I decided to write this on THE PRODIGAL because the reality is that all of us have been prodigals at one time to our heavenly Father. In Luke chapter 15 below, there are three parables. All three deal with something lost. One was a lost sheep; the other was a lost coin; and the last one was a lost prodigal son. In the three parables, the point that Luke is making is God is longing for and desiring that the lost will be recovered. In the case of the lost son, the illustration is the view and attitude of Father God and Jesus Christ. The runaway son who is engaged in every form of sin is still cherished in their hearts and is so very loved. God is longing for all of humanity to come back to Him and He is ready to forgive and receive them. Here the earthly father to the prodigal reveals the heart of God in that as soon as his son repents of his debauchery to God and starts to return home, the father seeing his son from afar off runs to greet him and restore him back into his family. He immediately forgives and restores his son. The father had been praying, hoping the son would repent and come home as the father’s heart was breaking because of his deep love for his son no matter what he had done. Today, in most families, there are prodigals. Fathers and mothers carry a burden and they are longing that their precious prodigal would come home.
1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’
7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
8 Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’
10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.
12 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.
13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 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!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
20 “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.
21 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.’
22 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.
23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
The following are pages from the book “iParent: parenting prodigals and children in the 21st century” by Dr. Lon W. Flippo:
While all children live as free agents capable of resisting even the best parenting plans….Rod Parsons, a noted author on prodigals, remarked: So many parents are carrying a heavy load of guilt they have no right to bear. That’s not to say they have been perfect parents. They have just been parents who have given this task their very best efforts. There’s hardly a mother or father on the face of the planet who wouldn’t love to have another shot at parenting – to rewind the clock and get the chance to read all the books and go to all the seminars before their children hit the teenage years – but even if we had that chance, the truth is we’d probably just make different mistakes. 4 Pages 90-91
Some people damage others, locking themselves into patterns of behavior that reflect a limited view of their place in the world and in the lives of others. The old warning epitomizes their attitude: “When I get through with you, they’ll be nothing left.” They live selfishly, trolling through life, oblivious to the ramifications of their behavior. The prodigal son was characterized by this mindset. He “could not see, or chose not to consider, the pain that he was causing his family. He felt his own need for pleasure and independence and allowed that to override any other considerations.” 5 Pages 91-92
The free will exemplified by the prodigal is at the heart of Christ’s parable. Free will and its consequences play a central role in humanity’s story, as well as in the maturity of each person, free will also plays a central role in choices our children make when not in our presence. Page 92
Understanding the biblical concept of free will provides important insight for parents when relating to a prodigal. Our children, like the prodigal son, must recognize that their willful behavior affects their relationships both with God and their families. That’s why the father in the parable let the son leave. The son’s destructive behavior was destroying the family’s reputation and position in the community. He let him go, understanding that he could not force his son to choose right….Children have the freedom to reject God, but they do not have the power to control the consequences of their behavior….The freedom man has is not that of power but of choice; consequently he is accountable for choosing the course he takes.” 6 Page 92
One of the consequences the son suffered is this parable was the loss of his father’s protection, wisdom, and provision when he chose to leave home and live a wasteful life….Page 92
Prodigal also refers to those who choose irresponsibility and self-pleasure with no concerns for consequences, though he or she knows the right and responsible way….Page 93
The Scriptures clearly reveal that God does not hold the mother or father responsible for the prodigal child’s own choices. He does, however, hold parents accountable for how they respond to their wayward children. If the father in this story represents God, the perfect father, the principle we can take away is that we, like God, are not responsible for the decisions and behaviors of our children. It is not your fault….Pages 93-94
For you as a parent, the question is not “Is it my fault?” but rather, “How can I help my child find his or her way back to responsibility, to family, and to God after making grave mistakes in life?” Your goal is to leave the door open - no matter what happens. Page 94
In parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15), the prodigal son’s primary concern was satisfying his own needs. In doing so, he abandoned his responsibility to the rest of the family and community. His attitudes and actions show no thought for the well-being of others - just like those of many teenagers in America today. The younger son, like many prodigals today, was selfish; he mirrors the contemporary American child who believes he or she is entitled to indulge. The loving father’s experience with his lost son mirrors the parenting journey of those who have raised or are raising prodigals. Page 94
As a parent of a prodigal today, you might identify with the conversation in Luke 15, in which the nearly adult child argues for his personal rights while looking down in disgust at his parents. In the biblical parable, as in the modern family culture, the prodigal put friends and the pursuit of pleasure above his relationship with his father….Page 94
Henri Nouwen wrote: Addiction might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. 9 Page 95
There can be no return without repentance. The son realized that his riotous lifestyle had led him to near starvation (verse 16)….In other words, he realized the error of his ways – he was heading in the wrong direction and needed to return to his home, to the “promised land” of his father. The return journey was a long one, and along the way, the son prepared a speech for his father; he was prepared to live as a servant. His heart had changed; he had given up his pride and was prepared to repent, leaving behind his rebellion to return to his father. Page 103
Hired day laborers were outsiders who did not hold the same status as servants of the household. For the prodigal to resign himself to returning as a hired hand signified that he recognized his forfeiture of the right to live on the property. His social status would be significantly lower than it had been previously, but as a hired servant, he would be a free man with his own income - able to barter and sell, free to pay debts – living independently in the local village. His life would be that of a worker, but most importantly, as a hired servant, should he so desire, he would be able to pay back at least some of what had been lost – his inheritance, his father’s money (Luke 15:18-19). Page 104
