, because we were together. That’s what fellowship is like.
Getting one to come to their senses is a hard process. It can take a while for that to happen. But never give up. Never stop trying. Never stop the prayers.
God has placed us in the lives of others to help them. May we do it well!