The church is made up of people who are broken, hurting, and troubled people. As the body of Christ we ought to have the heart of Jesus toward those who are hurting. One of the most common expressions about Jesus was “and he had compassion on them”. The church should be a healing body to help us with the struggles and trials of life.
Too often we go to worship God and find help in time of need but only find more guilt because we aren’t living up to the standard. Even worse is that many times the one most in need of compassion find themselves rejected by the church and treated as though their sin is unforgivable.
I think of parents in pain because they have tried every way they knew to bring their children up for good and for God who have watched one or more of those children go completely against what they have taught and tried to exemplify. Few pains can get worse than watching one of your own children travel down a self-destructive path doing everything you taught them not to do and not doing the things they should be doing. All kinds of things can break a parents heart. It may be a child on drugs, or one living an immoral life that hurts them and the whole family. When that child becomes an adult with children of their own and is so steeped in the wrong way of life that they can’t bring their children up with right or healthy attitudes the pain gets worse. Every parent in such situations wonders if it was something they did wrong or something they failed to do right that caused all the problems. In such times you look for someone who understands and can empathize with you. You long for someone who could help in some way.
If the church followed the pattern of Jesus they would offer the story of God as a hurting parent waiting for His prodigal son to come home. No story of Jesus has been told more often and has touched so many hearts as the one we know as “The prodigal son” but which is really the story of “The loving Father” who is representative of God. In Luke 15 Jesus was being criticized for being a friend to tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders wanted him to fit into their mold. Jesus responded with three great stories. First of a shepherd with 100 sheep. One became lost and he left the 99 to go searching for the one that was lost until he found it and brought it back with joy. Jesus said, “Even so there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 just persons who need no repentance.”
Then he told of a woman that had ten silver coins and one was lost. She lit the candle, swept the house and searched until she found the coin, then she called her friends together to rejoice because she had found her coin. “Even so there is joy in heaven among the angels when one sinner repents.”
Then the greatest story of all. A father had two sons. The younger of the sons came to him saying “Give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” He wanted his inheritance while his dad was still alive. It was as though he had said “I wish you were dead so I could have the inheritance.” His father divided his goods among the sons. The younger boy took his money and went to a far country where he wasted everything living riotously. Then the day came when he had nothing, was begging for help and no one came to his aid.
He found a pig farmer who gave him a job feeding pigs. He was so hungry he wanted to eat the pods he fed the pigs but no one gave him anything. There he came to himself and said, “In my father’s house even the servants have plenty to eat and some to spare but here I’m perishing with hunger. This is what I will do. I’ll go to my father and say to him ‘I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I’m not worthy to be called your son. Make me a hired servant.” He arose and came to the father. His father saw him coming from a long distance and ran to meet him. As he tried to start his speech the father threw his arms around him and kissed him.
I suspect he tried many times to make his speech but the father wasn’t wanting a speech. He was glad to have his son home. “Go get the best robes for his back, shoes for his feet and a ring for his finger. Kill the calf that we have fattened for a celebration and let’s have a party. My boy is at home alive though he was dead. He has been found though he was lost.
The party must have been great. When the older brother came home he heard the music and dancing and called a servant to find out what was going on. “Your brother is home and your dad has killed the calf we had been fattening.” The older brother was mad and refused to go in. The father came out to meet with him. This time the older brother got his speech out. “All these years I’ve been serving you and you never killed the calf for me. I never broke any of your rules but this son of yours came home who has wasted your money living with prostitutes and you kill for him the calf we had fattened for celebration.” Listen to the father. “Son it was right for me to kill the calf we had been fattening because your brother was lost and is found, he was dead and is alive again.”
The father is God. He never failed in any way as a parent. But both his sons went astray. The younger one went away to live riotously. The older son went away in his heart exchanging sonship for servanthood. He became envious, hard, and lost his ties with his dad.
How does God feel about parents who have tried hard and still saw their children go astray? He feels compassion as one who has been there and knows what it is like for the sons and daughters you love to wander away and get involved in all the wrong things.
But someone is saying, “Doesn’t the Bible say to train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it?” Yes Proverbs 22:6 says that. But Proverbs is a book of wise sayings not declarations of what will always be the case. As a general rule if you raise your children right they will stay right. But if that is a law it indicts God as Father. It also does away with the right of a child raised right to choose how they will live and for whom they will live. It means that one who is saved if they were raised right can’t fall from grace.
The problem is that we’ve taken a proverb and treated it like a law of God. Every person before God is a free moral agent able to decide for themselves for whom they will live and how they will live. If we bring up a child right they are much more likely to live right and to come back to right if they stray.
A church can either be worldly like the prodigal son, cold and rigid like the older brother or loving and compassionate like the father. Every hurting parent yearns for a church with a heart like the Father’s.