What is it that is so endearing about returning prodigal sons and daughters? Is it that they have strayed far from God but have then come back again? Is it that they have strayed from their family and have returned to the family fold once again? I don’t know the answer so it is a purely rhetorical question. Some prodigals, of course, stayed away longer, some never came back at all.
We have one or two in our church. Likeable rascals is the best description for them. One in particular is very adept at playing “the game” with people. He does and says all the right things. Then, when your back is turned, he reverts to type and spends whatever money he can get his hands on, on his particular demon – which is alcohol. He has spent time ‘inside’ although he is basically only a bad lad with drink inside him.
In our dealings with such as these, how do we handle them? This is a question that has vexed the church for ages. So much so that for the most part we have tried to sweep the ‘problem’ under our carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist. Actually, in vast swathes of the church, to all intents and purposes, it really does not exist. It has not only been swept under the carpet, but the church has actively fought to cover up the problem either by pretending it doesn’t exist or by expelling the culprits from the congregation.
So the question remains for us to resolve today – how do we deal with prodigals. First we have to identify the real problem – the root problem. Is it a relationship problem? Or a ‘bad influence’ problem? Or a rebellion problem? What is the true root cause? In many cases, I think we will find that love or rather the real or perceived lack of love that is the root problem. What would Jesus have done? He would have loved them – unconditionally. Unconditional love is perhaps the one thing most needed throughout the entire Church in this modern day and age. I have often said that pastors and leaders must love the people, love the people some more, then love the people again. However, pastor cannot do this on his or her own. Even the leadership team cannot do this on their own. Love is the one thing that the whole church must buy into and do as a corporate thing. We are so very fortunate to have joined a church where we were welcomed with such a love as this. First by the pastor who sets the example. Then by the leadership team who echo pastor’s example. Then, most importantly, by the whole church following the example of leadership.
Prodigals need love more than anything else and sometimes they are extremely unlovable people. I often hear folk saying things like, “How can we accept someone like that? They don’t really want to be here.” I have also heard the response, “Jesus didn’t ask us to like them – only to love them.” It is so often only love that gets through to the prodigal. It is only love that shows him or her what it could be like if they were to turn their life around. We have a group of ex-prodigals in our church who all agree that the turning point for them was when they realised that they were loved and not hated. It was when they were shown respect that they began to show respect. It was when they were trusted that they began to trust once more.
Who knows what caused your prodigals to turn away – apart from God? Who knows the result that seeds of love sown into their lives may harvest?
It’s time to bring the hurting prodigals back to the family.