The amazing love of God is the real focal point in the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. The father in that story had two sons who both believed their father loved them conditionally. The younger son believed he was disqualified from his father’s love because of his bad behavior. When he returned after wasting his share of his father’s fortune, he said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Filled with shame, all he hoped for was to be a hired hand. Likewise, the older son was stuck in a conditional mindset. He said to his father, “I have slaved for you all these years and I have never disobeyed your orders!” In other words, he thought his obedience was what earned his father’s love.
In this parable, Jesus demonstrates that the (heavenly) Father’s love for his children is not based on what they do or don’t do. He loves them simply because of who they are to Him. I remember when I personalized Luke 15:20 from this parable. Instead of beginning with that conditional mindset, every time I approached the Father I would come into His presence and hear Him say, “Mark, now that you have gotten up and are coming to me, your Father, do you realize that while you are still a long way off and I see you, I am not thinking of how you do not measure up, because I see you and am filled with compassion for you. I am filled with great delight; I am filled with love for you and I run to you and throw my arms around you.”
Unbelievable and unconditional love like this is exactly what the Father has for each of us! And that is because He created us; He birthed us. He put His Spirit into us—we are of Him and from Him and He will never change His mind or ever lie. I don’t think I understood just how strong that belonging value—that value of being a child—really was until I experienced the possibility of losing one of my own daughters. My kids and I were with some other children one day playing and walking in the woods at a park. I had gotten distracted by tending my five-year-old son, which put us behind the others. When we had caught up with the rest I looked around but could not find my daughter Julia. My first thought was, “Did someone steal her? Did somebody pick her up and run off with her? Did she fall in the water?” So I ran down to the water to see if she had fallen in. Then I ran back and forth, in all directions throughout the woods frantically looking for her.
What seemed to be ages later, I came to an opening near the road. Seeing a few cars stopped on the road, I wondered, “Could she have been hit by a car? Oh no!” So I ran as fast as I could toward the cars. While I was running, I happened to look down off to one side and there she was in her little pink coat. Nearly out of breath, I said, “Julia, honey, what were you doing?” She said, “Daddy, I went pee pees all by myself!” (AARGH!) I hugged her and kissed her and realized at that moment I didn’t care if she wandered off, I didn’t care if she had not asked permission, because all that mattered at that moment was that I had found her. She is mine and belongs to me and I had her back. That’s all that mattered at that moment.
And then the Lord spoke into my heart: “Mark, do you get this? Do you understand that this is my heart for you? That’s how much I treasure you, value you, love you? That’s what I did to search for you and find you, and now that I have found you do you think I am going to love you any less? That I love you based on what you do or don’t do? That’s craziness! Son—please, please embrace my love for you. I love you because you belong to me!”
You and I have a choice. We can easily listen to the voices of others or even to our own voice inside of our heads. OR we can listen to the voice of our heavenly Father. And not just listen to it—believe it. Believe Him. Own it. Revel in it. Delight in it. Dance in it. Celebrate it. Not question it but just accept His love as His gift. I hope and pray when you are feeling unloved that you will remember the Prodigal Father’s love for you . . . no matter what.