When leading a community prayer gathering, I asked those who had a prodigal in their family to raise up a hand so we could pray for those wanderers to return home. Scores of hands went up all across the room. It seemed nearly every household had someone who had rejected his or her spiritual heritage.
Even in pastor and leadership circles, I find hearts are burdened for personal family members who were raised in Christian homes where the Bible was taught but the world’s values have been chosen instead. Maybe you, too, have someone you love who has moved away from God and, consequently, you feel that person has moved away from you as well. You feel the relational break and are saddened by the road your family member has taken. You are not alone. I hear of such heartbreak weekly.
The Old Testament prophet Hosea had a most unusual and difficult assignment from God. He was directed to marry a prostitute, a woman who had many lovers. She traded sexual acts for money and the leveraging of men of influence to get where and what she wanted. Her name was Gomer, hardly a feminine name we hear today.
God’s intent was to use Hosea and Gomer as a powerful illustration of the Lord’s relationship with Israel. The people of God had left God for idols, other religious systems, other values. Societal deterioration and decay were the results as God let them go their own way, they choosing their own course. Yet God continued to love the people of Israel, as illustrated by Hosea’s commitment to Gomer, but the blessings of a compete and whole relationship were lost. In bitter irony, the Hebrew name Gomer means “complete or whole”, her name contrasting the empty lostness of Hosea’s marriage and story of God and Israel as well.
Although commonly used to refer to those who are spiritually or relationally separated, the term “prodigal” actually means “reckless, extravagant waste of resources”. In parallel to Hosea’s story, what we see today in the fracturing of Christian families is a symbolic yet real illustration of a peoples’ extravagant waste of the riches earned by the generations before and the reckless abandoning of spiritual and moral wealth. A nation founded on Christian, biblical principles and values, we have squandered our spiritual heritage, rejecting the standards which have made America great, embracing the humanism and hedonism of the day, and interpreting arrogantly our success as being fruit of our own awesome intellect and invention.
Abraham Lincoln knew as much and said so with his poignant, presidential pen. “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” (Proclamation for A National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, March 30, 1863)
So it is for us to seek God in humility, repentance, and prayer. God cannot resist repentant hearts and God is ready to hear and answer our prayers. Let this be the year our loved ones come home and our beloved nation returns to the God who redeems prodigals. Will you join me in this prayer focus for 2022?