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Christian Life

It’s Never Too Late for You: A Reflection on the Prodigal Son

God’s love is very powerful. We can never reach the end of it. He offers us a fresh glimpse of it every day, every year that we live. And the deeper we immerse ourselves in it, the more free we become.

Free from guilt.

Free from fear, even fear of God’s disappointment.

Free to live and breathe and be perfectly imperfect.

Years ago, I disentangled myself from a controlling, manipulative boyfriend. During our two-year relationship, I had tried to hold onto his attention by becoming everything he wanted me to be. I’d let go of my close walk with God, let go of my dreams, let go of my physical boundaries. I was a walking shell of a person, struggling with an eating disorder and obsessed with finding a new boyfriend as fast as possible.

After that relationship, I told my mom, “I feel like I’ve gone too far for God to ever use me again.” I felt like a second-class citizen, too far even for the love of God to fully restore me.

My mom said, “Just wait and see what God will do.”

There’s no better way to explain what God did than to look at the story of the prodigal son. I grew up on this story, but never grasped its significance until recently, while reading the book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Today I pray that this story will breathe new life, new revelation of God’s love into your heart, especially if you too are feeling like you’ve gone too far this time.

The prodigal son, as told in Luke 15, is the last in a series of three parables. Each of those parables illustrates something being lost, and the owner searching for it.

First we see a shepherd with 100 sheep. One goes missing, and the shepherd traverses the country, searching for the lost sheep. Jesus asks, “Which of you would not do the same for your sheep?” But in reading commentaries, I learned that none of his listeners would have gone in search of the one sheep; 99 was close enough to 100. Only Jesus would do something so radical, so crazy. And when the shepherd finds his sheep, what does he do? He throws a party.

Then we see a woman who has ten coins, loses one and tears her house apart in search of the missing coin. When she finds it, she tells her neighbors her excitement over the found coin. When was the last time you did this—called your neighbors when you found the dollar bill you were searching for? Answer: Probably never.

The final story in this series is that of the prodigal son. And this is the one that gets me at the core.

A man has two sons who will one day receive an inheritance, a portion of their father’s wealth after his death. One day, the younger son comes to his father and demands his inheritance early, essentially saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead! Can I have my money now? ’Cause that’s all I really care about. Not you. Not my brother. Just my money.”

Surprisingly, the father gives him the money, and the son takes off. He travels far away and wastes his money on meaningless, fleeting pleasures—sex with random people, fancy food, popularity, luxurious clothes—until one day, when the money is all used up, a famine hits the land and he finds himself working on a pig farm, longing to eat the pigs’ food and wishing he were back home.

The son thinks to himself, Man, if only I were a servant in my father’s house. At least I’d have a place to sleep and food to eat! I’ll go home and apologize and see if he’ll let me come work for him. So he heads home.

Now notice—his motives are anything but pure. They still seem kind of selfish. He’s not going home because he misses his dad; he’s still just looking out for his own interests. He wants food and clothes and a bed.

Here’s where the story gets totally crazy.

The son starts on his journey home, and as soon as he takes one step down the long drive toward his house, just a dot on the horizon, his father sees him. It’s as if the father was standing there, scanning the horizon in search of his son, day after day.

And the father goes running to him.

Before the son can take another step, the father is racing down the driveway, throwing propriety aside, rushing to wrap his arms around his son. He embraces his son, and the first thing he does is yell to his servants, “Hey! Make a huge feast and bring out my best outfit to put on my son! We’re throwing a party because my son has come back to me!”

HUH?! EXCUSE ME?

If I were the dad, I would somberly wait for my son to walk to the front door, and then I would sit him down and have a very serious conversation: “Son, we’re going to talk about your budget. Son, we’re going to talk about whether or not you’re really sorry, or if this apology is just to get what you want. Son, you’re going to have to prove yourself to me again.”

But in this story? None of that. Just this reckless, crazy love that welcomes his son home—impure motives, storied past and all—and throws a party!

No wonder the older son gets jealous! He’s like, “I can’t believe you would do this! When did you ever throw me a party? And this whole time he was out gallivanting, I was here serving you, and still—no party for me!”

The older son didn’t get it. He didn’t understand this kind of love. It made no sense.

And that’s because God’s love doesn’t make sense to our human minds. It is literally CRAZY.

It comes searching for the lost thing before the lost thing ever comes looking for it. The shepherd looking for a sheep who’s wandered off…the woman searching for a coin that’s not even capable of looking for its way home…and this father racing to meet his son when he’s still a long way off.

And then he throws a party. There’s no guilt trip, no “wait until you’ve cleaned up your act”—just pure, unadulterated JOY.

I don’t know about you, but this is not the God I grew up imagining. I thought I had to do “penance,” make up for what I’d done wrong. I thought I’d have to wait a while after I sinned to come back to God, just to show I was really sorry. I mean, I thought I’d at least have to get my motives right before He would take me back! But no.

Pure joy. Pure love.

A love that says, “You are never too far gone.”

A love that says, “You have nothing to earn and nothing to prove.”

A love that says, “I want you far more than you’ve ever wanted Me.”

This is the kind of God that created us. This is the kind of love He wants us to grow into each day of our lives. This is the love that we get to lose ourselves in for all eternity, and never find the end of it.

So today, right here, right now, if you’re where I once was, feeling you’ve blown it, like you’ve gone too far this time and God surely must be done with you, I can assure you: He’s not. And you haven’t. It’s impossible for you to wander too far for His love to find you.

Today I’ve been 15 years free of that boyfriend, 15 years of immersing myself deeper and deeper into this love. Not only did my mistakes not disqualify me, but God even built a ministry for young women from their ashes. Not only was God not done with me, but He was also intent on showing me a deeper love than I’d ever known before.

Friend, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, it is never too late for you. Not with a love like this.

Image: Lightstock | Prixel Creative

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