Robert Griffith | 9 July 2022
Robert Griffith
9 July 2022


I want to tell you an old, old story. But I need you to take some time out. Don’t read this on the run. Don’t scroll through it quickly. Wait until you are alone, fully attentive and ready for God to speak directly to your spirit. It is a story you have read and heard many times – but not like this, I suggest. So come with me now as we allow the Spirit of God to take us deep into the heart of God.

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A tired, hungry, lonely young man stands with an empty bucket in his hands. He watches the pigs eat the slop and quietly licks his fingers – appalled to think that he is desperate enough to eat pig food. He thinks back to his early days, kicks the dust, and wonders how he ever ended up in this horrible place. He looks around, but he’s alone. It’s just him and the swine, and now that he has dumped the food for them, they pay him no attention whatsoever. As he stands there the irony breaks through in one clear moment of despair: even the pigs are better off than him. Raised on his father’s farm, raised as a good Jewish boy, the suggestion that one day he would be feeding pigs – no, it’s worse than that: the suggestion that one day he would be envious of what the pigs were eating – well, that would have seemed impossible back then, when he was home where he belonged.

But that was many miles ago. That was before he set out on his own; confident that he knew best – eager to experience all of life with the inheritance he demanded from his father. Finally he was breaking free! That’s how he had thought about it and indeed for a while the freedom felt like a wild wind rushing through his hair – it was glorious and exciting and exhilarating . . . until it wasn’t. When the money ran out, so did his new found friends and the wind in his hair was replaced by a piercing chill in his soul. The famine in the land at that time seems to be a cruel metaphor of his life.

Standing there in the feedlot, his heart feels more empty than his stomach. The growling in his spirit cries out to be fed; he is having hunger pains of the soul. But there’s no one around – no one who cares. Love is as distant as the angry echo of an old bitter argument. He squints his eyes and turns to look back into the west. Deep in his spirit he feels a stirring – just for a moment – like something or someone is calling him. Though it seems a lifetime away, he has a fleeting memory of a time when hugs were as common as laughter. The feeling is gone as quickly as it comes as the reality of life crashes in again and he licks the slop off his fingers once more in an attempt to ease the pain in his stomach.

Across the miles and far, far away, a father wipes the corner of his eye as he looks again down a long, empty road. This has become a habit now that he can’t seem to break. Every time he walks from the house to the field he looks down that road and wonders … hopes … longs for the day when his love will once again be received and enjoyed by his precious son.

Sometimes the wind creates a dust cloud on the road and just for a moment his hopes leap and he starts to run towards it, but then it blows away and disappears. There’s a place in his heart that grieves far more than any anger or disappointment he may have once felt. For him, love conquered hurt a very long time ago and he wishes for a way to send a ‘welcome back’ message out around the world so that his lost child may hear it and return to him.

Every night the father looks at an empty chair at the table and thinks of a lost treasure – his child. They are far apart, these two, and yet just a heartbeat away. Grace is about to break out and spill its joyful tears on the embrace of reconciliation. The moment is building when love will overcome every obstacle and all distance will be removed. Grace happens when the emptiness of sin and rebellion and self-inflicted consequences are met by the welcome of love and mercy and forgiveness. Grace is a hospitality of the heart that overcomes the estrangement of broken relationships.

No matter how far away the child has wandered; no matter how distant and estranged he feels; no matter how hopeless things may seem – it cannot break the genetic bond … the linking of hearts between Father and child – and the memory of home.  No matter how hurt the father’s heart has been; no matter how much he has had to endure; no matter how long he has suffered – it cannot break the memory of his child nor quench his desire to hold him again and lavish grace and forgiveness and love upon him.

In the midst of famine there remains the memory of home. In the place of feast, there is a welcome for the wayward child. We live our lives between famine and feast – sometimes feeling so estranged that we wonder how God could possibly care; other times overwhelmed by the news that, even so, God yet holds open for us a place of welcome called home.

The prodigal suffers in this famine and has nothing to eat. In fact he begins to envy the food that the pigs get. Yet in the midst of the famine he remembers a dinner table. It is a table where even the hired help get fed. And then it comes again … that conviction … that sense … that inner calling … that stirring in his spirit … somehow, in the midst of his rebellion and sin, he feels drawn to his home … not as a son anymore … Heaven forbid … he no longer feels worthy to be called a son! He is starting to ponder the idea of going home as a lowly servant  –  anything, he thinks, just to stay alive. There is nowhere else to go.

