One of the reasons why Jesus was such a compelling speaker was because he told incredible stories which connected with the lives of ordinary people. In Luke 15, he tells three powerful parables. Each is communicated with masterful brilliance. The first is about a lost coin. The second is about a lost sheep. The third is about a lost son.
It’s the latter I’d like to focus on. There are many lessons that can be drawn from this story. But there are four in particular that have struck me recently:
1) When your heart leaves, you are already gone
The prodigal son had already decided in his heart that he would depart from the father’s house, long before his physical departure. From that moment, it was just a matter of time before his inevidable exit. Jesus is teaching us a hugely important lesson here. When your heart leaves, YOU are already gone. That’s it. All decisions are made in the heart first before they’re enacted. This might take weeks, months or even years. But what we decide in our heart will eventually happen. This is why it is important to protect your heart from influences that want to take you away from God’s purpose. You are the gatekeeper of your heart. So guard it well.
2) Just because something is a ‘right’ doesn’t make your heart right
The prodigal son had every right to claim his inheritance from the father. He had come of age. But in the process of claiming what was rightfully his, the son’s heart was not right. He was acting in a rebellious and dishonourable way which was a reflection of the state of his self-centred and greedy heart. The spirit of his departure was destructive and divisive. But the son didn’t care about the consequences of his actions. It was now all about him. That’s what happens when the heart is contaminated by impurity, rebellion and sin. It impacts every single aspect of our lives. It even turns our ‘rights’ into wrongs. It all comes back to the heart. How’s yours?
3) Never run after a heart that’s already gone
It’s interesting that the father totally respected the son’s right to depart. He didn’t even attempt to run after him and beg him to stay. What would have been the point? After all, the son’s heart had already left long ago. As a pastor, one of the lessons I’ve learned is never to go running after someone who’s heart has already gone. Keep praying for people. Keep believing in people. Keep loving people. But don’t go running after them. When a decision has been made in the heart, no amount of human persuasion will make any difference to the issues of the heart. It takes the grace of God to bring revelation and a large dose of humility to embrace responsibility. Sometimes, the only way this can happen is in the midst of the pain and discomfort of where your decisions have led you. The prodigal son’s greatest moment of revelation happened in the lowest moment of his life – as he worked in conditions of putrid squaller to feed pigs so he could earn a little money.
4) The decisions of your heart are YOUR responsibility
This is why our choices are incredibly important. In the end, each of us must live with the consequences of what we decide in our hearts. Wise people learn to manage their hearts so they make wise decisions. Wisdom is very much about considering consequences and measuring our actions accordingly. In the end, each of us are responsible for our own decisions. No-body else is responsible. There is no point in blaming someone else. There is no virtue in complaining either. Nor is there any value in claiming victimhood. You are responsible for you. This is one of the key lessons that Jesus is teaching us in this story.
After living recklessly and foolishly, the son eventually ‘came to his senses’ and sought forgiveness from the father. Of course, it was the delight of the father to see his son return. He went running after him, embraced him and forgave him. But it never had to be like this. None of the recklessness ever needed to happen. Wise people would do well to learn the lessons of this story so as not to make the same mistake. Our heavenly Father deserves that we serve him from our heart. You see, it really is all about your heart.