Prodigals. Every church family has them and every church wants them to come home. We preach about it, sing about it, and pray about it. We want the Christian whose life has blown apart because of sin to repent and be restored. We welcome the prodigal to sit in our office and talk about their years away from God and their desire to come home.
We counsel about forgiveness, guilt, and shame. We celebrate their desire to be a faithful follower. We rejoice, we cry, we welcome them home. But too often that is where it stops. We often assume they will know how to stay clean from their addictions, stop hurting people, and be an active participant in the life of our church.
And they have no clue. They have a clean heart and a real desire to be different. But they need help. Guidance. Real tools that they can use to change. As spiritual leaders and shepherds, it is our job to provide those tools.
So here are four things I use with the prodigals who end up in my living room. They’re tings that make a difference, that work.
Prayer and confession. James 5 is powerful concerning the connection between prayer, confession, forgiveness, and healing. The model prayer has the prayer for forgiveness followed by the prayer to resist the evil one and not to go back to the old life. Help them work through appropriate confession. Pray with them and for them. For forgiveness yes, but also for protection.
Walk beside them. They have been off the Jesus road in some way and may now need help learning how to walk in the light. As Paul says in Galatians, the spiritual among us gently restore the fallen. The Hebrew writer reminds us to look to the way our leaders live and imitate them. Walk with, model, teach by example, and do life with the prodigal.
Use Scripture. The Bible is a great tool to rebuke and correct us where needed. It is very helpful to train us in righteousness. It will do that for the prodigal. I know this because, well … I read it in the Bible. And if Scripture was a good tool for Jesus to use in in the wilderness when fighting Satan, then it should help our returning prodigals fight him also.
The Holy Spirit. There is a reason that, after David’s sin with Bathsheba, he begged God to not remove his Holy Spirit from him. The Holy Spirit is able to put to death the misdeeds of our body. Remind the prodigals of the powerful weapon the Spirit is to make them holy.
When a prodigal comes home, that is not the end of the story. It is the beginning. The hard work starts then.
As spiritual leaders, let’s use these tools to help them return to living the life God has called them to live.
Steve loves to tell the story of Jesus. He is the Director of Ministry for Hope for Life, a Herald of Truth Ministry, and serves as an elder at the Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, TX. He is a popular speaker for Lectureships, seminars, and retreats, and his latest book is “Can I Tell You a Story?” He and his wife Marsha have two children and five grandchildren.