Prodigals, Their Loved Ones and the Boundaries that Helps Bring About Their Inner Transformation
Every person on earth will make the journey within the difficult geography of their soul if they are to enter the kingdom of God. This journey starts at the bottomless pit of a “give me spirit” and hopefully ends at the entryway of a “make me spirit”.
The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways…Proverbs 14:14
Jesus explains this journey of transformation in a story about a father who had two sons. One day the younger son came to his father and asked him for his inheritance. Apparently this son had become restless and discontented with his life on the family farm and wanted to know what else life had to offer. Perhaps he was already flirting with sin and worldliness. Maybe it was the drudgery of the daily chores in the family household. Whatever the case, we can read between the lines and see that this son wanted more than he was getting out of life. Like many of us in our younger years we often don’t appreciate what we have and often long for some elusive idea of what will make us happy… love, independence, drugs, money, sex, power, notoriety, significance, an exciting career, etc.
The Discontented Younger Son
The Lord doesn’t go into much detail, but since human nature being as predictable as it is, we hear in his first words he wanted more.
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. Luke 15:11-12
Unaware of why he had this vacuum in his heart, the younger son’s emptiness would drive him to search for fulfillment in anything he could get his hands on. He probably didn’t realize the pain he was causing his father by asking for his inheritance in the first place. In the Middle East, what this son did was the equivalent of saying “Father I wish you were dead, so I can get my hands on your stuff.” It is amazing how selfish we can be as we seek to fill the void in our hearts.
This son was too young to realize that this glitch is in our DNA. This glitch comes from our forefather Adam, as he succumbed to Satan’s deception, and broke God’s command, so he could live independent of the Creator. Satan introduced this “willful independence” into the world and the resulting “never satisfied emptiness” that leads to death. Only God can fill the place in our hearts designed for Him in the first place. Because we are designed for the limitless wonders of an all-powerful God; nothing… absolutely nothing can fill this void and satisfy us except God Himself.
Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied. Proverbs 27:20
This is a good place to remind people even if we were the perfect parents, the perfect spouse or friend to our wayward loved one; the “give me spirit” will still be unsatisfied. If Lucifer could find fault in the perfection of heaven under the leadership of a perfect God, then you will realize this “give me spirit” can only be resolved by its death.
The Wise Parent, Spouse or Friend
Parents, spouses and friends, listen closely. The Lord has shown us the key to how we are to deal with a child or loved one who is restless, unfulfilled, or who has a rebellious renegade spirit. This wise father knew he couldn’t force his son to love him and stay with the family so he released him.
…so he divided to them his livelihood. Luke 15:12
And so must you! You must clearly divide up your inheritance to those in your life. When we speak of inheritance, we aren’t speaking only of money, but all that you are willing to give and do for your child, spouse, or loved one. This could mean money, food, housing, cars, payments on insurance, bail money, and the list goes on. You must give them a clear picture that what they have coming to them from you is a limited amount, that must be used with wisdom. You must clearly divide up what you “will” and “will not” do for them in this life. Every relationship needs to have these boundaries…a river without banks is a swamp.
If you do not do this, you will be forever susceptible to them coming back to you for money and other things. Every time they come back to you, you will feel the pressure to either give them what they want or explain why you won’t. Sometimes parents or spouses cave in to their wayward loved ones because they feel they are partly responsible for their unhappiness and their rebellion. If you are not vigilant, your emotions will let them continually take advantage of your lack of boundaries. They will suck you dry emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Their bottomless pit, their emptiness will devour everything they have and everything you have. They must see you are limited, so they can discover the limitless God.
If they keep taking advantage of you, you may wonder why God hasn’t answered your prayers to change them. After all, you may think to yourself, “I’ve shown them the love of God by continually giving them stuff.” But this is where you are wrong! You’ve shown them that they don’t have to rely on God, especially when you bail them out every time things get tough. You’ve also shown them that even you don’t have the courage or conviction to live by the Scriptures yourself. This wishy-washy, sloppy-agape (love) will do more harm to your loved ones than you can imagine.
I’ve counseled many frustrated parents and spouses who are over-extended on their credit cards, with their own finances in shambles, trying to help a renegade son or daughter or spouse who is living in sin. These believers think they are giving witness to the love of God when in fact, they are saying indirectly by their deeds, “It’s okay that you’re sleeping around and living in sin. I’ll help you overcome the consequences of your ungodly behavior. I’ll make it easier for you to live without God.”
If you are led by your human emotions and not by the Word of God, you will communicate by your deeds that it’s alright living contrary to the Word of God. Remember, God’s love is unconditional, but His blessings are always conditional. With no boundaries on your resources clearly established, the back-slider doesn’t feel or recognize the impact of his Godless life. Furthermore, we have no moral authority to compel our wayward loved ones to live according to the Scriptures, when they can look into our eyes and see our own emotional compromises with the Word. Sin will take any opportunity to stay the course.
