The gravel rocks pushed through the thin leather of his shoes. The son winced as he continued to walk. The sun was still rising, and fog floated closely against the grassy fields. Ahead he could just make out the road to his parents’ house. It looked exactly the same.
But nothing was the same. It had been a year. Every letter his parents sent was thrown away. Every call was ignored. The son did all he could to remove any semblance of family love. But now, it was the only thing that could save him. He had nothing left. “What would his father say? The son thought. “Worse, what would I say?”
The Prodigal Son Today
The Prodigal Son is a great example of a biblical story that has transcended its context. It’s no longer just a passage of Scripture. It’s a cultural concept. It’s a label. When someone leaves for a long time, they are called prodigals. When there is a rift between a parent and child, that child is known as a prodigal son or daughter. It makes sense that the parable of the Prodigal Son would be so present in modern society, because family loss is so present in modern society. It affects us all.
But the popularity of the term “prodigal” has skewed our understanding of the parable. The word prodigal does not occur in the passage. It was added later in English translations of the Bible. Today, most people assume prodigal means, “lost” or “wayward.” There’s a sense of abandonment in the term. As a result, we assume that the parable of the Prodigal Son is a story about a sinner who finds salvation. It’s not. It’s about a saved person who realizes the purpose of salvation at all.
The Prodigal Son is not a parable about a lost son. It’s a parable about a wasteful son. Prodigal means wasteful. The son didn’t need a relationship with his father. He already had one. The problem was that he squandered it. He misused it. Instead of loving his dad, he loved what he could get from him. Instead of relishing in the joy of spending time with his aging Father, he instead used him and his wealth to enjoy the here and now.
Christians have become hardened to this parable because they assume it’s no longer about them. They‘ve trusted in Jesus, so they leave this parable for the lost and destitute. Yet, many, if not all Christians are guilty of the same exact sin as the Prodigal Son. They waste their relationship with their Heavenly Father. They enjoy their status as saved sons, yet squander it.
Do we as Christians see Christianity as a means to an end? Is God a necessary middle man to greater desires? If you went to Heaven, and everything you dreamed of was there except for God, would you care?
Churches lie dormant across America because they are full of Christians who treat God the same way the Prodigal treated his father. They don’t desire God, just the things they believe they can get through God.
Servants vs. Sons
Some come to God out of a desire for happiness. Or, to feel spiritually fulfilled. Some come to God to avoid Hell, or because they can’t bear the thought of never seeing a loved one again. God can fulfill all those desires. Yet there is a greater Thing that God desires to give, and that is He Himself. He knows nothing else will really satisfy us. Nothing else will truly fulfill our need. Not Heaven, not happiness, but only an intimate relationship with God Himself.
Yet, He looks at all His children and finds sons and daughters who serve Him, but don’t speak to Him. He looks out and finds children who talk about Him, but never to Him. He can see the longing in their eyes. He can see their deep desire to please Him. Yet they fail to realize that what would please Him most is for them to stop living “for” Him and to start living “with” Him. What would please God most is they themselves. God does not need us as servants, but He wants us as sons.
A Father's Love
The old man flipped the light and hobbled to his chair. Another gray morning. He could hear the thud of boots and jingling keys as his oldest walked out the back door to start a day’s work. The man braced himself as he slowly sank into his seat. He glanced out the window. It was foggy, but he could just make out the mailbox at the end of the long driveway.
It had been almost a year. He wondered if his youngest son looked different. He wondered if he still had the same mannerisms, the same hopes and dreams. It had been so long since he had seen him. The father longed for the days when his son would sit as a young boy on his lap and talk to him. At that age, there was no dream or desire bigger than to be with Dad. The father missed that, and the father missed him.
He was an important man. He had dozens of employees. He was familiar with the need for workers to “impress the boss.” That didn’t matter to him. What mattered to him were his boys, and he had lost them both. His one had left without warning. And the other stayed, but only as an employee. He never called. He never sat for dinner. He just worked. Sometimes, the father wondered if his oldest son realized that no amount of work could increase the limitless love he already had for him. He wished he could tell him that. If only his son would take the time to listen.
Then, something in the distance caught his eye. The old man peered through the window, and a familiar figure pierced through the fog. This was no worker. He recognized the gait of the figure’s steps immediately. He knew those thick locks of hair anywhere. This was his son. Suddenly, like a clap of lightning, the old man bolted up. There was no time for coats or boots. Like a man thirty years younger, he rushed to open the screen door and swung it open. The porch steps that would usually slow him were of no hindrance now. The father rushed down the stairs with urgency and ran down the gravel road. His son had returned.
Nothing could tear down the love the father felt for his son. No amount of distance would keep the father from coming to him. As the son began to fumble with words, the father tackled him in a warm embrace. His son was gone, but was here again. He was lost, but was now found. The Father’s arms clung to his son with the strength of ten men, and nothing would ever let it go.
There is nothing God could give us greater than Him alone. That’s why His greatest order of business for every believer is to train him to desire nothing other than He Himself. There’s nothing better to give.
We all, like prodigals, have believed the lie that there are greater joys to be found outside of God. Or worse, that there are joys to be found through God. Real, living, world-changing Christianity occurs when believers realize that joy can only be found in God, and in God alone. The Father waits for each of us to realize that, again and again, with open arms.
"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." -Psalms 73:25-26
Resting in Him,