Monday, May 26, 2008

FIRST: Bringing Home the Prodigals

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his book:

Bringing Home the Prodigals

Authentic (April 1, 2008)


Rob Parsons, a lawyer by profession, has subsequently become a wellknown author and speaker on family issues. Drawing from his own experiences of family life, and often joined by his wife Dianne, he has addressed over 500,000 people in facetoface events. In 1988, Rob launched Care for the Family, a registered charity motivated by Christian compassion. The resources and support offered are available to everyone, of any faith or none.

Visit him at his website.


Chapter One

Always Leave a Light On

Sometimes God ambushes us: it happened to me on March 14, 1998. I had been invited to speak at the National Exhibition Center in the UK to thousands of people who had gathered to pray for the return of their prodigals. I had prepared a message based on the timeless parable of the lost son, and it was folded securely in the inside pocket of my jacket. I believed I was ready to deliver God’s word.

I have been at many Christian events over the years, but I have never experienced the wave of emotion that filled the auditorium that day. The organizers had seated my wife, Dianne, and me on the platform, and as I gazed out at that vast audience, I couldn’t help but wonder what stories lay behind the prayers.

Somewhere, no doubt, was a woman whose husband had once led a church and been a faithful husband and father until the night he told her the four things that so many Christian men tell their wives when they leave them for another woman: “We were so young when we got married we hardly knew what we were doing— I doubt we ever really loved each other”; “In the long run this will be better for you”; “One day you’ll realize this is best for the kids,” and “I’ve prayed about this, and it’s OK with God.”

And somewhere there was a father who had told his tiny daughter Bible stories. She had picked one each night from the huge children’s Bible they kept on the shelf in her bedroom. They had said prayers together, and he had always been touched that, from her youngest days, she had prayed for others more than herself. But as he prayed in the auditorium that day, he thought of her later teenage years and the gradual disinterest in anything to do with God. A great sobbing convulsed his body as he remembered the night he found the drugs in her bedroom and, finally, the day she left, cursing both him and God.

These people had gathered, every one of them with a prodigal on their hearts: friends, brothers, husbands, wives, and sometimes in a strange reversal of the parable, mothers and fathers—but mostly children.

But that great arena did not hold only people praying. In the very front was a huge wooden cross. Its shadow seemed to reach over the whole crowd. During the day, people were invited to write the name of their prodigal on a small card, bring it to the front, and lay it at the foot of the cross. I watched them as they came: young people bringing the names of school friends, married couples holding hands as they laid down the names of children, friends walking together clutching cards, and often the elderly, shuffling forward and bending slowly as they lay the names of those they loved at the cross.

After an hour or so one of the organizers asked me if I would leave the platform and stand by the cross to pray with some of those who were coming forward. Of course I agreed and made my way to the floor of the arena and to the cross. That’s when God ambushed me. What occurred in the next two minutes changed my life forever and was the impetus that was to take the message of “Bringing Home the Prodigals” around the world.

When I reached the cross there were tens of thousands of names there. They were written on cards that were spilling off the little table at the foot of the cross and onto the floor. I picked up and read some of them: “Jack” “Milly” “Bring Charles home, Lord.” It seemed to me that the pain of the world lay at the foot of that cross. I thank God for what he has done in the lives of our two children, but at that time Dianne and I had heavy hearts for them, and I remember laying Katie’s name at the foot of the cross and Lloyd’s name next to hers. And then I started to cry. I could not stop.

As I wept, God laid a message about prodigals on my heart that I first preached later that day. It was not the neat, nicely wrapped-up one with all the answers—that was in my pocket. It was a message forged from brokenness and a sense of utter dependence on God. As I finished speaking that day, I remember thinking that one day I would put it into a book.

But life for all of us is busy and the book was never started. And then one day, as part of some routine tests, the doctors found a possible abnormality with one of my kidneys. They feared it was a tumor. I had about ten days to wait for the results of the tests that would determine what the problem was.

On one of those days I found myself ambling along a London street. It was a wonderful spring morning; on such days, London is at its best. The air was crisp, the sky blue, and behind me the sun shone off Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Chapel as I made my way past Churchill’s War Rooms and into St. James’ Park.

The park was almost deserted, and the pigeons, squirrels, and I looked at each other as if there was little else of interest. Never does life become as precious as when you think it may be suddenly shortened. I began to think about things that really mattered to me. The message of the prodigals came to my mind, and I knew I had to get that book written. I started it that week. A few days later the test results came and were favorable: I did not have a tumor—just an over-sized kidney that I’d probably had all my life. A few months later the book was written. But that was only the beginning.

One day the people who had invited me to preach at their day of prayer in the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham in the UK called to ask me to meet with them. They said God had told them to pass on to me the mantle of the burden for prodigals that they had carried for so many years. We began to visit the denominational leaders to see if the message resonated with them. Without exception—whether it was the Salvation Army, the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury himself—the response was the same: “This is a God-given word for today. We support you in it.”