So he decides to go back and plead with his father to become one of the servants. He begins his long, tiring journey home, all the way thinking of the many reasons why his Father would probably not even let him on his land, much less into his home, But now and then, as he stops to rest his malnourished body, something, or someone feeds his soul as the longing for home grows.

As the scenery becomes familiar again, he realises that he is very close to his father’s home. Very soon he will no longer wonder about his father’s response he will know for sure.  His heart beats faster. He’s not sure if it’s fear or hope he feels. Perhaps a little of both.

For a thousandth time, the father looks down the road – weary of disappointment and weary of love ungiven. But this time the cloud of dust is filled with promise – the wind does not blow this one away – it moves with a familiar pace; it holds a hopeful step.The father’s joy sends him running full speed down the road calling behind him:  “My child is back! The one I thought dead is alive. Set the table! Prepare a feast! We must celebrate! For my son was lost and now he is found; he was dead but now he is alive.”

The son lifts his weary head from the dusty road and sees someone running and shouting.  His heart leaps into his throat as he anticipates the worst. Can his father’s anger be so strong after all this time? Will he now face the consequences of his rebellion as the well-deserved wrath of his father is poured out upon him?  Should he turn back?  Was this a stupid idea?  Why would his father even think of letting him work on the farm as a servant after what he did to him.

In the midst of this mental anguish and turmoil he looks again at this rare site of his father running towards him. He had never seen him run before. In fact he had never seen any Jewish elder run … it just wasn’t right. Then he noticed his face. He was not angry, but overwhelmed with joy. Tears ran down the father’s cheeks as he ran towards his son with arms outstretched and to the utter amazement of the son, before he could even open his mouth, he felt that embrace, as grace overwhelmed the shame of sin.

The love of his father overwhelmed the son in an instant. In utter amazement and bewilderment He knew that those brief longings he had experienced in the foreign land; those little convictions; those little oases in the desert; were in fact the love of his father inside him which had been there all his life – a love so strong that it could never, ever be extinguished by his rebellion and sin. In this holy moment; in this incredibly sombre, yet exhilarating moment, godly sorrow overwhelmed the son.  A sorrow which tore his heart in two.  Not a worldly sorrow which is sorry for getting caught out, but a deep Godly sorrow for the pain and hurt he had inflicted on one who loved him so much.

Confession came easy in the environment of grace and love and the son then spoke freely of his sin. He was forgiven before he confessed – his father’s grace and love was overwhelming. But grace and truth came together and sin was called sin and admitted and the first fruit of that was repentance – genuine, God-given, heart-wrenching repentance.  From that day forward, the son was a changed man. His view of himself, His father and life had changed forever because he responded to the call to return home. The grace of his father was not without effect – it completely changed his son’s life.

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Now that is the story to explain all stories. That is the parable to beat all parables. That is the gospel in one real, human encounter. It’s the story of the Forgiving Father – which some people call the parable of the Prodigal Son.

So let me ask you: have you come home to your Father yet? Have you felt His embrace? Do you know how it feels to have all your sin, guilt and shame overwhelmed by your Father’s grace, mercy and love? Perhaps you remember a time when you ‘came home’ and felt that embrace. I am sure it was a wonderful day that you will never forget.

But let me ask you another question about this re-told old story. Do you realise that your Father is permanently looking down that road, waiting for another opportunity to embrace you and heal you and make you whole again?  You see this amazing story is not about something the Father did once – this story is about Who the Father is. This story connects us with the Father’s heart, not just His actions. That’s why the Bible says, “His mercies are new every morning,” and, “His grace is sufficient,” and, “His power is made perfect in our weakness.”

This story reveals the heart of our Heavenly Father –  this is Who He is at every moment of every day we walk this earth. He is always longing for us to ‘come home’ whatever that might mean at any given moment in our lives. Nothing you have done or could ever do will change the heart of your Father. He will always be waiting, watching and hoping to embrace you again and again and again.

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