This past weekend, I spent some time teaching a group of great young church leaders from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. As we talked about reaching people, we spent some time considering the journey of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I realize that the point of that parable is not about his journey (it's much more to portray the heart of the Pharisaical older son who received no party), but his story nevertheless has caused me to think about different stages of life:
- The stage of youthful arrogance. The son was so enamored with what life still had ahead of him that he simply wanted to have his money now, run with it and experience all that he perceived life offered him. And, I suspect there's a reason Jesus painted him as traveling to a faraway country—to a place far from responsibility, accountability and family teachings. The gospel might have been something he'd consider, but perhaps down the road ... after testing the world's pleasures. To these folks, we must show the joy of Christ that trumps anything the world offers.
- The stage of riotous living. We can only guess how the son spent his money (and again, that's not the point of the parable anyway), but we know he spent it on "foolish living." I suspect many of us can talk about days when we wasted our energy, our dollars, our time, our training and even our relationships on dumb choices that seemed cool at the time. We weren't likely much open to hearing the gospel in those days—but people who loved us kept praying for us anyway.
- The stage of painful recognition. We come to this point when we realize the hard way that our choices have cost us more than they brought us. They seemed fun at the time, but they hardly gave us any sense of lasting joy. Nor did they offer us any answers when we faced the inevitable downfall our choices brought us. We found ourselves hungry, embarrassed and far away from home. It's by God's grace that somebody came along and taught us or reminded us of the transforming power of the gospel.
- The stage of gracious homecoming. It's hard to put into words what this stage means. The Father stands waiting and watching for us, and He welcomes us with open arms on our return. Love seems most powerful when we realize just how deep the Father's love is—and just how much we don't deserve it. Thank God for the gospel and those who proclaim it!
I'm praying for people in Stages 1 and 2 right now. Would you join me in that praying?
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.
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