I’m not sure exactly how it works but it’s obvious throughout Scripture the Lord moves in seasons. There doesn’t seem to be a set formula, or predictable timeline, but it becomes evident as I lean into the Spirit of God that there are certain things He highlights at different times. There are things that are always on His heart, but there are seasons where He seems to be emphasizing or pointing at something specifically.Over the past few months I have felt that the Lord is continually bringing up the ones who have stepped away from Him–the prodigals–those who have walked with God before but are now living life away from Him. Of course, these people are always on His heart, but right now He is stirring me to pray and act upon it. Because we have a responsibility and privilege to take care of God’s heart, we must be aware of what He is thinking; and then we can partner with Him to see His desires fulfilled. It is as if I can see a picture of a family dinner where the family sits down to eat but some of the chairs remain empty. The Father is delighted about His sons and daughters who are at the table with Him but there is still a yearning in His heart to see those who are no longer there to come back to their seat. The meal will not be complete without them.
In response, we have been pressing into two strategies I believe are key to seeing our brothers and sisters return to the table.
Firstly, we are praying a verse found in Luke 15, which is the story of the prodigal son. After the son had wasted all his inheritance on wild living, he found himself feeding pigs. Then, verse 17 describes a poignant moment: “But when he came to himself.” In other words, everything he was doing when he left his father’s house was not really who he was. None of the immorality, the sin, or the selfishness, was actually his real self. He was still a child of his father, except he was living outside of his authentic self. He finally came to the revelation of who he was, and then promptly headed home.
As a church we have been praying for those of our friends and family who are living away from God to “come to themselves.” When my wife SeaJay was eighteen years old she went through a season of rebellion and decided to live separate from God. Although she never stopped believing in Him, she chose to live life how she preferred rather then how He preferred. But God was in pursuit! And it all shifted for her in one moment… She had been drinking with her friends who at some point all piled into a car and drove off. Not a good situation. Her friend was at the wheel when they were pulled over by a police officer. And while sitting on the side of the road, wondering what was going to happen to them all, a thought hit her, ‘How did I get here?’ In that moment, everything changed. She “came to herself,” and instantly, her life turned around. She remembered who she was and began to live out of that place.
The second thing we must do is overwhelm the prodigals with extravagant kindness. The Bible makes it clear that kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Repentance means to change the way we think, to do a 180 degree turn. I’m convinced that if we inundate people with kindness it will cause them to turn home and run to the dinner table. This is hard for many of us to do. We somehow think that if we are kind to those who know better and are living opposite to how God would want them to live, that in essence, it is approving of their lifestyle. However, it is not our job to judge others–even backsliders. We are commanded to love them. Should we speak truth to them? Of course! Should we lovingly remind them who they are in Christ? Yes. However, our motivation cannot be in an attempt to control them. Reality is that much of what we call truth and love is simply a veiled attempt at control. We cannot manipulate and pressure people back to the table. Nevertheless, we can encourage them back, love them back, inspire them back, challenge them back, and call them back.
Since we have been walking out these two simple actions we have seen things begin to break. There have already been a handful of testimonies of prodigals who are now returning to the table. We must take care of God’s heart. The prodigals are His longing and we are being compelled to do something about it. It is time for the prodigals to come home and experience the extravagant love of God.