Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Sometimes God Waits
I have recently found the answer in two of Jesus’ parables. At first glance, God’s behavior seems contradictory. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18 and Luke 15), the Shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine to go look for the one who is lost. But in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15), the Father stays home and waits for his wayward child to come back on his own. Why does God sometimes rescue and at other times wait?
I asked my husband what he thought and his answer made a lot of sense. “Maybe it’s because in the case of the sheep, it has gotten so lost that it can’t find its way home, so God goes to the rescue. The son knows how to get home, but chooses to stay away. So God waits for him to come back.”
This helps me know how I should behave toward the lost. Should I go and bring them home? The answer I get from the first parable is, if they don’t know the way home, yes. If they have followed the wrong shepherd to their own demise, yes. If they are mired in discouragement, caught in the briers of addiction, and don’t have the energy to get back, yes. If they have been trapped by the enemy and immobilized by their wounds, then yes, go where they are and carry them home. Rescue the perishing, as the old hymn says.
On the other hand, when should we wait? The Parable of the Son answers this question. The son has had every advantage. He has experienced his father’s love, wealth, and work, but he chose to reject a relationship with his father in exchange for whatever his father could give him. He squandered his inheritance and explored all the world has to offer. What he found was temporary thrills, shallow relationships, and desperate hunger. Even then, he stayed away, ashamed at his own selfishness. It wasn’t until he mustered the courage to go back that his father could show him the full extent of his love.
In the meantime, the Father waits and watches. He continues his work at home. He loves his missing son, oh how he loves him, and yearns for him to come back. He never stops watching the road. So when the prodigal finally does return, his father spots him while he’s still a long way off, and runs to greet him. He wraps him in his arms, and immediately forgives his son who is now broken and humbled. The father ignores all talk of servitude and throws a party to celebrate that his son is home at last.
In reality, that’s a hard example to follow. Waiting with one eye on the road feels like doing nothing. My heart breaks daily for those who choose to stay away. They say they want to explore what the world has to offer. They waste their godly inheritance seeking relationships with people who use and abuse them, and their souls are malnourished for the abundance in their Father’s house.
It hurts to see this happening, but I cannot force them to come home until they are ready. In the meantime I pray, claiming God’s promise that the Word planted in them when they were young will continue to speak to them: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
For all our prodigals, I pray that they will get sick of the empty life they are living and hunger for the sustenance of Truth. I pray they will remember the relationship with God they once enjoyed and find the courage to come back. Let’s keep our eyes on the road so we can greet them with open arms when they return. And when they do, we’ll party. Lord Jesus, bring them home soon!
Beth Vice, 2010