Dear radio friends,
One of the most treasured parables that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke is the parable of the Prodigal Son. You can find that parable in the Bible in Luke 15, beginning at verse 11. There the Lord spoke to us of a certain man who had two sons, the younger of which said to his father, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” Taking his inheritance with him, this young man, the Lord goes on to tell, wasted this inheritance with riotous and sinful living. Then a famine arose in the country where he lived so that he was in great want. He went to be hired by a man who owned pigs. This man sent him forth to feed the pigs. So hungry did the young man become that he would fain have filled his own belly with the husks that the swine did eat.
It was then that the work of God’s love in the young man’s heart brought him to repentance. The young man said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.”
It is not my intention today to explain this parable in its entirety. Maybe you remember that in the parable Jesus goes on to say that when the young man finally did return, although he was afraid of his reception by the father, yet the father had compassion upon him and fell on his neck and kissed him and clothed him with a new robe and put a ring upon his finger.
What I would like to do today is look just at the words of the young man spoken from a pig trough, the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” Those words certainly are expressive of a felt need to pray. What better words could we find to express the truth of prayer than to say, “I arise and go to my Father”?
When we look at the words of the prodigal son in the light of prayer, we see that his words are expressing a simple, yet basic truth about true prayer. That truth is this: the soul that has been made alive to God in a true repentance feels the need to pray. I could put it this way: true repentance is the source of all true prayer. Without genuine repentance in your heart, there is no true prayer. Wherever there is the genuine work of the grace of the Holy Spirit within the heart of the man or woman producing a genuine repentance and sorrow over sin before God, there will also be a felt need to pray. Prayer arises out of the soil of genuine repentance.
Do you experience that? Do you know what that means? Is that why you pray?
As contradictory and incredible as that may sound to an unbeliever, to someone who does not know the things of God, yet, when a person knows himself to be a sinner, and when a person, by the grace of God, feels the shame for his sin and understands that he is without excuse for his sin, he is drawn by these things to God. Repentance produces prayer.
It is exactly impenitence in a hard heart which separates a person from God. The Scriptures are very plain on that. In Isaiah 59:1, 2 the Lord says to us, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.” There the Scriptures are telling us that when heaven appears to us as brass and when prayer apparently has no power in our lives, it is not because God is absent or that His ear cannot hear or His mighty hand of grace cannot help us. That is not the problem. But the problem is, so often, that our sins separate us from our God. That is, hardened sin – sin embraced – when we refuse to confess our sins. But when God works in us a soft heart, when the Holy Spirit comes through the Word of God to prick our hearts with respect to the burden of sin before God, it is exactly then that such a heart feels a need to go to God in prayer. What else can be the meaning of the prodigal’s words: “I will arise and go to my father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants”?
The felt need for prayer arises out of true repentance.
What was the young man experiencing? I believe he was experiencing three things in his heart. These three things are important for us to examine with respect to our own hearts, to check whether or not God produces these things in us.
He felt, first of all, the need to seek the forgiving and cleansing grace of God. This prodigal son of whom the Lord had spoken had been brought to a genuine repentance. God had brought him down low, exceedingly low. But there it was that God opened his eyes, not simply to the bad decisions that he was making, but to what was underneath those decisions – his own pride and his own sinful way. He says, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee.” The weight of sin crushes him as he sees it committed before the living and the true God.
Genuine repentance, therefore, is when a person gives up excuses, gives up comparing himself to other people, gives up justifying of his own actions. It is when he no longer tries to do damage-control and to see just how narrow and how confined he can make his apologies and his confessions. The prodigal son says simply, “I am not worthy to be called thy son.” This arises out of a felt need of the crushing burden of sin, and out of the realization that he has no ability to remove or hide or conceal what he has done. Out of that comes the need to pray. “Where am I to go under the burden of my sin? There is only one place. I will arise and go to my father and say, Father, I have sinned.” There was not only a sense of his guilt, but it was also a sense of a need for cleansing.
God gives to His children a new heart. We read in Ezekiel 36:26, 27, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.” The grace of repentance is also a desire to change, a desire to be cleansed from one’s evil way and now to walk in the ways of the living God.
You see, true repentance is not the same as moral resolve. It is not simply a decision that one ought to do better. True repentance is when God, by the Spirit in the depth of your being, gives you a new heart. You are then pricked over the burden of your sin, and you have now a desire to be clean before God, to walk in His ways. Then God begins to show us the reality of what our problem is and what is opposing us. What is that reality? The reality of our enemy is our own indwelling sin, a sinful world around us, and a very real enemy called the Devil. As we confront these enemies of our own sin, a sinful world, and the devil, we feel a need for God’s cleansing grace. We pray for grace to help us to live a God-honoring life.
Do you feel these things? Do you feel the necessity to go to your heavenly Father? Do you feel times when the burden of your sin would actually kill you and press upon you? Do you feel a need for God’s grace to make you clean? These are the things which cause us to pray.
You see, we do not pray, as Christians, just when there is a problem, perhaps sickness or death or something else, and if there are no problems, we have nothing to pray about. Oh, no! We always need the assurance of the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ. We always need more treasures of that grace of God to cleanse us. We stand in the midst of our own sinful desires in a seductive world of evil. We have that unceasing enemy, the devil. Therefore, realizing these things, we feel a need to come to God and pray. Is that true about you?
