loving the prodigal

For those who struggle with loving a prodigal (and I am one such person), Jesus offers much wisdom through the telling of ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’ in Luke 15:11-24.  In those difficult times of dealing with my prodigal, I find comfort, assurance, strength and wisdom in this parable.  Consider verses 11 through 16:

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons.   And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.   Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.   And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.   So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.   And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Lessons to be learned regarding the departure and the lifestyle of the prodigal:

  • The prodigal oftentimes leaves of their own account … and it is through no fault of their parents.  They are drawn in by the beck and call of the world … rejecting the beliefs of their parents.
  • The prodigal oftentimes leaves at a young age … when they are indeed ill-prepared to deal with the temptation and destructive forces of the world.
  • While the parents are indeed responsible for preparing their children for the challenges of the world and embracing a belief IN God, sometimes they must let the prodigal learn these lessons the hard way.
  • The prodigal embarks on a journey into the world confident in his or her ability to make it.
  • But the prodigal typically has no sense of control or discipline regarding property – be it things or money – and will indeed squander it all through bad decisions and reckless living.
  • And it is at this point that God begins to bring them to their senses … as they find themselves in need (WARNING: And this is a hard learned lesson, if as parents you come to their financial rescue at this point in the prodigal experience, all you are really doing is empowering them to repeat their mistakes until they once more arrive at need again … this can be an endless loop where as parents you are constantly preventing God from completing His work … and this is more a confession than a lesson.)
  • At this point, they have not come completely to their senses … and they believe they can make it on their own and provide for themselves … but they are simply not prepared or disciplined for what good jobs and pay demand, and they continue to constantly find themselves in need.
  • Finally, in the midst of this need, no one comes to their rescue and no one gives them anything … this is rock bottom … and unfortunately the prodigal must arrive here (and the more stubborn ones arrive here repeatedly) before they can once again become clay in the hands of the Divine Potter.

These are indeed difficult times for the prodigal … and for the parent.  No parent wants to see their children struggle and suffer in such a manner.  But we must learn to trust God and His higher ways in transforming the prodigal more than we trust our emotions and feelings … and this is a huge challenge for a loving parent.

Let’s continue on with verses 17 through 24:

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘  And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

More lessons …

  • Oftentimes it is only when the prodigal finds himself or herself both in need and with no help or rescue in sight that they will then examine their hearts and confront their prideful and rebellious nature.
  • While some come to repentance based on a gospel message they have heard, the repentance experience of the prodigal oftentimes only comes about through the experiences that delivered them to rock bottom and a one on one encounter with God Himself.
  • It is only when the prodigal has truly experienced repentance and humility that he or she truly wants to come home and live in obedience to their parents,
  • Despite the absence of the prodigal and what they are going through, a parent’s heart remains heavy for their children … is there another way to explain the father watching and seeing his son while he was still a long way off?
  • Regardless of what they have done or whether they have a repentant heart, a parent looks on their prodigal with compassion and must keep on loving them … after all the father ran and embraced his son and kissed his son before his son had ever said a word.
  • Through both repentance and a return home (not simply to a house … consider motives), a prodigal is truly reconciled and restored to his or her parents … and that indeed is a cause for celebration.

And while this post has been about the relationships and interactions between the prodigal and his or her parents, the greater message is that this is what our heavenly Father has gone through or is going through with each and every one of His children since time began.

I was once the prodigal … and I was an extremely slow learner (repetition has always been my best teacher) who did not come home to the Father with a repentant and humble heart until my mid-40’s.  So despite the elapsed time with my prodigal, I know without a doubt that He is faithful …

As for me and my wife and our prodigal … we pray, we hope, we wait and remain firm in our commitment to God.

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:15 (ESV)



About bwebbjr

A grandfather, father, husband, man, and a child of God who is following Christ Jesus and working out his salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work IN me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). I dodged my first bullet with cancer when a cancerous polyp was removed in a sigmoid colectomy surgery in August 2007. Four years later, in the midst of a second colectomy surgery we discovered I had Stage IV metastatic colon cancer. Rather than colectomy surgery I had colostomy surgery, which now means the colostomy bag is a part of my everyday life ... with the emphasis on life. God has given us a peace beyond understanding as my wife and I have traveled this journey. By the grace of God I am blessed to be a 6 plus year cancer survivor aka warrior. In writing, I am often wrestling with my own personal struggles and beliefs and in the midst God leads me to a lesson He wants me to learn ... or sometimes He simply touches me in the revelation of Himself. My hope is that the result you see here might touch your heart and glorify God. And let me be clear ... I am not the only one with something to say. Please join in the conversation sharing your faith, your cancer experiences, etc. I would love to hear from you. Bernie
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6 Responses to loving the prodigal

  1. As you briefly know, my current situation is with a prodigal daughter. the scary part is that there isn’t a guarantee for a happy ending. i mean, the prodigal may or may not make the right choice and surrender to God.

    • bwebbjr says:

      Yes, I know Dawn … there are no guarantees. After all, the rich young ruler … a prodigal of sorts, walked away. And certainly just as you, my wife and I must wrestle with that uncertainty and what our prodigal may do next (and this is our second prodigal of the five children we have raised – so we’ve experienced before most of what we are experiencing now). That said, we are constantly seeking out God’s will for us in the midst … and putting the outcome in God’s hands. So we pray … we hope … we trust … and we wait. And as I’m sure you have found, loving and dealing with the prodigal can be extremely trying and frustrating … keeping you and your prodigal in our prayers!


  2. The Prodigal is not so hard for me to accept and love. My heart is filled with pity for such people. My struggle is with the self-righteous older brother. In my 28 years as a pastor, it is these ones who have been the greatest trouble-makers in my churches and have caused me the most personal grief.

    Another excellent post.

    • bwebbjr says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Richard … and thanks for sharing your experience as a pastor with the prodigal’s self-righteous older brother … not surprising.

  3. judikruis says:

    I have heard messages that may explain more on this. I have not studied myself. “is there another way to explain the father watching and seeing his son while he was still a long way off?”

    Apparently the custom at that time was for the town to all come and “shame”: the returning one. The father, like Jesus, runs out to intercept and bless his son so that the shame could not be placed. As Jesus did with us – giving us His riches instead of what we would seem to deserve.

    Love your studies and challenging words Bernie. Bless you for sharing your heart and may Jesus intercept and meet your children with His grace.

    • bwebbjr says:

      Appreciate your no doubt God-given insight here Judy … the challenge for a father with a prodigal … for me … is to move past the shame to love, grace and blessings … and to some degree the challenge for a father is doing that even when the prodigal has not repented and turned toward home … I have a daughter right now who is in desperate need of God’s grace yet remains in rebellion … will be so thankful when the Light shines through. Thanks Judi!

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