Restored to God
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. ~ John 1:12
One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced has been seeing a handful of my friends become parents through adoption. Each story is unique. One couple adopted the last child allowed to leave Russia with an American family. One person adopted as a single mom. Another friend and her husband have specifically adopted a son with Down’s Syndrome. While most have adopted infants or young children, one couple I know adopted two sisters in their early teens. Some of the new family members gained new siblings right away, some gained them a few years down the road, while others remained as the only children in the family.
Yes, each adoption story I know of is unique. But they are also very much the same. Each kid came into their new family because of some challenge their biological parents faced. Each child had to change and adjust to a new routine, new people, and new family. The parents of each child prayed for them, planned for them, and literally went to court to declare them part of their family. They all were chosen for their families. And, at some point, they will each have to decide if they will fully embrace their adoptive family or walk away from them.
We face the same decision in our faith. We all have a unique story and God longs for each of us to choose to be part of him family. A saying which was popular in my church circles growing up is that God doesn’t have any grandchild, only children. It was a reminder that we each, at some point in our lives, must choose to be part of God’s family and accept Him as our heavenly Father. For some, this choice happens when we are young, it’s a given, it just is. Many who have grown up in faith-focused family can’t tell you a time where they didn’t know Jesus as their Saviour because God has always been real for them. Others can remember a time or a moment where they realized that church wasn’t just a torture their parents inflicted on them each Sunday but part of worshipping a real God who mattered. And we all love the dramatic conversion stories of the person who experienced God in a worship service, or a sermon, or even randomly on the street and repented, turning their life completely over to Jesus in a heartbeat and never looking back. Whatever your version, the basic story is still the same: we all choose to be part of God’s family.
It’s not always a choice that is easy to stick to so, inevitably, many have seasons in life where they distance themselves. It is not uncommon for young adults to explore churches other than the tradition in which they were raised. Nor is it uncommon for them to choose different priorities or to worship away from traditional churches. Over the decades of both professional and volunteer ministry, I’ve talked to lots of parents who are wondering how to get their young adult children back to church. The answer, to love them as Jesus loves us: unconditionally. To be real about your faith, your struggles, and to let them know that your love isn’t conditional in anyway.
Luke 15 tells a story about a father’s unconditional love and how it ultimately brings his wayward son home. The story of the prodigal son is a well-known story and favorite of many. Allow me to share a brief summary.
A wealthy father has two sons. The younger son decides that life on the farm isn’t for him and, in a show of unthinkable disrespect, demands his share of the inheritance long before his father’s death. The father isn’t about forcing either of his sons to choose a life they don’t want and so he grants his young son’s request which would have amounted to about 1/3 of his total wealth. The young son leaves his father’s home to live the life he always dreamed of living: parties, drinking, and generally doing what feels good in the moment. It wasn’t long before all of his money was gone…and so were all of his “friends.” As he cared for and lived amongst pigs, wishing he could eat as well as they did, he realized how foolish he had been.
He got to thinking and realizing that even the lowest of his father’s servants were treated better than he was being treated in the moment. They were better fed, better clothed, and better housed. They were way better off than he was. Knowing he had greatly dishonored his father and was likely disowned by his entire family, he determined that the absolute best he could hope for in returning home was to be allowed to become his father’s lowest servant. Perhaps his father loved him enough to let him return as a servant instead of starve with the pigs despite what he had done. And to be fair, in that culture, allowing such a disrespectful, dishonoring, and now sinfully tainted individual, regardless of their relationship to anyone who lived there, back onto the property in any capacity at all would have been considered an act of unbelievable mercy by the father. In this culture, returning to his father was a long shot at best only attempted in the hopes that his father genuinely loved and cared about him. Most fathers would have turned such a son away at the gate.
The father’s love for his son, it turns out, is genuine and true and far greater than the son ever imagined. Not only was he allowed to speak to his father but he was enthusiastically welcomed home. As soon as he spotted his son walking towards home, he ran to embrace and welcome him. A robe and a ring, important symbols of belonging to a family, were gifted immediately to the son by his father. The father threw a party the best food he could offer. He declared it a holiday in his home. He leaves absolutely no room for anyone to doubt his love for his younger son.
It’s the same when we find ourselves walking home to God. Each time we sin, we walk away from God. Sometimes it is big and dramatic while we sprint the opposite direction at full speed. Most of the time is one small step at a time until we realize we are a long way from home. Too often we have the mindset of the prodigal son. We are convinced that God is going to be angry, upset, and turn us away. We prepare ourselves to beg for the meager-est of scraps, wishing only to know we will make it to the next day.
But God isn’t interested in living up to those particular expectations. He is interested in welcoming us into his family regardless of how far we have wandered away. The moment we make the tiniest movement to return home to God, he begins running to greet us and welcome us home. He is indescribably joyful for each time each person chooses to be His child.
- Take some time to read the story of the prodigal son starting in Luke 15:11. It doesn’t end with the son returning home but continues on to describe the older brother’s reaction to his return the father’s actions. Consider in what ways you are like the father and in what ways you are like the older brother when people who have made a mess of their lives find their way home to God through your church, your friend group, your family’s social circles, and so on.
- What are some tangible ways your family has done to show their love and acceptance of you, to assure you that you are welcome? What are some ways you have shown them you accept them and choose to be part of the family?
- Know a young adult, or anyone really, who is trying to figure out faith and God and what they truly believe? Consider how you can reach out to them to let know you love them and care about them regardless of what they decide they believe when it comes to God. How can you be someone they will feel like they can return to when they are ready?