Living & Growing: Our Heavenly Father’s open arms

Living & Growing: Our Heavenly Father’s open arms

Have you ever longed for someone to really look forward to you coming home? Maybe you are one of those blessed people who experience the love of a family who welcomes you home with open arms. Or maybe you are one who doesn’t know what that is like. Things aren’t so well at home. You haven’t spoken in years. What would it be like to visit home and discover that someone was there with tears in their eyes and arms wide open, so glad you came home?

Jesus tells a story in the New Testament about two sons. The youngest son demands his share of his dad’s estate and is ready to leave home and meet the world head on. He wants to live his life his way, doing his own thing and nobody to tell him what to do or how to spend his money. The father doesn’t want to see him go like this, but gives him what he asks for.

The son leaves home and goes off to live an extravagant wild life. He is “living it up,” partying and spending until the money runs out. Then he is destitute: no money, no friends, no job, to speak of. He works at one of the lowest jobs one could imagine. He is starving. Then he realizes he had a home. He had a family. He had everything he needed, but that was the past. He had an idea to return home, confess his foolishness and plead to come back as a hired hand. A hired hand in his father’s household was better than what he had now.

When Jesus tells the story, he mentions that while the son was a long way off, his father saw him coming down the road and runs out to meet him. In that culture, a father wouldn’t normally be so willing to take back a son who had ruined his name and reputation in the community. But this father was different. In that culture, it was improper for a man of his age and distinction to run in public. But this father ran to meet his son.

The father refused to accept him back as a hired hand; but was more than willing to accept him back as his son, who was lost, but now is found again. His father restored him to the place of his full rights as a son and as his heir. And the father had a great celebration for his son who had finally come home.

The older son who had stayed home and worked hard, was angry that his father would welcome such a foolish son back home again. He was angry that they threw a welcome home party, and everything had been handed back to him on a silver platter. He refused to join the celebration.

The father came out to talk to the older son, trying to talk him into joining the celebration. The son replied, “All these years I have been slaving away for you, but you never game me even a goat to have a party with my friends.” The father tried to explain to him that he was not a slave, but a son and that he could have had anything as a son.

In the story, Jesus told, he wanted to make a point to show people what God was like. God is not a tyrant or a slave driver. God is a loving father with arms wide open. God is a loving father who longs for his children to return to him. God is a loving father who made it possible for us, though we have really messed up our lives, for us to come home to him and for God to forgive us and welcome us as one of his family.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” Jesus did just that for each of us.

As a dad, I would do anything for my kids or my grandkids. My arms are always open, to welcome them home anytime. I learned a lot about God when I became a dad. I learned how much God loves me; that he is waiting for all of us to “come home” to him, just as the young son in Jesus story did, with a humble and repentant heart. God is willing to love, forgive and restore us to fellowship with Him. He is waiting!

• Dan Wiese is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.

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