She doesn’t want to be left behind.
My older daughters and I have rehearsals almost every night now for their upcoming big performance in a community theater show.
My youngest little one, though, could stay at home with Daddy, playing games, watching her favorite cartoons, reading books, and being tickled. She could even snuggle into bed on time, a definite plus in my book.
She, however, is ever-watchful of signs that her sisters and I would leave without her. Because I’m slightly neurotic, I start slowly packing bags and laying out clothes hours before we need to leave.
She sees me put their shoes by the door and shouts, “I wanna come wif you” and frantically hunts for her own sandals.
I assure her that our departure is still hours away. But then she sees me pack the bag for the night and declares again, “I wanna come wif you!” Then she clambers into my arms, snuggles down into my chest and whimpers, “Don’t leave me, Mommy.”
No way am I shutting the door on her now. She’s absolutely coming with us.
We have a way, don’t we, of pleading with God just like that? “Don’t leave me. Don’t abandon me here. Don’t forsake me.”
We needn’t worry. He is, after all, Emmanuel, God With Us. His desire for relationship with us motivated His journey to a Bethlehem stable and His trek to the cross. Our God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Instead, we are the ones who leave. We wander, we run away, we linger too long after He’s called us to move on.
Yet, not only does God neither leave us nor forsake us, Scripture tells us that Our Shepherd will “leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off” (Matthew 18:12).
So for those of you who are lost and afraid, far from the Shepherd, alone and missing the companionship of your flock, know that God is actively searching for you and will carry you home on His shoulders.
For the prodigals who eventually landed in a life of pig-slop and shame, know that your Heavenly Father is running toward you with joy when you choose to return.
Maybe you’re like me, though, who shamefacedly admits that parables of lost sheep and prodigals are sometimes more mysterious than comforting.
I’ve always pictured the 99 obedient sheep left behind so the Shepherd can traipse across the countryside hunting down the one disobedient sheep and I’ve thought, “that’s not fair.” After all, He will “leave the ninety-nine on the hills” so He can look for the lost sheep. Now we’re the ones left behind, missing out on the Shepherd’s affection and guidance.
And I’m more the grumpy brother than the prodigal, frustrated that while I’ve been responsibly laboring in the fields my brother’s been squandering on pleasure and extravagance. That’s just not fair.
And I’m right. It’s not “fair,” of course, but that’s the beautiful thing about it. The Gospel isn’t meant to be fair in the sense that we get what we deserve.
For all of us, prodigals and older brothers, runaway sheep and obedient followers, our story is that God heaped grace on us that we could never merit or earn.
In her book, God Loves Broken People: And Those Who Pretend They’re Not, Sheila Walsh reminds us that our God is an ever-present, omniscient shepherd, not one with earthly limitations on time and space. While He’s passionately pursuing the runaway, He’s also actively caring for the 99 who still need his guidance and protection.
That’s our God, the Shepherd who cares attentively for all of us.
And maybe Tim Keller is right when he says that the story of the prodigal son isn’t really targeted at “‘wayward sinners’ but religious people who do everything the Bible requires.”
It’s the reminder that even when we don’t feel like we’ve run away, we can still be steeped in bad attitudes, misplaced motivations, judgment, and religious pride. We’re so convinced of our own “merit,” we’ve forgotten how extravagant God’s grace is for us—and how others have need of such grace.
After all, if we truly remembered that, we’d be helping to hang the streamers for the prodigal’s Welcome Home party. And we’d be overjoyed to see the wayward sheep carried home again. That’s because at some point, God has pursued, carried and rejoiced over all of us.
That’s His passion and heart—to be with all of us without fail or interruption. If that’s our God’s heart, it should be what pushes blood through our veins, as well: the desire that every seeker is found, every wanderer recovered, and every child brought home.
Caedmon’s Call sang these lyrics in Long Line of Leavers. They are on my mind today.
I come from a long line of leavers
Out of the garden gate with an apple in their hands
I expect and I believe
You’re gonna run out of love
You’re gonna give me the shove
‘Cause that’s the thing that lovers do
Then there’s you
You’re the only one
Who knows my secrets
You’re the only one
Still you’re the only one
Who never leaves
And I wake up to this mystery
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2012 Heather King