But this young man, this prodigal son, also felt very clearly his utter dependence upon God. The prodigal son one day had strutted out of his father’s house believing that he was up to anything that came his way, he was his own man. So also you and I, in sin, would boast of ourselves. It is arrogant to say, “I am the master of my own fate, the captain of my soul.” Yet, the sinful heart says that. The sinful heart, arrogant before God, says, “I’m my own man. I’m me.”
But when God comes into our lives by His Word and Spirit, then we begin to understand that that is not the truth at all. Rather, it is in God that we live and move and have all our being (Acts 17:26). When God works within you, He gives you to know your utter dependence upon God. Jesus, inMatthew 5, spoke the words of the Beatitudes, and He said in the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The very first work of God within the heart of one whom He has chosen to eternal life is this: to make them poor in spirit – the realization that I am nothing, I can do nothing, I deserve nothing, I owe everything to God! I am dependent upon God for everything – breath and life, health, strength – utterly dependent upon God.
Do you know that? Do you know the truth that you are utterly dependent upon the living God? Are you humbled before Him? Or are you filled with arrogance?
When, by the grace of God, we are humbled before God, then we are also driven to pray. It is a felt sense of our dependency which brings us to our Father. The young man had come to the end of his resources. He saw what his life would be if he took charge of it. He was in a pig trough. He felt his utter dependence now upon God. What did that work in him? These words: “I will arise and go to my father.” He needed to come to God because he was utterly dependent upon God for everything.
Still more. I believe he felt a need to express his gratitude, especially after his father receives him in the manner in which he does. The father, we read in Jesus’ parable, came forth when his son was yet a long distance away and ran to meet his son and embraced his son with compassion and forgiveness. Having received that forgiveness of God, what other motive can there be in us but gratitude? And gratitude also is an impulse to pray. There is a desire to pray when true thankfulness dwells in your heart for what the Lord has done for you?
The Bible tells us that one of the dominant characteristics of the ungodly is the sin of ingratitude. They simply rule out God. They refuse to see the glory of God in His creation. They refuse to express any dependence upon God. They rule out God and therefore they do not thank Him.
But when God makes Himself known to us as the mighty God, as the Savior in Jesus Christ, then, no matter your earthly position today, you will feel the need to thank Him. Whether your way is outwardly one of ease and prosperity or whether your way today is one of sickness and hardship, if you have been enveloped by the love of God and been given by God forgiveness of sins, you will feel an overwhelming desire to render thanks to God. Psalm 103 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Why? “Who forgiveth all thy iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.” When God is God to you, and when you realize by grace that He has showered upon you blessings without number, you will also feel a need to thank him.
Are these things true about you? Do you feel a sense of your sin? Do you feel a sense of your utter dependence upon God? Do you feel an overwhelming desire to thank Him? Then what else can we do but arise and go to our Father? It is the knowledge that He is our Father for Jesus’ sake that emboldens us to come to God.
Prayer is coming to God, coming into the fellowship of Him who has drawn us by His own hand. His fellowship we need. You see, prayer is not a luxury. Prayer is not simply some act of super-piety, super-religiosity. Prayer is a necessity. The central blessing that God gives to us through the cross of Jesus Christ is that we desire to come before God. And what better expression of that is there than prayer? When we draw near to God, we feel a need of communion with our heavenly Father.
This is what the prodigal knew. He knew that he must come to God. By the grace of God he knew the character of his father. He knew his father as just but faithful and compassionate. Being burdened in the sense of his own sin, being burdened in his own utter dependency, and feeling an overwhelming desire to thank the father for his grace, he had to pray.
The question, again, is: Is this true of you? Have I described your felt needs? Are these the needs that drive you, compel you to come to God’s throne of grace in prayer? I know that these needs are not always felt with the same intensity within our hearts. And I know that there are often lapses in our spiritual feelings. But let us not hide behind those qualifications. Let us face the question head-on: Do you know these heartfelt needs? What needs? 1) A need for God’s forgiving and cleansing grace. 2) A need arising out of your own utter dependence. 3) A need to express gratitude to God. Do you feel those needs? Do these things well up, boil up, in your soul so that you cannot keep the cork on your heart but it has to come out in prayer to God? You need to seek Him, to seek His pardon and cleansing. You need to thank Him. You need to go out of yourself to Him and find in Him that which you have not of yourself.
This is the work of God’s grace: to work within us a felt sense of the need to pray – a need to pray out of the realization of our sinfulness and of our dependency upon God, and a need to thank Him for all His mercies to us.
Now go to your Father. “I will arise and go.” Take with you these words: “I have sinned before thee and heaven and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” But go to your Father! Pray.
Sometimes, if not many times, you and I in the midst of problems and anxieties, fears and despair, need to be told: “Go to your Father with that. Pray.” Sometimes you say to your child (if you are a parent), “I can’t help you. I really can’t help you with that burden.” Especially as they grow older and must confront the difficulties of this life, you can talk to them. But ultimately the strength and the wisdom that they need is far beyond you. So you say to your child: “Arise, go to your heavenly Father. There is no deficiency in Him. He is able. Arise. Go. Go to God in prayer because the way has been opened in the blood of Jesus Christ.” The way is not opened to those who are proud and deceitful, who clutch their own evil way, who stand before God in arrogance. No, then the gate is closed. You cannot go that way. But the way is opened for prodigals, for those who by grace have no plea except Jesus’ blood and righteousness, for those who cannot go anywhere else – there is no other place. Arise, and go to your Father. And He will in no wise cast you out.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Work in us these needs: a sense of our sin, a sense of our dependency upon Thee, and a sense of gratitude to Thee for Thy blessings in order that we too might arise and go to our Father. Amen.