The renegade must see clearly when your resources end and when he or she must look to God to have their needs met. Our fallen human nature causes us to consider God only as a last option. We will reach for everything except Him. It is imperative that we let “Life on earth” impact him or her with all its fury, thus driving them to their knees, and ultimately to God.
They Always Go Far Away
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. Luke 15:13-14
Once an individual decides that a godly lifestyle isn’t for them, they will usually leave “not many days” after they are able. This is another painful stab in the heart of the father. As soon as the son got the cash he split! Notice the wise father doesn’t argue and try to keep his son home. He knew that the Lord would have to break him of this “give me spirit”.
Jesus says he went into a far country. Your lost loved ones might only be across town or they could be across the country but they usually go far from the way they were raised. Some of the wildest sinners on earth are those who were raised in church, around the things of God. However, we see his “give me” heart caused him to waste his possessions, as he tried to fill his life with everything but God. This intense lifestyle usually ends up this way. Because the conviction is usually much greater with those who knew the ways of God, they have to work harder to quench the conviction. This results in them spending more than they have to, to fill not only the void they have in their lives, but now they have to silence the conviction they feel. This often leaves even the wealthiest people in the world financially and emotionally bankrupt. Soon after, we see a famine came to his life and he really begins to understand what it means to be in want.
They Will Often Join Themselves to the Wrong People
Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. Luke 15:15
Here we see him joining himself not to God, but to a citizen of the foreign land he was in. He literally became a slave, as do all of us when we live outside of God’s leadership. We may become a slave to the wrong boyfriend or girlfriend, or perhaps a career, or pornography, drugs and alcohol. Every one of us will be a slave to someone or something because, at our basic state, we are still sheep in need of a shepherd. Even sheep with Ph.D.’s will be a servant to something or someone. We can see this principle in Romans 6:16:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death or of obedience to righteousness?
Whomever or whatever you yield yourself to will ultimately be your master. That’s why the smartest thing any of us can do is to join ourselves to the Lord Himself. He is the only One we can join ourselves to and be safe from abuse and bondage. All other masters will leave us tormented, empty or dead.
No One Gave Him Anything
And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. Luke 15:16
Here we see the son willing to eat anything he can get his hands on. The “give me spirit” isn’t so selective anymore, but it still isn’t dead at this point. It isn’t until the last part of verse 16, “and no one gave him anything,” that the beginning of the breakthrough comes. Before we look at the breakthrough, LET THESE WORDS SINK INTO YOUR HEART, “and no one gave him anything.” It is absolutely imperative that we watch very closely what is happening here. In order for this back-slider to come to his senses, he had to come to the place where no one gave him a thing.
That’s why the father divided up his inheritance in the first place. The father recognized the “spirit of the world” in his son and decided what he would and wouldn’t do for him. If you don’t establish clear and concrete parameters for your relationships, you will be devoured by the very demonic desires that are trying to destroy your loved one. Lifeguards are trained to give a drowning victim a flotation device and stay clear of them lest they pull them under as well.
Countless believers get sucked into taking care of a lost loved one only to discover that their sin is not only ruining the addict but their family as well. We must not love them with human, emotional love, but with the true love of God that will set them free. As long as there is an “enabler” who continues to help this person in their addiction or rebellion they will never find freedom. The reason they won’t find freedom is because they’ll never reach out in holy desperation to the only one who can give them their true freedom – Jesus Christ.
Why didn’t anyone help this boy out? Could it be because of the prayers of the wise father? Was the father praying the “hedge” around his son? Remember that without clear boundaries the son’s pitiful condition will continue for years and years as he shows up now and then looking for a hand out. Was the father actually praying his boy would end up in this situation in the first place? Have you ever heard of the principle of praying the hedge?
Praying the Hedge
There is a spiritual principle of prayer taken from the book of Hosea chapters one and two called “praying the hedge”. Hosea was a prophet of God and was told by God to marry a woman of harlotry to illustrate how God was married to the rebellious nation of Israel. We can see here that God really does know how it feels to have a loved one going astray.
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, and wall her in, so that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.” Hosea 2:6-8
God put a hedge of thorns around Hosea’s backslidden wife so her lovers would feel uncomfortable around her. She then tried to pursue them, but couldn’t catch up to them. Finally, she realized it was better for her to return to her husband than to be alone. Could this have been what the wise father was praying for his younger son? Could this be the reason “nobody gave him anything?”
