To The Prodigal Believer I Love

This is a letter I did not want to write.  It's one that breaks my heart to write.  But I had to write it.  

This is a "tough love" letter that I wrote to a Christian prodigal whom I love who is (in my opinion) trapped in and by their sins and lies, who made a mess of their life, and who - instead of coming clean when they had the chance - is choosing to dig in their heels, to pretend they did nothing wrong, making everything messier and dragging other people down with them.  (I have altered some of this letter for privacy's sake.)  

Those who love a prodigal, who are praying for them, and whose hearts are repeatedly broken by them will, sadly enough, understand this letter.  But remember that even when we can't reach the prodigals in our lives, God still can.  

And take heart in knowing that God Himself is the Father of the prodigal you love.  God knows what it's like to be in your shoes, to love someone who's making a mess of their lives, to have to let them go off on their own and make their mistakes, to wait eagerly and brokenheartedly for the moment they turn back towards Him.  (Isn't this what He's done for all of us!)  

And even if we feel like giving up on them, God never does.  He's always waiting, always watching, always calling to them.  So don't take too much responsibility for "fixing" the prodigal you love.  Do what you can, be gently firm with them, in truth and in love, and then just keep praying for them, letting God be God over their lives and yours.  He is far more patient, long-suffering, forgiving, loving, merciful, and gracious than we ever could be.  So it's okay to "let them go" if you have to.  Your prodigal is in good, capable, strong Hands, even when you feel hopeless and like there's nothing you can do about it.

(And for the prodigals who are reading this:  May you find hope in this letter and the courage to do the right thing.)

Dear [Christian Prodigal Whom I Love],
            I love you, and I am praying for you and for this whole situation.  It hurts to know that you are going through all of this, and that we are all going through it too.  It’s certainly not how I envisioned life working out.  I wish I could fix it all.  I wish I could go back in time and stop it all from happening.  But I know that’s not possible.  And so I trust that it’s in God’s hands, that He can work good out of even the messiest situations and the worst sins, no matter how hopeless it seems.
            “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  (Romans 8:28)

            The good of those who love Him.  What does it mean to love God?
            Loving God does not mean having warm fuzzies about Him or praying to Him or reading about Him or claiming you love Him and trust Him.

            To love Him is to obey Him.
            "... this is love for God: to keep His commands.”  (1 John 5:3)
            “If you love me, keep My commands.” (John 14:15)

            And one of His big commands is to be honest, to speak truthfully.
            “Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully…”  (Ephesians 4:25)
            “Do not lie to each other …”  (Colossians 3:9)
            “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 12:22)
            “An honest witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.”  (Proverbs 14:5)

            The lies we tell and the lies we believe keep us in bondage.  But the truth sets us free.
            "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  (John 8:32)

            But what – Who - is “the truth”?
            Jesus is the truth.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  (John 14:6)
            When we lie, we are denying the truth, which means that we are essentially denying Jesus.  And if we deny Jesus, He will deny us.  
            “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:33)
            If we deny the truth, then Jesus cannot stay near to us and God cannot help us.  If we are trapped in and by our lies and sins, by the fear of being honest and of facing the truth and its consequences, then we cannot and will not be free.  Not until we confess our sins truthfully to God and to men.
            “Confess your sins to one another … that you may be healed.”  (James 5:16)
            "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)
            If we choose lies over truth, over Him, then He has no choice but to let us turn our backs on Him and go our own way, to let us put up a wall between us and Him.  And then He has no choice but to let us face the consequences of our decisions, without His help.

            But if we tell the truth and confess our sins, He promises to draw near to us.
            “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.”  (Psalm 145:8)

            Being forgiven, cleansed, and healed can only come through honesty, through confessing our sins.  Not from trying to hide them, excuse them, or blame someone else for them.  So don’t waste time and energy on lies, on trying to hide from or talk your way out of the consequences of your actions.  Don’t dig a deeper hole, running from truth and from God.
            Focus on telling the truth, on getting right with the Lord.  It’s the only way to healing.
            The truth will not scare me off (or God), but lies will cause me to keep my distance.  Because I cannot be a part of lies, nor will I be talked into believing them.  I do not want to take a stand “against” you, but I am committed to standing on the side of truth.

            Which side are you going to stand on?

            There is no sin too big that God can’t forgive it.  There is no situation too messy or hopeless that God can’t turn it into something good, productive, and eternally-rewarding.  If we will let Him!
            The only sins He “can’t” forgive are the ones we won’t confess.  The only difficult situations He “can’t” fix are the ones we choose to fix for ourselves, that we refuse to humbly hand over to Him.  But that’s not His fault; it’s ours, for holding onto our sins and the control, for hiding the truth and hiding from the truth, for refusing to seek His forgiveness and help.

            In God’s eyes, it doesn’t ultimately matter what we’ve done in the past … because He is more concerned about where we are going than where we have been.
            “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.  They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now, what do you say?’  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.
            But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger.  When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
            At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?’
            ‘No one, sir,’ she said.
            ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”  (John 8:3-11)
            Notice that Jesus said nothing about what the woman was guilty of.  It’s not that He didn’t care about her sins; it’s just that He was more concerned with where she was going than where she had been.  He was more concerned with helping her get back on the right track again than with punishing her for what she’d done wrong.  Jesus gave this shamed, broken, sinful woman back her life, even though others thought she didn’t deserve it.

