The Running Father
"..And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him."
Repentance. I wonder, what springs to mind when you hear the word repentance? If you were to ask some passers-by ‘what does this word mean to you – how does it make you feel?’ I wonder what the responses would be. Google it and you’ll find a long list of associated words such as penitence, remorsefulness, guilt, grief, contrition, regret. I don’t know about you but it’s not making it a very popular word in my vocabulary. It’s certainly not making me feel like its something I want to have to associate myself with much.
Kate Patterson in her book ‘The Gift of Blessing’, offers fresh revelation with the true translation of biblical repentance. In it she writes;
"Biblical repentance is not empty regret – in Hebrew the word literally means ‘returning’. The gospel is God’s call for us to return home to the Father, to joy."
Now there’s a form of repentance I can embrace!
Often when I find myself in the middle of a painful mess, the thought of returning seems too far away. In those moments it can perhaps be easier to listen to the whispers and accusations of the enemy. The lie that tells us we are forsaken, forgotten and no matter what we do, it will never be enough. There’s no way back - I’ve just made too much of a mess.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a son who finds himself in a very similar situation. The story describes to us a young, rebellious man, who wants to go his own way. He rejects his father, asking for his share of inheritance, to go and seek adventure and fast living. When the money is spent and all his friends have deserted him, in the filthy surroundings of a pigsty, he finds himself destitute, alone, unclean both inside and out, and full of regret.
There in the filth, he starts practicing his ‘I’m sorry’ speech. He decides that as he’s no longer worthy to be called his father’s son, he will instead ask to be made his father's servant;
‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15:18-19)
So, what happens next as he approaches the home of his father, head down and full of shame? I like to think in that moment he heard a sound. I like to think he hears the sound of his father running! He hears the sound of his father running towards him! Like a stampede of grace, the sound of the father’s feet running towards him, arms outstretched, open wide waiting to embrace him home. There is no accusation or condemnation in his eyes. He doesn’t see his son's sin or shame. Instead he sees redemption. He sees his son’s returning!
You see there is nothing we could ever do to make our heavenly father love us any more, or any less than he does right now in this moment. There is nothing we could ever do to change our father's love for us.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Our Heavenly Father loves, forgives and saves us not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of what His son Jesus has done for us – the work of Christ.
If you find yourself in the dirt today, my prayer for you is that you too, will hear the sound of the Father running. The mighty sound of a stampede of grace, running towards you, waiting to welcome you home. Amen.
Kate Patterson, 'The Gift of Blessing'
Photo by Charlie Mackesy 'The Prodigal Son'