Over the following few years in auditoriums all across the United Kingdom, more than fifty thousand people have experienced a Bringing Home the Prodigals event. Even now in my mind’s eye, I can picture them listening to the message and bringing the names of their prodigals to the foot of the cross. We began to hear the most remarkable stories of prodigals coming back to God.

Since then we have been taking Bringing Home the Prodigals all over the world. I have watched people stream forward to lay the names of their prodigals at the cross in Costa Rica, Uganda, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and North America. This little book contains the heart of the message of Bringing Home the Prodigals I believe God has laid on my heart. I warn you now; it is a simple message. Most of us feel we know the parable so well that there is hardly anything new we could learn. Maybe this is true, but God wants to remind us of what we knew in our hearts all along—and somehow forgot.

I wrote part of the book in a small conference center on the Gower coast near Swansea, Wales. It is not far from where Dylan Thomas wrote “Under Milk Wood.” The building is set on a hill, and the view from my window was unspeakably beautiful, running across fields, then woods, and finally ending at the sea in the great sweep of the bay. One morning I took a break from writing and stood outside the house gazing into the distance at the breakers hitting the beach. After a few minutes I was joined by a priest. He had on the traditional long black cassock, had a flowing grey beard, and wore what my kids used to call “Jesus sandals.” He had been leading a discussion in one of the seminar rooms and said he had “just come out to get a little air whilst they ponder a couple of theological teasers I’ve set them.”

We began chatting and he asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was writing a book about prodigals, he told me a most moving story. Let me try to capture his words as I remember them:

In a village near here, is a large old house. An elderly lady lives there alone and every night, as darkness falls, she puts a light on in the attic. Her son left home twenty-five years ago, rather like the prodigal in the parable, but she has never given up the hope that one day he will come home. We all know the house well, and although the bulb must occasionally need replacing, none of us have ever seen that house without a light on. It is for her son.

The theme of “leaving a light on” has become a recurring one in the letters and emails I have received from all over the world from those who wait for a prodigal’s return. Shortly after one of the Bringing Home the Prodigals events, a woman wrote to me. She told me that her daughter had walked out of their home when she was eighteen years old. She had turned her back not only on her mother and father, but on the God she had once loved. “My daughter didn’t get in touch, and we didn’t know whether she was alive or dead,” the woman wrote. She went on to tell me that every night, as she and her husband turned off the lights before they went to bed, she would always say to him, “Leave the porch light on.” And every Christmas, she would put a little Christmas tree in the front of the house, its lights shining, just as she used to when her daughter was at home.

After six years, her daughter suddenly came home—and not just to her mother and father, but to God. When she did, she told her mother a remarkable story: “Mom, I so often wanted to come home, but I was too ashamed. Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I would drive my car onto your street and just sit there. I used to gaze at the houses and every one of them was dark apart from our house: you always left a light on. And at Christmas I would do the same: just sit there in the darkness and look at the Christmas tree you had put outside—I knew it was for me.”

I have never been able to get that mother out of my mind. She seems to me to symbolize the hopes, fears, and prayers of millions across the world whose hearts are breaking for their prodigals. But this is not just a message for them; in fact Bringing Home the Prodigals is not just about praying for our prodigals to come home. It is about asking us to consider the characters of our local churches. Is it possible that by our attitudes, our concern with rules and regulations that are not on God’s heart, or by our ingrained spirit of the elder brother (or sister!) we have made it easy for some to leave? Perhaps we have kept them out of mind while they are gone and tragically made it harder for them to return. Could it be that inadvertently we have “created” prodigals?

This is a theme that should catch the imagination of all who care about evangelism. The truth is, most of us know ten people who may have never been to church whom we’d like to invite to an evangelistic service—but we all know a hundred prodigals. The numbers are enormous. When the prodigals come home we are going to have to pull down our old church buildings and use aircraft hangers. If you care about church growth, then care about this message. There is nothing as frustrating as seeing people come to Christ through the front door of the church and losing others in almost the same proportion out the door in the back.

All over the world I have cried with parents for their prodigals. There is no more fervent prayer in homes today than, “Father, bring our prodigal home.” I have concentrated in this book on those who have children, of whatever age, who are prodigals, but of course there are many kinds of prodigals—brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends. I hope with all my heart that for whomever you are concerned, you will find something here to encourage you and keep the flames of hope alight.

This book is not written principally to give advice, although I will share with you the lessons I have learned from many whose hearts have cried out to God for those they love. My hope is that it will be a book that will release us from false guilt, bring us hope, and above all, lead us to prayer. At the end of every chapter is a prayer and reflection; each one is written by someone who has cried for a prodigal and who has come to believe that, ultimately, God is our only hope. At the very end of the book we will each bring our prodigals to the cross of Christ.

And we should not pray just for our prodigals, but for ourselves as well. We can pray that we will catch the Father’s heart for the prodigals—the outrageous grace of the One who, even as we stumble down the long road home, runs to throw a robe on our back, put a ring on our finger, and put shoes on our feet. And if we do change, if we can catch something of that father-heart of God, then it may be that, in his great mercy, he will touch the lives of thousands of our prodigals—and bring them home.

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