Returning to the Father

Think of your own life as you read Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son went through a number of different phases. One of these phases is where you are right now in your own life. Either you plan to leave the Father’s house, saying: “I want to go it alone; I don’t need anybody to tell me what to do”! Or you are in inner turmoil, far from God, the Father. The inheritance has long been squandered. You feel empty. Whatever happens, you don’t care. Or perhaps you have reached the lowest station in your life, symbolized by the pigs the prodigal son was feeding. There are people that have degraded themselves to be like animals. Indeed, have you not met people even more base than animals?

When someone turns his back on God and leaves, then things go downhill rapidly, although perhaps not on the outside. Financially, things may still be going well. A person may also seem to having a good time partying and living it up. But what about the inner person, the soul? How tragic! When the longing of the soul for God awakens, then it becomes apparent that all the riches of the world are vain and meaningless. Life then seems like a colorful ornament on a Christmas tree that is fragile and hollow inside. Nothing in the world can satisfy the craving of the soul for God but God Himself.

I’ve traveled throughout the world
And there’s beauty far and wide;
But still there’s a longing in me
This world cannot satisfy.

Oh, I’ve seen the people working
And searching night and day;
They’re coming and going and yearning
With sorrow upon their way.

They won’t find for what they’re searching,
In pleasure and fortune and fame;
And burdened with sin and hurting
The masses return again.

All of us have left the Father’s house. You know the moment when you slammed the door and said: “I want to be independent. I want to have things my own way. I don’t want God to rule in my life. Who is God? Modern enlightened people have no need of Him. Perhaps during the war, or when our lives were endangered, we cried out to Him. But now things are good. We can manage quite well without God. Who needs Him?”

That is how we distanced ourselves from God and lost contact with the Father’s house. That is our sin, our transgression, our godlessness. We stop praying, stop reading God’s Word, and deny Him.

Yet God does not run after us and force us to obey Him. He does not force us to stay against our will, saying: “You may not leave”! Every person has the choice to stay or go. You can decide to leave, or you can stay in the Father’s house; He lets you have your free will.

Yet at certain times, maybe at a funeral of a loved one or during a restless night when sorrow and worries keep us from sleeping, we realize how poor we are. What good is my life? Despite my success, I am miserable inside. Then your heart cries out: “I want to go home. I want to go back to the Father! I need a resting place in this dismal world. I need peace in my heart. I am lost in sin!” Woe unto all who do not rest in God.

How many people have experienced this! Even people who live relatively good lives and who seem to have it all together will experience this deep unrest when the yearning of their soul awakens and hungers for something that is more than what this world offers. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2a). May you experience this! May you come to the point where you too will say: “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18).

When the prodigal son was sitting with the pigs, far from the Father, it was not this environment which was the worst of all. What was so tragic was his emptiness, his loneliness, his realization that he was lost! Without God, a person is lost forever and will sink into a terrible abyss. Back to the Father! Yes, Christ died on the cross for you so that you, too, can come back to the Father. The glory of the Father’s house awaits you.

Whenever you see a cross, think of Calvary. Be certain that Christ wants to meet you at the crossroad of your life. He is seeking for you. It matters not what state you are in, tattered and torn or dirty. He shed His blood and gave His own body as a sacrifice for you so that you will not remain lost in your sin and transgression. He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He is knocking at your heart’s door. Can you hear Him knocking? Your life will be made whole when you say: “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). Christ will bring you home, but you must resolve to go. No one can do this for you. But God’s love for you is so great that you can risk it. You will succeed if you resolve to go.

Although the prodigal son had turned away from the father, the father had not turned away from the son. He awaited him. He kept watching to see if the day would come when his son returned. When the son came back, his father already saw him from afar. He had not forgotten him. Even if you are far from God, remember that God is still your Father. The love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, seeks you and calls you home. When the son was down and out, he remembered his father and saw him in his mind’s eye. Otherwise, he would not have risked coming home.

Let me tell you about a young woman who was in the prison hospital. She was 25 years old and had been convicted of a double murder. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. At first, she did not come to our chapel services, but then one day she appeared. She seemed rather disinterested and bored. Maybe she just attended to see what the services were like, or maybe she had nothing else to do. Yet, even a glimmer of hope can be nurtured into a flame under the right circumstances.

This young woman ended up in the prison hospital with a serious illness. That is when God was able to speak to her. She was at death’s door. When the shadow of death descends on a life, that is the final time that God can call us to repent, to come back to the Father. Many ignore this call as well and do not hear it.

The young lady called for me, and I came to her hospital bed. Then she told me about her life, her fears and anxiety, her shame and massive guilt. Last of all, she had committed murder. “I did not want to have anything to do with God,” she said. That was how it started. After that, things went from bad to worse.

Her mother pleaded with her, but in vain. She wanted to live to the fullest. She wanted to be free. That all ended with her terrible crime and now her illness. She was in tears. “I had other plans for my life,” she said. “But now it is all over. I have to die, and because of my ruined life, I am lost, eternally lost. There is no hope for me, and nobody can help me.” She could barely find the strength to talk since her illness had made her incredibly weak.

Then I told her the story of the prodigal son. I told her about Jesus, who saves so no one needs to be lost. I told her about the thief on the cross who had also committed murder, yet Jesus promised him that he would be with Him in Paradise. I told her that there is hope for every one of us if we turn back and say: “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). I told her it was never too late in life, and she could even now come back to God, the Father.

Her body started to shake and she said: “Is that possible? Is it really true? I want to come back to God. That is what I always wanted, but I never did it. I didn’t have the resolve or strength. I want to come home, just like the prodigal son. Can God forgive me too? Can He accept me like He accepted the thief on the cross and the prodigal son? I can’t die without His pardon.”

Here was a person who, at the end of her life, still wanted pardon, God’s forgiveness, without which none of us can live or die. Because I knew this, I placed my hand upon her head and said: “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2b). I know that Jesus forgave her. She was able to experience the love of God and the peace that passes understanding. That is what the prodigal son experienced as well. When he came home, his father did not reject him. Filled with emotion, his father showed him his love. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). All lost sons and daughters who come back to the Lord have the assurance from Jesus: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

As I was leaving, this dying young lady asked me to play a song for her on my violin, a song her mother had taught her as a child. She could not remember how it started, but she remembered the words: “He knows and loves you too.” It was the song: “Do you know how many stars are shining?” The song relates how God has not forgotten anyone on earth. He knows the stars, the insects, the fish, and all the children by name. And He knows and loves you too.

I played the song for her on my violin. Then she grasped my hand one more time, and I left. She died shortly thereafter. I was told by the hospital staff that she became very calm and peacefully passed away without speaking another word. Her eyes shone and were no longer downcast.    

Oh yes, there is rest for the weary,
For everyone far and near.
I know there is rest for the dreary
At the old cross of Calvary.

Rudolf Irmler

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