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First Thoughts

Ministering to the Wayward

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

One of the most difficult, most painful things you can experience is when someone you love has turned their back on God and has become wayward. The harsh reality is that most of us, if not all of us, have experienced this in some way or will experience it soon. We live in a culture that has completely turned its back on God. Thousands of people each year choose to forgo a relationship with God and live for the world. Unfortunately, our loved ones are not immune from this sad trend.

The reality of this trend means that we should be thoughtful in how we minister to them. The Lord can use us to play a critical role in bringing them to Himself. To do this, it is helpful to consider the parable of the prodigal son. Each person in this parable teaches us a valuable lesson in ministering to the wayward.

The Heart of the Younger Brother

The first person in the parable is the younger brother. This younger brother represents those who have gone wayward. This younger brother demands his inheritance and then squanders it on sinful living. This younger brother is living out the desires of his heart and seeking his own pleasure more than he is seeking to honor his father. Eventually, this younger brother runs out of money and becomes desperate. He plans to come to his father, ask for forgiveness, and hopefully be hired as a servant in his house.

A lesson you can learn as you minister to the wayward is that you need to understand that the one who is wayward is searching for hope. They are looking for something that will bring them joy and satisfaction. One way you minister to the wayward is by offering them the best hope in the world, which is realized by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Another lesson we can learn in ministering to the wayward is that you can trust that the Lord can providentially call your loved one to Himself. In the case of the prodigal son, it was a famine that brought him to his senses. The Lord can work things out in the life of the wayward that will bring them to their senses, too.

The Heart of the Father

The next person in the parable is the father. The father in this parable represents God. The father in this parable lovingly and patiently waits each day for his prodigal son to return. When he sees his son a long way off, he runs to him and lavishes love and forgiveness on him. He celebrates with his most expensive and prized possessions. He lovingly accepts his son back into the family.

Our God is a merciful, compassionate, and forgiving God. God is not indifferent or aggressive to those who come to Him seeking forgiveness. Our God is in the business of saving sinners. God would be within His rights to punish each of us for our sins, but He is compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15). What the wayward in your life needs most is to come face to face with this loving, compassionate God. As you minister to the wayward, you can remain hopeful, knowing that even though it seems impossible, we can trust that our God is a merciful, loving Savior who can save the worst of the worst. Your loved one is not too far gone to experience the saving love of Jesus Christ.

The Heart of the Older Brother

The last person we see in this parable is the older brother. The older brother represents those who rest in their good works for their standing with the father. While on paper, the older brother is doing everything right. He stays and serves the father faithfully. However, he is after the same thing the younger brother wanted. He was interested in the father for what he could get from him rather than a relationship with him.

The older brother in this parable should serve as a warning to us all. It is natural and easy for us to look at those who are wayward with a judgmental attitude. You will have a temptation to look at the one who is wayward and think, “I can’t believe that they are living like that.” To faithfully minister to the wayward, you can’t be judgmental, but you have to be moved by compassion, hoping that the wayward can experience the same grace and forgiveness you experienced.

An Appeal and Hope

Ministering to the wayward is one of the hardest things you will ever experience. It is infinitely more difficult if you try to do it alone. God has given us the gift of the church, so I appeal to you to lean into the church and allow the church to bear your burdens. Galatians 6:2 tells us that we should bear one another’s burdens, and when you are ministering to the wayward, the church can serve you well by bearing that burden with you.

I know thinking about those who are wayward is a heartbreaking thing to think about. However, there is hope. Despite the pain and hurt you are experiencing trying to minister to the wayward, our hope is in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on the cross so that those who are far from God can be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Through what Jesus did on the cross, even the person who seems least likely to follow God can be reconciled with Him. Place your hope and trust in the God who saves.

Listen to this sermon on Ministering to the Wayward from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Student Ministry Associate

Margaret Tucker serves as the Student Ministry Associate at First Baptist Church and is an active, longtime member.

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