Thursday, 14 June 2012

Prodigal Son

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.

~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

I have never read a Henri Nouwen book, but this quote moved me so much.  I am re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis at the moment and a thought occurred to me whilst reading the chapter on Christian Marriage.  The thought wasn't particularly related to marriage, but it was simply how often we try to make the words of Jesus law rather than life, we live in fear of breaking the 'law' and hide ourselves in shame from the giver of life.  The scripture that I thought of in particular was where Jesus speaks about divorce in Matthew 5.  I won't go into it in depth, it's a fairly well known scripture.  I simply reflected how we (in Christian circles) have made this scripture into a law - the 'law' being that unless your spouse is unfaithful you cannot divorce or remarry.  But it isn't law, and I don't believe that Jesus was instituting a new rule.  The only law we are under as Christians is the law of love and it is the lack of love that Jesus is speaking against using marriage as an example; because the ultimate law is to love God and love one another.  There were obviously some who were using God's law as an excuse to discard a wife to get a new one, misusing the teaching of Deuteronomy 24. Not showing the love of God, but selfishness and unfaithfulness.  Of course, God loves us and if our spouse is beating us or being unfaithful...well, he offers us grace for all things.  There is no condemnation for the broken, the damaged, the enslaved.  Equally there is forgiveness offered for those who sin.

Anyway, I said I wouldn't get into that.  The point is that it isn't our work that gets us close to God, it isn't our strict keeping of Old Testament or even New Testament teaching that gets us close to God.  (The Old Testament law simply proved to us we couldn't even in our wildest dreams ever be perfect.) It is God who gets us close to God.   He is the Father seeking, longing for his prodigals.  When we make a mistake, or we sin, we have our speeches (prayers) all planned out, we plan to grovel, we plan to work really hard for him to impress him, we plan to make ourselves lowly slaves for him, we cannot even lift our eyes because we feel so unworthy.  But, before we even reach the threshold of God's throne he is running to us arms outstretched.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! [Here's the planned speech] I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:17-20

God is waiting for you arms outstretched.  Watching the road, scanning the horizon for you.  He is longing for you.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.  Isaiah 40:11

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Luke 19:10

I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. Psalm 119:176

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! Isaiah 30:18


  1. I did copy the Amy Carmichael quote on my fridge, so I can read it every day.
    Yes. I used to strive in my relationship with God. I do a lot less striving - I am learning!
    And since He is omnipresent, I don't need to strive to be close to Him. Hallelujah!

    1. I'm having to unlearn a lot of things I have had drilled into me about how I approach God. It's going to be a long process, but just knowing that God is there arms outstretched moved me to tears yesterday.

  2. I have Nouwen's book but have not read it...maybe this will bump me to do it.

    1. I rather fancy reading a Nouwen book now I've come across this quote! :)