He Came To Himself
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!” Luke 15:17
The statement, But when he came to himself, represents the beginning of his breakthrough. This is when we recognize the real us in our true condition. When a person really hits bottom, they will find that what they thought was the bottom will drop out and fall another ten stories into despair beyond what they could conceive. Now they are the person without the money, the care free sex, the popularity, the position, the fame. We are left with the phony friends, the deceitful lover, the sexually transmitted disease, the failed get rich schemes, the false religion, the ruined reputation. What they thought would make them happy turned against them and destroyed them. They took Satan’s bait and now they are ensnared in his trap and unable to get out.
They then begin to realize they came into this world naked and they will leave this world the same. Quite often it’s not until they are in the filth of the pig slop that they begin to see clearly what their decisions have gotten them into.
The fame they thought they needed so much, the lover they thought made them feel so alive, or the career they thought would make them feel important and significant all seem to come up short. They eventually discover that the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it still needs to be mowed and it has just as much poop as their yard did. Suddenly they realize they are not all that smart. When they see themselves in their true condition, as spiritually and emotionally bankrupt, lost and starving for purpose in life without the means to save themselves, their road to salvation becomes clear.
The Son Comes Home
I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Luke 15:18
Here we see the wayward son saying, “I will arise,” not to look for loan, not to work out another scheme, but rather he would arise and put his repentance into action. He was going back to his family to repent. It is important to note that this son believed he would be welcomed back home if he repented. Something in his father’s life and actions led him to believe this. The wise father stood by his convictions, but in the spirit of love. And so you must always let it be known that your loved one is welcome home when they are repentant.
The son acknowledged to his father that he sinned against heaven. True repentance recognizes that we’ve first sinned against God, then against each other. Do you remember the prayer of repentance King David prayed after He committed adultery and murder?
Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight. Psalm 51:4
Here we see he sins against man, but David realizes his sin was an offense firstly towards God. Listen to the backslider’s own words, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
The “Make Me” Prayer
And I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants. Luke 15:19
The transformation is complete when we hear these beautiful words coming from this restless, self-centered individual, when he says, “I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Notice, there isn’t a “give me spirit” anymore. He’s realized that it was that selfish attitude that got him in the mess he was in. It’s at this place that the back-slider finally understands that he doesn’t need more things in his life, he needs to be changed from the inside. Listen again to David’s words. True repentance can only take place when we realize that we are helpless sinners to the core…
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5
He recognized his very nature must be transformed if his life would ever get back on track. This change is what must take place in the heart of every person running from God. We must stop praying give me prayers and start praying make me prayers. We all need a nature change, and then our behavior will change automatically.
When God Ran
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. Luke 15:20
Jesus, using this parable to illustrate the love of God, reveals the heart of God, as we see the only place in the Bible where God runs. In the Middle East it would be humiliating for a father to do this, especially for a son living a depraved life with sinners. But this reveals the heart of our God. God will run towards every man, woman, and child who turns from their ways and calls on Him. It doesn’t matter how far away a person is from God. In this story, the prodigal son was a great way off, but we see that the Father saw him. He was always looking for His son to return even though they are far away. Here we see Jesus reveal the Father’s heart in the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. What an awesome and merciful God we serve. He keeps His eye on us even though we are a great distances away, doing unmentionable things. David wrote about this in Psalms 139:7-10;
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.
This is the heart of a loving God who wants to show mercy and compassion to us, if we will repent of going our way and choose His.
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.” Luke 15:22
This is an example of true forgiveness and restoration: The father restored his wayward son to his place as a son in his household. The son doesn’t even get a chance to fully repent. The father in essence said “we don’t have time for that… we must celebrate”. Notice how this wise parent doesn’t hold his past over his son’s head. When someone is truly repentant, they are as clean as if they never sinned because of the blood of Jesus, and we must treat our loved ones the same.
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. Luke 15:23-24
The father rejoiced greatly that his son came home, because he understood that his wayward son was dead and lost. Regardless of how you’ve been taught about “eternal security” (once saved, always saved), Jesus Himself gives us His Heavenly Father’s appraisal of the son’s condition – he was dead and lost of his own choosing. God cannot make someone choose Him and His eternal life. Not even one of His own sons. This is why the father was so concerned for his son and so ecstatic when he returned. The father knew his son was really lost and really dead and in danger of eternal judgment.
Uh-Oh, Here Comes the Angry Older Brother!
Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.” But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. Luke 15:25-28
The older brother hears the partying going on and wonders what all the excitement is about. When he finds out his younger brother is back from a life of raising hell and his dad is throwing a party for him, he becomes furious. He refuses to participate in the celebration. His father then comes out and pleads with his oldest son to understand the reason for the festivities. The elder son was understandably angry. After all, he played by the rules. And now it seemed like his father was bending the rules by not scolding or chastising his son for living like the devil. It didn’t seem fair.