            But that’s the thing about grace.  And there’s a reason it’s called “amazing” grace.  Because it’s so undeserved, so unearnable, so radical.  So abundantly, generously free, easily within our reach if we’ll just open our hands, reach out our arms, and humbly take hold of it.  And it’s so freeing.  It’s the only way to get your life back, to get back on track.  Only God’s grace can free us from the prisons we trap ourselves in - the prisons of our bad choices, our sins, our lies, our negative beliefs, our fears and doubts.
            But it all starts with honesty.  
            God is standing on the side of truth, too.  And He wants us to stand in the truth with Him.  He expects us to do the right thing, to confess sin, and to be fully honest with Him, with ourselves, with others.  It’s the only way forward.
            But if we choose to stand on the opposite side, against Him, He cannot help us.  Not until we choose to come to Him in humble honesty.  It is only after being honest, confessing our sins, and inviting Him fully into our pasts, our lives, and our situations that He can heal us, help us, set us on the right path, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
            “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them: He delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  (Psalm 34:17-18)

            I won’t give up on you.  And neither will God.  No matter what mess you’re in or what mess you’ve made of your life.  But I won’t be able to tolerate lying, if you’re lying.
            Unfortunately, if we continue to live in lies and rebellion, God sometimes lets us fall to the lowest point we could ever get to.  Because He knows that it's only at the very bottom - when we cannot, no matter how hard we try, get ourselves out of the mess we got ourselves into - that we are desperate enough to call on Him for help, to confess whatever needs to be confessed, and to finally be willing to do what He tells us to do to make things right.  And so sometimes, He lets us keep falling and falling and falling.  Until we learn that we can't do it on our own anymore, that we really do want Him and need Him and are ready to obey Him.
            Aren’t you tired of falling?  Of trying and trying and trying, and yet failing and failing and failing?  Of running from your problems, from the truth, from guilt?  Of trying to hide from life?  Of punishing yourself?
            I hope and pray that you don't have to hit the very bottom before you turn to God.  But I’d rather have you hit the very bottom if it causes you to turn to God and to clean up your soul and your life ... than to have you hurting yourself and others with your bad habits and lies, torturing yourself out of guilt and shame, and running from the God who just wants to love you, heal you, and help you get back on the right track.  (For a great sermon on this, watch Touching Heaven to Change Earth by Tony Evans.  This is the one I randomly picked to watch this morning, but it fits so well for this letter.)

            We don't need to keep punishing ourselves for our sins and bad choices.  We don't need to stay trapped in them or by them.  God has already forgiven all of our sins on the cross.  He's already defeated evil on the cross.  And so we don't need to let it rule us anymore.
            "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 6:23)
            "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:8)
            "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  (John 3:16)
            "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved ... Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  (Romans 10:9,13)
            "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."  (1 Peter 2:24)
            "We died to sin; how then can we live in it any longer? ... Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life ..."  (Romans 6:2, 12-13)
            "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."  (Romans 8:1-2)
            "I can do everything [even get my life back on track, even do the right thing, even forgive myself, even accept God's forgiveness] through him who gives me strength."  (Philippians 4:13)

            And if we ask for it, He will give us the wisdom we need to get our lives back on track.  And He gives us this wisdom without condemnation or shaming.  
            "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."  (James 1:5)
            And not only will He give us forgiveness and wisdom and strength, but He will - as I said earlier - make something good out of all the bad.  If we let Him.
            “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  (Romans 8:28)  
            But it all starts with us seeking His help, wisdom, and forgiveness by drawing near to Him, by confessing our sins and turning back to Him.  He will not force us to do this.  It's up to us.

            God is waiting for you to return to Him, so that He can welcome you back with open arms.  There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more, and there’s no mistake or sin that will make Him love us less.  He has always loved us as much as He ever could, even though none of us deserves it, simply because He is love.  Because He wants to love us.
            God’s love is not based on if we deserve it or not.  Because we can never earn His love, no matter what we do.  And we can never make Him stop loving us, no matter what we do.  He loves us because He is love, because we are His creation and because He wants to love us.
            But whether we accept His love or reject His love (and forgiveness, help, grace, mercy, etc.) is up to us.  We can only experience His free gifts of love, forgiveness, help, etc. if we open up our arms and accept them as the free gifts they are, if we humble ourselves before Him in honesty and truth, being real with Him about what we’ve done and how much we need Him.
            (And for the record, I forgive you.  And as I said, God forgives you.  And if we forgive you, then you can forgive yourself and let us love you back to healing and wholeness.)

            I won’t give up on you.  But I will keep encouraging you to do the right thing and to be honest with yourself, with God, and with others.  I know you are a fighter, that fighting to protect yourself and to get your way is how you’ve always lived.  But it’s time to stop fighting.  Or maybe I should say that it’s time to start fighting for the right things, for truth and healing.  The only way forward to healing and to getting back to the Lord is to humble yourself before God in truth.  Only then can the Lord help you and fight for you.
            I want you to know that if you will be honest, I will be here for you.  The truth will not scare me off.  But even if you’re not being honest, I will still be here, waiting for when you are ready to tell the truth. I love you.  But I want you to do the right thing.  It’s the only way.  With the Lord, hope is never lost.  He can restore and heal anything.  If you will let Him.

            “Praise the Lord, O my soul … who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.”  (Psalm 103:2-4)

            “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”  (Psalm 40:1-3)

            “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters, He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  (Psalm 23:1-4)

            “A dirty diamond is still a diamond.  It just needs to be cleaned.”  (Tony Evans)

            I love you.  And I always will.  Love, Me

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