Clearly as Jeremias explains it, “The son owed everything to the Father. He should have been working to hold up the name of the Father, serving and repaying the Father for all His marvelous gifts. But instead, the son became a rebel, a prodigal, and spent everything upon selfish, unrestrained living. His life was wrapped up in the pleasure and security of the world; but when his material resources were exhausted, he stood bare, empty, alone, and destitute.” Everything he had based his life upon disappeared. Not only did he find himself cut off from his earthly father, but he was also estranged from his heavenly Father. Page 104
Throughout his life, he had not trusted or honored his earthly or heavenly fathers with his life and goods. The prodigal lacked the confidence and spiritual strength to know that he could recover on his own. Destitute of all spiritual help, in the world all alone, having spent all, he repented before his heavenly Father and vowed to do the same with earthly father: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (verse 18). Page 104
Knowing of no other recourse, he sought atonement for his actions. “Repentance turns out to be the capacity to forego pride and accept graciousness,” 1 Bailey aptly reminds us. The forsaking of the prodigal’s pride then set the stage for his repentance. However, before giving all credit for repentance to the son, we must note with Professor Susan Eastman: this “economy of grace is perpetuated by the father’s wisdom, forgiveness, reconciliation, and unaccountable generosity.” 2 Together, the stage was set for repentance and forgiveness that would change both a son and a father’s world. Page 105
Questions remain unanswered as to the specifics of the son’s repentance. Still, the fact remains: the son could never repay his debt. The son knew his father’s character included grace; surely his father would receive him home as a hired hand. Such behavior from a father seems to be spiritual and economic foolishness. Page 105
The parable describes with touching simplicity what God is like and, in turn, what parents should be like - filled with God’s goodness, His grace, His boundless mercy, and His abounding love. Although there is not a direct allegorical equation of the father with God, the attitude and heart of the father are meant to depict those of God. Whether the younger son in Jesus’ parable was meant to represent prodigal Israel or any prodigal who wanders from the family and faith, parents reflect a picture of God for their children when they rejoice over the return of the lost or welcome the community to a feast. Page 105
In every case, the individual and, in turn, the soul, must first perceive its mistakes and then repent. Repentance is the essential first step back to the Father’s house. Page 105
The prodigal understands the enormity of his crime; he had sinned against heaven and his father (verse 18). He recognized that his sinful, foolish actions had cost him his claim of sonship; the best he could hope for was to become a household servant. The prodigal returns with a clear, precise knowledge of repentance. His spiritual upbringing and personal time alone with God gave him a new, clearer understanding of repentance. Page 106
Three things primarily stand out if we hope to master repentance: First, prodigals who seek to repent must realize that their actions, attitudes, character, and perhaps pride stand between them and restored fellowship the the heavenly Father. Prodigals are responsible for their own fate, whether they choose the path of repentance, or the broad highway of continued sin. Page 106
Second, prodigals must not only realize that their predicaments are self-caused but also that their only hope lies in the merciful, gracious nature of God himself. Sin resulted in the loss of sonship. God is under no obligation to receive the sinner back into fellowship. This realization should bring the prodigal to an attitude of humility, for there can be no true repentance without humility. Page 106
Third, repentance comes before restoration. The father would not have restored his son without repentance. He had already forgiven, evidenced by the father’s running to greet his returning son (verse 20). The father always responded with love, but repentance was necessary for restoration. The son responded with the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (verse 18). Pages 106-107
Scripture clearly demonstrates that there must always be forgiveness. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13 ESV). Like God the Father, when parents of prodigals hear those words, “Father I have sinned against you and against heaven,” there can be no other response but forgiveness and restoration. Page 107
The Liberal bias in secularized education and moral training is another external influence that challenges Christian parents as they try to help their children develop godly moral values. In school today, children are taught that a “normal” family does not exist, that some children have two dads or two moms, and that sex outside of marriage is an acceptable choice. Christian moral training, once a part of training in the schools, has now been deleted in an attempt to separate the institutions of church and state. Page 131
Because of technological advances, highly specialized public and private education systems, and rapidly changing social values, a distinct, rebellious youth subculture has emerged. American youth institutions, fashion, language, and methods of communication characterize this subculture. A subculture, by definition, excludes outsiders; teens often view parents as outsiders. 1 This trend begins during middle school and escalates through high school. Premarital sex, alcohol consumption, and experimentation with illicit drugs are viewed as rites of passage in the youth subculture. The effect upon society is significant: nearly one million girls under the age of twenty become pregnant each year; that means that each day almost 2,800 teens get pregnant.2 Approximately four in ten young women in the United States become pregnant at least once before turning twenty years old. Studies from both the Gallup Youth Survey and the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free Foundation indicate that more than 40 percent of kids who start drinking before the age of thirteen will abuse alcohol later in life. Pages 131-132
The challenge of fighting these trends is difficult but necessary. Parents must be aware of and proactive in the battle that rages for the hearts and lives of teenagers. Page 132
Children are educated within a culture of rebellion - apart from parents - by educators who may not support the same spiritual and moral values. In the shadow of these educational trends, Christian parents are finding it harder than ever to pass on biblical morals and spiritual lessons to their children. Page 132
To Mothers and Fathers of prodigals who are young or adults. Yes, it is important to raise our children as the Bible warns us to in the ways of God as well as being proper examples to them. Yet, even the best parents have prodigals as Jesus had Judas and Adam and Eve raised Abel, who pleased God but they also raised Cain, the first murderer.
Dr. Lon W. Flippo explains this on page 120: “The fact is that some children of addicts or alcoholics do grow up to be responsible members of society, while some children of godly parents make sinful choices and turn their backs on God.”
The free will of a person is what decides their fate, whether they use their free will to serve God or not. If we choose to serve God, we honor and listen to our godly parents who can provide a wall of protection, wisdom, advice and blessings over us. If you are a prodigal, repent now and come under the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God and be blessed. It is never too late to be forgiven and restored.
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