He must have said something like “That son of yours got to live a life of sin and now that he’s home he gets a party.” The oldest son complains that he never got the kind of attention this back-slider “son of yours” is getting now. With that statement the older son was breaking relationship with his father and his brother. By refusing to go to the feast, this son was publicly denouncing his father’s action, which was complete disrespect in this culture. Once again we see the loving father reach out to another wayward son. This time the son he was reaching out to was the one who stayed at home. The father reminds his son of the seriousness of the situation. Your brother was dead and lost; it is right that we should be glad.
As we look at the older brother’s demeanor towards his brother, one might wonder if his duty-bound legalism and cold-heartedness toward his younger brother could have been one of the reasons the younger son left home in the first place. This younger son evidently did not feel part of his “responsible” older brother’s way of life. Did the younger brother want to leave home and his church because he didn’t want to end up like his lifeless legalistic older brother?
This is often true in many of our churches today. The new converts or young people are seen more as a nuisance and a disturbance to the way we must do things. Young people are deciding whether or not they want to live the “Christian life” as it is portrayed in the lives of the older saints but often see lifelessness and hypocrisy. No wonder why they want to leave. The rules and rituals of these institutions don’t foster close and real loving relationships. This coldness is enough to make anyone want to leave the church for some real life.
The Older Brother Secretly Had a “Give Me Spirit” Too
So he answered and said to his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet YOU NEVER GAVE ME a young goat that I might make merry with my friends.” Luke 15:29
The roots of the “give me spirit” are evident in the older brother when he angrily says, “…you never gave me” a young goat, etc… The big brother stayed home trying to earn what his father had already given him, but his heart wasn’t truly there. He wanted “more” than he was getting, he was just too religious to recognize it or admit it.
We can see into the heart of the older son who stayed, and recognize that he was just as empty as his younger brother. He wasn’t truly content with what he had because we see him envious of his brother’s party. The older brother was evidently doing what he had been doing all those years out of obligation and works, not love. He was living by lifeless rules and not a loving relationship. He was truly more of a household servant than he was an appreciative son.
Instead of rejoicing in a fulfilling life in God many Christians are straining to earn what God has freely given them. The self-sufficient “give me spirit” can drive us to try to find fulfillment in the ways of the world or the ways of religion. Either way causes them to live by their own efforts.
The Father Still has Rebellious Sons and Religious Sons – Which One Are You?
The wise father said something like; “Son I love you not because of what you‘ve done for me but because of who you are, you’re my son. I love your younger brother not for what he has or hasn’t done. But for who he is, he’s my son also.” One wonders which son drifted further from the father in this story. We know the younger son was reconciled, but the story is unclear about the fate of the older. It is an amazing thing to behold that the older son was willing to break relationship with the father because of His kindness to a sinner. This is what the Pharisees stumbled over with Jesus. He didn’t play by the rules as they understood them. He lived by the rule of love! Let us be careful not to follow in the older brother’s footsteps. Let’s be sure we are serving God because we are humble and grateful servants, who are still blown away by the fact that God calls us sons.
First, if you are praying for a child, spouse, relative or friend who is running from God, you must clearly divide up what their inheritance is with you. Establish boundaries. Remember, a river without banks is a swamp. (See Why God Doesn’t Heal Swamps). Let them know how much you will do, or how far you will go for them. People need to know that boundaries are necessary for a fruitful life. Let these boundaries be clear and steadfast. Show them that just as with God, your love is unconditional, but your blessings are conditional. This will help them look less to people and to God as their source.
Secondly, you must accept the fact that in the heart of every wayward person, a “breaking of the self-life” must take place before God can come to their rescue. After all, to have a Savior means we need to be saved from something. As we understand this fundamental change that must take place in the heart of a back-slider, we as their loved ones will know better what to believe and expect as we pray for them. We must remember that we aren’t looking for an outward change in their behavior, but rather a deep fundamental transformation in their heart.
Thirdly, we also will better understand that our loved ones aren’t rejecting us as much as they are rejecting God and His Word. Yes, it hurts when they leave us, but it is more about them rejecting God’s ways than ours. Their deliverance begins when they realize they have sinned against heaven. Always remember that God also sheds the same tears for them as He does for us when we forsake Him. Therefore we should never have a superior attitude towards anyone; regardless of the sin they are involved in.
God has a lot of experience seeing all kinds of renegades repent and come back to Him. God is not a respecter of persons; if He’s done it for others He’ll do it for your loved ones as well. Keep praying for them and don’t give up. Finally, may the Lord change all of us from one who prays, “give me”, to one who prays, “make me” like You, Lord, please “make me” like You! Amen.