Purposeful waiting for a prodigal

By Sam Doerksen

“Purposeful waiting.” It sounds like a nice title for a fictional story. A little bit like a Hallmark movie. We can most likely dictate what will happen at the end when we’re only ten minutes into the movie.

There is a child that runs away, physically, mentally or spiritually – or perhaps all the above. They may not just run away but also run into a life of sin, self-pleasing and rebellion against God.

There are the concerned parents. They have a difficult time sleeping, eating and even focusing on life. Their child is going in a direction that they do not want him or her to go. Their life seems chaotic, especially as it is difficult to think of anything else other than the child(ren) who are not walking in the path they should go.

By the end of the movie, the “writing is on the wall,” so to speak. We can use this type of humour because it is just a story, not real life. Everything turns out just as we had it planned after all. The child or children return home, embracing faith and spirituality like they should. This, of course, is all in the plans of the one who holds the pen. The one who creates the story. The one who dreams of ways to make the “dream” come true. It can be done because it’s just a story. An encouraging story, but nonetheless a story.

In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. One of the subtitles in my Bible is “The Parable of the Lost Son.” The son wasn’t lost as in “no one could find him,” but he certainly chose to run away from his home. Did I mention that his home had all that he could want? I wonder if the father ever thought he should have kept his money and not divided it while he was alive? It was unusual to give his son the inheritance at the time of life that he did. It was very bold of the son to ask for the inheritance. Certainly, he had not watched one of the Hallmark movies at the time that his son took his inheritance and ran away. He didn’t know what the ending would be.

I wonder what Augustine’s mother thought when she tried to make sure he would become a Christian. When she spoke to her bishop who was speaking to Augustine, he said Augustine would not be ready for the conversation and so did not speak with him at the time. When he came to know Christ, he was a different man. I suspect that his mother would have been very thankful. How would she have ever known of the impact that her son would have for God?

The Apostle Paul says he was the worst of sinners, yet God dealt with him in a way that no one knew he would. I wonder what the people who knew Paul must have wondered: Is it true? Could God possibly do such a thing as bring Paul to a knowledge of him, and then have him become a strong missionary and church planter?

Getting back to the story we find in Luke 15: the son purposely finds his way back home. Just as he left with purpose, he came back with purpose and understanding – and some wisdom as well. The story says that he came back to his senses:

“‘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.’”

The father was waiting. He was prepared to celebrate when his son came home. I suspect that he decided how he would react a long time before his son returned. The father prepares a feast and kills the fattened calf, so they can celebrate! This was an easy decision for him. When the son who stayed with the father all these years questions the father, he says in Luke 15:31-32:

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

I am curious about what went through the father’s mind when he realized or took note that his other son was the prodigal that never left home. There is indication that this son left home a long time ago as well, it’s just that he didn’t literally walk away. The father tells him the truth, that he has had all of this the whole time while he was living on the father’s farm.

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)

The idea of waiting with purpose for the prodigal is not appealing. Sometimes waiting for the prodigal keeps us from nurturing our relationship with God. Our circumstances begin to dictate the difficulties and we are not prepared to celebrate God’s goodness.

I remember my mother praying for her children. Coming home late at night, or early in the morning, I could see Mom’s bedroom light shining between the floor and the bottom of the door. I never asked why the light was on. I had a pretty good idea why. I am guessing it had to do with waiting for a prodigal. Waiting with purpose. There was no long driveway to see her son coming, there was no fattened calf, but there was a celebration!

The father’s forgiving love symbolizes the love of God the Father. The preparation for celebration is also a reminder that God loves his children and is waiting patiently.

Does this parable speak to your present reality as pastors and ministry leaders? The days can grow long and seemingly without end. Remember to continue on with your relationship with God the Father. Our line of vision can become blurred when we wait. Sometimes the blur, it seems, is the distance of the prodigal, at other times the tears of anxiety, love and care make it difficult to see.

We don’t know the future, but we do know that the Father is waiting.


Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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