-The parable of the prodigal son told by Jesus is one of the more well known biblical stories. People are usually endeared by the love of the father, who against all expectations received his son back into the family with no questions asked.
Often lost in the story is the principles at the beginning of the account. The prodigal son, the epitome of a modern young man or woman reared in an evangelical Christian home, goes to his father and demands his inheritance,
“I’m sick of your hypocrisy and the fake Christianity I’ve been exposed to my whole life at this good for nothing church! I’m taking off and I want the money that is rightfully mine because I am your son!” he says to his father (I’m taking a little creative license in my paraphrase).
The father does not want his son to go into the world and abandon the faith. The father does not approve of what the son is about to do, and knows full well that if he gives his son the inheritance, the son is likely to blow it all on women, booze, and drugs.
Yet in one of the most beautiful examples of true discipleship, the father does not hold back the money; he gives the son the entire inheritance and allows the young man to leave the family without any intensive intervention whatsoever.
True discipleship is about truly knowing those the Lord has entrusted in your care. Whether it is your children, or young Christian adults that you live in community with; the mature Christian, through massive amounts of time spent with his disciples, and through much prayer and meditation, understands that his role is not to control his disciples. Discipleship is not about control. Discipleship is not about constantly ordering the lives of one’s disciples.
Jesus exemplifies this in the relationship between He and His disciples. There are times when Jesus steps in and speaks sternly, and there are other times where He allows Peter and the others to fail, to screw up, and to fall on their face.
Too many Christian parents attempt to control their children; as though they seek to prevent their children from ever making disastrous choices or mistakes. It is one thing to prevent a toddler from burning himself on a hot stove or stepping into traffic and getting hit by a car. It is another thing to prevent a seventeen year old son from going to parties you don’t approve of, or listening to music you find objectionable.
There are many Christian parents who would withhold inheritances from their young adult children if the parent knew the child was going to spend the money on alcohol, drugs, unwarranted travel, etc. However, the father of the prodigal son knew very well what the son was going to do with the money; and yet the father did not withhold the money from his son.
The son’s salvation and maturation, it turned out, was directly connected to being allowed to make those terrible choices. It was only after hitting rock bottom that the son realized he needed to return to his family.
The son’s return was made more beautiful because the father did not stand at the door with an “I told you so” look on his face; but rather the father embraced his son in love, and did not even bring up the past events. The father declared a feast to be thrown; the son’s return was an opportunity for celebration, it was not a time to lecture the son on his stupid decisions.
True discipleship involves an overall awareness of one’s disciples. True discipleship cannot simply occur on Sunday and at church meetings; because in order to truly know one’s disciples, an investment of time must be met that allows you to discern what is best for the disciple, even if you do not approve or agree with the choices the disciple makes.
True discipleship is not cultic. It does not put limits on the friendship. In a cult, limits are placed on what the laity are permitted to read, the music and films they listen, and the friends and companions with whom they interact.
For a number of years I worked as a counselor at a drug rehabilitation center. I saw firsthand the horrible consequences that drugs and alcohol had on individuals and families. In many ways, alcohol, heroin and opiate addiction is among the more extreme problems, that families and the church face in the 21st century; countless young men and women raised in Christian homes have succumbed to these evil vices.
Drug rehabilitation centers are powerless to help addicts. In my graduate classes at university and at the rehab, it was drilled in my head that nearly 99% of all men and women who go into rehab, relapse many times over. All of the professional literature agree; there is no psychological system or philosophy that “cures” or “fixes” addicts.
Of course, this does not prevent billions of dollars each year being spent in the field of psychology at the university level, in government programs for addicts, and in a plethora of different treatment programs.
As Christians we know that the only true hope for any person is in the work of Jesus Christ at the cross. We know that the Great Commission we’ve been given is to “go out into the whole world and make disciples of all men”.
When Christian young adults fall into alcoholism, drug addiction, and make other disastrous choices for their lives, it is imperative in our day that the church realizes our call to practice true discipleship in our communities. It is time for the church to awaken to the reality that “church meetings” do not suffice when it comes to practicing true discipleship.
On the one hand, we must be ready to allow our disciples to make choices for themselves, and on the other hand, we must be there with our arms opened wide when they return. We cannot cast our disciples off, into the waiting arms of secular and pagan programs that fail society. The church must become the torchbearer of true discipleship.
*Stock image Mikail Duran unsplash.com