com­ing home

I’m coming home, I’m coming home Tell the Lord, I’m coming home Let the rain wash away all the sins of yesterday I know that His Kingdom awaits and He’s forgiven my mistakes I’m coming home, I’m coming home Tell the Lord, I’m coming home

The Way Back

So far we have been focusing on the first half of the parable of the prodigal son which you can find in Luke 15:11-12, 13-16, 17-20. If you read this section, you will notice a certain pattern of movement and you can break the passage up into three sections. The presentation occurs between verses 11-12. The prodigal son moves between verses 13-16. He then moves back between verses 17-20. Now look a little closer. There is frightening detail on the physical things he does and the things that happen to him when he’s away from the Father.

But, on the matter of his return, it would almost appear as if there is only one sentence Luke 15:20. That’s all Jesus says about the physical movement the prodigal son makes when he returns. No mention of how he found the road when he had no money. No mention of how he was able to travel the long distance back. No mention of how he managed not to starve before arriving. Nothing of any of those. Just a simple “And he arose and came to his father.”

So how did he actually make it back? How did he actually return? What about set backs? How frequently did he go back and knock on Potiphar’s door? Can the repentance and the return of the prodigal son really just be boiled down to one sentence? Well, since you are a close reader, you will notice two things. First, I’ve only read the first part of verse 20. Second, I’ve somehow been ignoring verse 17-19. The second part of verse 20 hurts my pride. I did not anticipate it or my reaction to it before I began to write. Which goes to show that it is not enough to remember the stories of the Bible, we actually have to read and reread them Reptition. So let’s deal with verse 17-19 first.

Luke 15:17-19

is unique in the story. There is no section similar to it in the rest of the story. Can you see what makes it unique? It is not physical action. It is not physical speech. It is heart speech. It is a change in heart position. No one else does that in the rest of the passage. The prodigal son did not ponder or think this deeply before he leaves. He just asks for his money and leaves. But in returning, Jesus reveals to us that his heart must shift before his body does. Jesus spends far more time talking about the shift of his heart and a very small amount of time talking about the movement of his legs.

Opening Moves

You may have discovered, as I have discovered through many tears, that the heart does not move easily. Its memory is longer than that of an elephant. You may have also discovered that the heart is like a locomotive. It moves and steamrolls all your carefully laid plans. After all this talk about moving your heart, the fact is this: you don’t have to worry about moving your heart. Your heart is going to move even when you want it to stop. In fact, it is already moving and you can’t stop it from moving. The only thing you can do is give it direction and orientation. You don’t move the arrow through the air. All you can do is pull back and aim. Jesus focuses in verse 17-20 not on the deeds done by the repentant son but on how he re-positioned his heart.

So how did the prodigal son re-position his heart? Well to be obvious, consider Luke 15:17. “When he came to his senses”. And here I side with my Calvinist brothers and sisters. This coming to one’s senses is completely dependent on the providence and choosing of God. How does a man or a woman who has lost their mind ever come to their senses? If you have dealt with people with any kind addiction before, you know that this does not always happen. Consider the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s prophesied and resultant schizophrenia in Daniel 4. Now read what he says in Daniel 4:34. His madness lasted for seven years and did not end till his reason returned to him. Jeremiah 3:21 echos the same thing. From Jeremiah 2, Israel’s descent and into sin has been thoroughly mapped and described. Yet all of a sudden, without preamble, they are weeping and wailing over their sin in Jeremiah 3:21. How?!!

Yet have you not felt this before? You did something wrong and walked completely in sin. But just before you repent, it is almost like you are awakened, come to your senses and then you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” Yet how does one come to their senses? How does a lost man know to look up and say, “I am lost”? A lost mind does not know it is lost. Only The Humble One who doesn’t announce Himself does this. Like with all of creation, all you see of Him are His Great Works. No one preached to this lost son. No one could. In fact, only after his senses returned did he begin to preach to himself! So before he could return, the Holy Spirit had to open his eyes and return his senses. Then and only then could he repent. The return, the re-positioning of your heart, does not begin with you. It begins when God opens your eyes and brings you to your senses.

The Steering Wheel

We know it was the Holy Spirit that did this work because of the words that next came out of the prodigal son’s mouth. Sometimes, the devil returns the senses but only so that the person may see the fruit of their madness and begin to despair. The prodigal son could have come to his senses and decided to become a crime lord and this also would be despair (See Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death). But this he did not do. Instead, like Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:34, like Israel in Jeremiah 3:21, like David in 2 Samuel 12:13, he looked to God, recognized his sin and then he humbled himself.

But here, I must begin to side with my Armenian brothers and sisters. The motion begins by the Spirit and is empowered by the Spirit but the prodigal son made a choice to accept and then he said the words. As many women have observed, a man may fall utterly in love but even if he is falling for the sun, he still may not commit. All the gravity in the universe cannot make him say, “I do”. All the passion cannot make you say the words. You still have to choose to say the words. To quote Andrew Peterson in The Good Confession, “Son, just do the best that you can and say the words, ‘I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God’ “. That there is the turning of a heart. To the paralyzed man, Jesus said “Stand up, take your mat and walk” John 5:8. Yet what if this man had not chosen to stand? But thank God he made the choice and stood up. So, although he was pulled up by The Word and his feet restored by The Word, this man still chose to stand.

It appears then that there are two things that will complete the turn of a heart but in reality they are only one thing. First you have to make a choice. Making a choice means you exert this thing you have that is called the will. The heart is steered by the will. Oh the will may seem weak when the heart gets heavy and rushes ahead like an unstoppable locomotive. But is not the steering wheel smaller than the car? Is not the rudder much smaller than the ship? So also, the will, though tiny, steers the heart.

The first thing the Holy Spirit redeems and helps you rediscover when He brings you to your senses is your will. The second thing you have to do is say the words. Unless you say the words, your heart will not turn around. James compares the tongue to a rudder that steers great ships James 3:4-5. By the words of the tongue, the heart is turned. The prodigal son spoke words with his tongue (?aramaic) in Luke 15:17-19 but he also spoke body language by getting up and returning in Luke 15:20. Words are words and actions are also words. You have to say the words.

But let us go as far as James takes us. You see James gives us unity between the will and the word. The physical and spiritual evidence of the will is the word. Just as faith without works is dead, will without words is dead. It is better to speak them aloud but even if you whisper them to yourself, the same stands: will without words is dead. Choice without action is dead. You cannot really say, “I love you,” until you wear the ring.

Through Much Prayer And Many Tears

This article is for friends, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and neighbors grieving and sorrowing over someone who is lost and blind. You cannot force the one you love to see. You cannot make them come to their senses. Only God can do that. Your role is to pray for the Holy Spirit to come. Prepare your heart through prayer that He might have you as an avenue to enter into their circumstance. Your role is to give them the words that agree with God’s heart John 9:1-3. Words of love. Words of rebuke. Words of encouragement. Words of truth. You cannot see their heart shifting because only God can see the heart. Nevertheless, when the time comes and the Spirit brings them to their senses, these words will become their anchor, the crutch they use to stand and walk.

“Is it not indeed from the LORD of Hosts that the labor of the peo­ple only feeds the fire, and the nations weary them­selves in vain? For the earth will be filled with the knowl­edge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
- Habakkuk 2:13-14

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.