For the last five decades, I’ve had it wrong. I’m willing to bet that many of you do, too.
I’ve been feeling very much like a prodigal daughter lately. Oh, no. I haven’t run away from the Father and I’ve not been living with the pigs. And there’s definitely not been any riotous living. But I just wasn’t getting enough time with the one to whom I promised my life. I wanted to be back home, not out wandering about.
So I went to Luke 15, that well-known story about the boy we call The Prodigal Son. He asked for his inheritance, left home for what he thought was going to be a great life on his own, and wasted everything. Ended up working for a farmer and tending the hogs. Finally decided life at home was much better, even for his dad’s servants, so he went back and threw himself on his father’s mercy, asking just to be a hired hand. Anything, just let me come home.
I went to Luke 15 because one of the verses from that story kept ringing in my head. When the son returns, the father says to the older stay-at-home brother, “We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life.”
That’s the assurance I wanted…that the parts of my life that had been feeling listless and weak lately (I refused to say dead) would be given new life. God is all about giving new life. Just as many of us sometimes need our caffeine, I needed … well, something much stronger than coffee. I wanted to get back to where I belonged and I wanted a shot of new life.
So (as I’ve already said twice) I went to Luke 15. And read the story. And two rather remarkable things happened.
First, I realized I’d forgotten that this chapter opens with another story. The first story is about a man who has a hundred sheep. One of them wanders too far away from the flock and gets lost. The shepherd goes searching for his one lost sheep. And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.
I realize this passage talks about someone who is spiritually “lost,” but I heard my Father say, “Child, when you wander a little too far, I’ll always find you and carry you home.”
I think it’s so significant that the shepherd carries his sheep home. The helpless thing didn’t have to find her own way and trot home under her own steam. She couldn’t. Our shepherd finds us and carries us back to where we belong, especially when we are helpless to get ourselves back there. Jesus says again and again that He is our shepherd. His spirit living within us draws us back to Him. No one and no thing can snatch us away from Him.
There was the comfort I needed.
Ah, but I also needed a bit of correction. That was the second outcome of this reading.
I finally learned what “prodigal” means. Yup. That’s what I’ve had wrong all these years. I always thought it meant, in the spiritual sense, someone who turns his back on God. Someone who runs away in rebellion. In this story, I always focused on the leaving home and the riotous living. A prodigal child was one who thought life was better elsewhere, got himself into trouble, and came back home.
So, being the word fanatic that I am, I had to check with Mr. Webster. Surprise! Here’s what Webster says. Prodigal: exceedingly or recklessly wasteful OR a person who wastes his means. (Did you know that?)
OK, Lord, I got it. Lately I have been wasteful. I’ve been reckless with what you’ve given me, with my time, my choices, my energy, my attention. And so I’ve wandered, drifted.
But my shepherd found me, picked me up, and carried me back where I belong.
Celebrate that God can bring that which was dead back to life again. He does it every day.
Scriptures: Luke 15, John 10:28-30