11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
As we move from the second stage of regret and revaluation to the third and often most anticipated stage, the return, we also come to what is often a very problematic stage for many parents. Even though the return is what most parents have prayed for it’s the one they seem to be the least prepared for. How you respond and handle the return is critical. Verse 20 provides a picture of how parents should respond to a returning prodigal: “So he got up and he went to his father. But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran and threw his arms around him and he kissed him.” How did the father handle it, he did several things that provide a model for us, first he:
- Loved lavishly
This is a stubborn love, a love that never gives up. Scripture says, “His father, while he was still a long way off, was filled with compassion.” He was filled with compassion while he was still a long way off, so let me ask you, how far reaching is your compassion? True compassion compels us to act, mercy should move you. Compassion comes from a heart that sees outside of its self. The father saw the son because he was looking for the son. One of the dangers that comes from having our hearts hurt by those we love is that we can become inward focused, and so wrapped up in self that we miss what matters most, an opportunity to model mercy and compassion. You see one of the defining characteristics of a Christian should be compassion. We are called to imitate Christ; the One who could have stoned the woman caught in adultery but instead confronted her with compassion instead of condemnation. You see while it’s important for us to memorize the message we also need to modeling it. If we can’t model compassion to our kids then how are we going to share it with the world? The fathers focus wasn’t on self and his hurts it was on the son and his healing. Now what I am going to say next is probably the hardest part for most parents, love them don’t lecture to them. What we are tempted to do to the returning prodigal is lecture, the son had learned his lesson from the life he had been living. Here was a father who hadn’t given up hope. The first and most important thing is to love them, no matter how far they fall, no matter how long you wait, love leaves the door open for reconciliation. Second:
- Accept them Unconditionally
Scripture tells us that the father rushed out and threw his arms around his son, kissing and hugging him. The father gives us a clear picture of acceptance, not only does it involves open arms but notice that the father didn’t set any conditions for acceptance. He didn’t say after you clean up then I will hug you. Remember the son had just come from living in the pig pen and he would have stunk but the father didn’t focus on his condition. When we focus on their condition we end up setting conditions. Some of you will respond to this by saying, but how can I accept them without lowering my standards? How can I accept them when I don’t approve of their lifestyle? But our problem is that we have confused acceptance with approval and there is a huge difference between the two. Acceptance says, “I love you because God made you and you are my child, but I do not approve of what you’re doing.” You can accept a child or a person without approving of their lifestyle. The language of acceptance finds its expression in the physical. The father ran, he hugged and kissed. We all desperately want to be accepted and belong, and sometimes the reason for our kid’s rebellion is rooted in a desire to be accepted. It’s a cry for unconditional love, a love that the world falsely advertises because it comes with strings attached to hooks that come at a huge cost. Our kids need acceptance, and they are going to search for it, so the question that we need to ask is do we want them to find it with us or in the world? The father didn’t wait for the son to admit that he had blown it, he loved him where he was, which created an environment that made it easier for the son to admit his wrong. I think a very important question that we need to ask ourselves as parents is, do we make it easy for our kids to admit when they are wrong? Or do we hold it over their heads? One of the ways that we can create a culture of confession is to admit when we have been wrong. Are you gracious with your kids or do you make them come groveling? Now it’s interesting to note that even after being unconditionally loved and accepted by the father the sons confession still included conditions, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son” When we do wrong we don’t feel worthy, and we are more comfortable with conditions but what we really need is unconditional love. Let you kids know that the door is always open. Don’t go to the pigpen, but never slam the door and tell your child they are never welcome back into your home. Leave the door open and receive them when they repent. Are you limiting your love or lavishly loving? Are you hugging or holding back?