In doing a life inventory, I see my life prior to coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus as an utter mess! Though I grew up as a youth attending synagogue and believing in God, in my high school years I rejected my Jewish faith, seeking fulfillment in accomplishment and worldly pleasures. I became a believer at twenty-three years old. During my college years I was living as a prodigal, focusing my attention on worldly pleasures that didn’t satisfy the deepest longings of my soul. In short, I was hell-bent on wasteful living, looking for love in all the wrong places. In fact, during those dark college years, as I walked in quiet desperation, if someone would have asked, “Are you lost?”, I most certainly would have answered in the affirmative.
But here was the rub. As people entered my life in college trying to share the Lord with me, I initially wanted nothing of it! Though I knew I was a lost soul, Jesus was not the way to be found, in my estimation. I was Jewish and though I believed in God, I lived as though He didn’t exist and rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
But the Holy Spirit kept moving and people kept coming. After years of wayward living, the Lord brought me to a point brokenness and openness. Then He saved me. Today, 33 years after receiving Christ, I am still in awe and wonder over God’s salvation in Him, and am eternally grateful for His saving grace in my life.
You see, I once was lost and now am found.
My process of conversion took time. It was several years between the time I first heard the gospel and trusted in Jesus. And therein, lies an important principle for us to understand as we seek to reach others for Christ – sometimes it takes time – time for the Holy Spirit to move in a life and time for people to recognize their brokenness and need for the Lord.
Case in point – the prodigal son.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son has been coined by some as the greatest short story ever told. I’ll only touch on a few highlights from this remarkable parable told by our Lord.
Wayward Living – “Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:11-16).
For a Jewish boy to waste his inheritance on wasteful (prodigal) living, ultimately fighting with pigs for food to eat, is an incredible picture our Lord paints of brokenness. This son has come to the end of himself. He has hit rock bottom. What will he do?
Reality Check – “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:17-19).
The phrase “he came to himself” is telling. He finally understands his helpless and hopeless condition apart from his father. In a salvation sense, when someone comes to a place of recognizing their helpless and hopeless condition apart from the Lord, this is the beginning of repentance and confession – all by God’s grace!
Repentance and Confession – “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’ (Luke 15:20-21).
Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. This son, who thought he could live independent of his father, not only changes his mind about his father, he goes and confesses his sin before his father. As we ponder our evangelistic efforts, know that when we witness to unbelievers, their rejection of the gospel and the person of Jesus is to be expected, apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Because God alone is the Author of Salvation, only He can turn the hard, cold, unbelieving heart around. As you and I witness to people, we can’t get them to see the light. The Lord must do this singular work. In my life I’m eternally grateful the Lord graciously worked in my life through the witness of His people, moving me from a place of unbelief and rejection to a place where I placed my faith in Jesus! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Reconciliation and Celebration – “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:22-24).
What a beautiful picture of reconciliation and celebration! The son, who had rejected the father, is embraced by his father, though he had nothing to bring to his father except his brokenness and desperation. So it is with the lost sinner in a spiritual sense.
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).
Note the celebration of reconciliation Jesus declared earlier in Luke 15:
“I say to you that likewise 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).
“…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Remember, for those we know and love who are living as a prodigal in unbelief – continue to pray for them, love them, witness to them and be patient with them. For no matter how far they take their sin, the saving hand of God’s grace can reach farther, bringing them to that wonderful place of reconciliation with Him. Because our Savior is able, more than able.