How to Receive Prodigals

In our Prayer Room, we have a wall where hundreds of names are posted of prodigals. We believe that as we pray, God is responding and moving on their hearts. Who knows how long it may take, but do we know what to do when we get that phone call or facebook message? How then will we respond? It’s one thing to labor in prayer for their return, and it’s another thing to not contribute to them leaving again. How do we prepare ourselves to love well those that are closest to our hearts?

We all have probably heard the story about the Prodigal Son in Luke. But what we may not catch is that this story is mostly about the father, not the son. I believe that there is a lot for us to understand and grow in so that we can effectively receive prodigals when they return. So today, let’s see what we can get out of this passage!

“And he arose and came to his father…”           Luke 15: 20a

In this story, we don’t get any information on what was going on with the father while the son was away. However, the son still felt as if he could return home. This is a huge deal! Even in the midst of his rebellious living, there was still something inside of him that remembered his father(in a positive way). To me, this speaks that the father wasn’t the one that cut off the relationship. The picture left with the son was of a father that would accept him.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”        Luke 15: 20b

This example of how the father received his son is so powerful! We see that the father accepted him, withholding none of his love from his son. The father’s love wasn’t just words either but action. There’s no evidence here that the father didn’t believe the sincerity of his son’s return either; he showed the opposite! The father made sure that his son felt his love in a tangible way.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'”  Luke 15: 21

After feeling his father’s love, the son responded like most of us do-with shame. I believe that mixed in this was a heart of repentance. The father though, cuts the son off, not allowing him to wallow in condemnation. The father put no conditions on his son’s return but showed that he accepted him unconditionally. There is also no evidence that the son shared in detail the sins that he had done while away. But even if he had, how we respond is really important. Even in that, we want to show compassion and mercy instead of shock and anger.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.'”   Luke 15: 22-23

The father didn’t just show his love personally to his son, but very openly did so. He threw a huge celebration with joy! He didn’t shamefully hide the fact that his son had returned. Nor did he apologize to the town for accepting him back. He didn’t keep it from others because he was actually rejoicing about his son’s return.

Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing…but he was angry and refused to go in.”   Luke 15: 25, 28

When such a matter is made public like this, realize that others in your family or church may not respond well. Many may not agree with you accepting them back into your family so lovingly and boldly. We must protect them from the accusations, not letting others’ reactions cause the prodigal to run away again. Leaders might even try to put very high unreasonable demands and standards on the prodigal to prove the sincerity of their return. But we must be their defender who is in their corner, constantly speaking love and truth into their hearts.

“‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.'”   Luke 15: 32

Here we see the great confidence that the father has in his son’s return. There is no doubt or skepticism in his words. The father believed in the good intention of his son. Sure, this doesn’t mean that the process will be easy and struggle free. Even through difficulty, we must let love win and be the consistent theme like we see in this story.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.”   Galatians 6:1

I believe that this sums it all up! We are to restore those that have fallen with gentleness when they return. The watching out for temptation could mean in the area that the one being restored fell in. But I believe it also could be referring to the temptation of reacting in the flesh toward this one throughout the process that it takes. Because Paul clearly makes a comparison between the one in the wrong and flesh verses the spiritual one who should have a gentle spirit. We should know that the restoration process isn’t a quick formula. It can take years and it doesn’t mean that the prodigal will do it perfectly. Even through struggle, even through relapses back into sin, will we still be gentle? Or will we be tempted to get in our flesh and give up pouring in love and mercy? Will we be faithful to the prodigals in our lives when they return? Because the father in this story was just that- consistent in love.


Do you have a prodigal in your life that you are praying for and believing will return? Do you find it hard to remain in faith and not give up on them? How have you responded or seen others respond to prodigals that have returned? What was worked and what didn’t?


One thought on “How to Receive Prodigals

  1. It’s not only those who leave and return, it’s those in church that have yet in reality to make their way home to God. There comes a point in church where you realize that you are the prodigal, not just the other guy, and you view others who’ve fallen as fellow prodigals. That view from under is always compassion and welcome and love.

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