Sadly, I can write about the prodigal son from personal experience. Happily, I can write about the prodigal son from personal experience. Come with me inside the head and heart of this young man and hear his thoughts and words at various stages of his recklessness and repentance.
I’m Fed Up (v. 12)
Dad’s a good guy, a wise guy, and, thankfully, a forgiving guy. He’s gracious and generous to everyone in our family, especially to me, and even to his servants. I should have no complaints, and I don’t, apart from the fact that, well, life here is so boring.
My friends come back from their city jobs with such amazing experiences and exciting stories to tell. I’ve got nothing on that. Life here is so predictable, so routine, so ordinary, so boring.
But that’s all going to change, and today’s the day. I’m going to ask Dad for an advance on my inheritance, and then I’ll be off to a bigger and better life. He’ll probably say no, but I’ve got a few levers to pull.
I’m Free (v. 13)
I can’t believe it. I’m on the road. Free at last. No more Sunday worship, no more family devotions, no more “home by midnight,” no more Dad watching over my shoulder, no more boredom.
I’m free to choose my friends, free to choose my own girlfriends, free to try whatever I want, free to be me, free to be whoever I want to be.
It was a bit painful to see my dad’s face when I told him. But the money is mine, after all. I’m just getting it a few years early. It’s not as if I’m going to spend it all at once. I’m not that stupid. I’ll invest some and save some, but I’m also definitely going to enjoy spending some.
Sure, the last couple of days were a bit of a nightmare, with Mom and Dad moping around all day and talking long into the night. But my brother was happy enough to see me gone. “Mr. Perfectly Proud” has never made a wrong step in his life.
Anyway, watch out world, here I come.
I’m Famished (vv. 13–14, 16)
I’m sure I had more money in that bag. Where did it go? I couldn’t have spent it already, could I? I wish I hadn’t loaned out my savings to Joe. Haven’t seen him since. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anyone since I started having to cut back last week.
I was kind of hoping to get an invite to a party this weekend and get some good food and drink inside me—the cost of food is soaring in this famine. But so far there is nothing in the mail. I am so hungry. How can I get something to eat?
I’m Filthy (vv. 15–16)
I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe it. From the beautiful people to pigs. From parties to a pigsty. I never thought pig slop could look so tasty. Some friends they were— wouldn’t even help me through my little downturn.
Another bright-eyed newbie is in town and enjoying all their “attention.” Just think of all that I gave and shared. And what do I get back? A big fat zero. And mud. And manure. It’s just disgusting.
These guys disgust me. In fact, I disgust myself. My “friends” make me sick. The pigs make me sick. I make myself sick. But what else can I do?
I’m Foolish (v. 17)
What am I doing? Look at yourself, you idiot. Look at what you’ve given up. And look at what you “gained.” I’ve been such a fool. I’ve spent all my money. No, let’s be honest: I’ve wasted it, thrown it all away. And for what? What do I have to show for it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Come on, think, man. Even Dad’s servants have a better life than this. They’ve got plenty of food, and I’m simply starving. Maybe I should . . . no, I couldn’t. I couldn’t.
I’m Finished (v. 18)
Okay, I’m done. I can’t take any more of this. I’ve got to risk it and go home to Dad. The thought of seeing my brother smirking is agony, but I’ve got a chance with my father, especially if I ask his forgiveness and beg for mercy. Even if he takes me on as a servant, that would be more than I could hope for. Maybe he can even help me spiritually, because I’ve sinned against God as well. In fact, I’ve sinned against Him above all.
I have no idea what lies ahead, but I’m finished with this so-called “life.” Whatever the future holds back home, it’s got to be better than this, even if I could be a servant. Perhaps Dad will give me a place with the hired help.
I’m Forgiven (vv. 20–24)
Who’s that on the hill? Looks like Dad. Must have lost a sheep. Oh, now he’s running in this direction. I wonder if he saw me?
Wait, I think I hear him yelling, “My son, my son, my son. Welcome home, my son, my son.” Can it be?
“Dad, please. Please, Dad! Dad, can you hold off on the kisses? Dad, Dad, please don’t call me your son. I don’t deserve that. I am so, so sorry. I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned against you. Listen, I know I don’t deserve even this, but if I could even be one of your servants, that would be huge.”
“Servant? Never, never, never. You’re my son. Always and ever my son.”
“No, Dad, it’s not right.”
“If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place, my son. You were lost and dead. You are found and alive. You most certainly are and always shall be my son.
“Hey there, servant. Get the best cloak, best ring, and best meat for my son. Fix it—fast. We’re going to celebrate and have such a good time. My son, my son, my son.”
If you’re fed up, tired of your parents’ strictures, and just waiting for the first opportunity to go to the far country, I beg you to reconsider your plans. Most prodigals don’t come back. Some find success and don’t come back. Many find death and can’t come back. Your restlessness is rebellion against love. Don’t minimize it by renaming it “sowing your wild oats,” “my time in the world,” or “trying it out.” It’s sin, and it’s sin against love.
If you’re now living “free,” you’re probably not reading this; but you might be. Though you’re probably not in the normal places where Tabletalk is found, God has found many a faraway prodigal in faraway countries with this little magazine.
I ask you this: How free are you really? Free enough to walk away from your habits and lifestyle right now if you wanted? You’re not, are you? What you call freedom is made up of multiple invisible chains, all the more deadly because they are rarely seen or felt.
If you’re famished, you know it’s because the more you’ve consumed, the hungrier you’ve become; the more you’ve drunk, the thirstier you’ve become; the more pleasure you’ve sought, the sadder you’ve become. Guilt has hollowed out and dried up your soul. Now nothing satisfies. Feel it. Sense it. Admit it.
Look at the filthy mess you’re in. Sin sickens you, doesn’t it? It didn’t once. It used to taste so sweet and satisfying, for a moment or two at least. Now it disgusts you and makes you sick. The good news is that such sickness is a sign of returning health.
If you’re seeing how foolish you are, that’s a good sign, too. It actually means that you are coming to your senses, and that’s the first step of coming to Christ. You are seeing the insanity of sin. Now and then you say, “I must be going crazy.” But these are the most sensible thoughts you’ve had in a long time. Seeing your foolishness is the first sign of wisdom.
You’re finished with sin, aren’t you? You’re finished with yourself, even. You’ve had enough. You’ve drawn a line in the sand and said, “I’m going no further. I’m done with my sin, and I’m going to retrace my steps to see if I can find a way back to the Father.”
The good news is that you’re already on the way back. To finish with sin is to start with salvation. To repent is to believe, and to believe is to repent.
Forgiveness awaits. Beg for it and be assured that you will receive it. You think you’re heading home to your Father, but your Father has already left home to find you and bring you the rest of the way. Look, He’s running, He’s coming, He’s hugging, He’s kissing, He’s calling, He’s enjoying, He’s celebrating. There’s nothing He enjoys more than forgiving. Why not enjoy it, too, through His perfect Son, Jesus Christ?