Prodigal Redefined

running2In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a son who asked his father for his inheritance. With his request granted he set off with pockets full. When the son had spent every dime on wild living, he became hungry. He even longed for the food that he fed to the pigs. His father’s servants have enough food to eat, so he would return home, humble himself before his father and ask simply to be a servant. This parable is known as “The Prodigal Son” and in some texts “The Lost Son”.

I identify with this son way too well. How many times have I ventured out on my own with pockets full of grace, only to end up broke(n) and hungry? All my treasures spent on raucous living, metaphorically aligning myself with people who would trade their integrity for a quick buck. I end up longing for the food I feed to the pigs (too many analogies to mention here, but that’s a story for another day).

In the midst of one of many journeys back home, I wrote a song called “Prodigal Heart”.

A Prodigal Heart that struggles with prayer
Running back home and yet unaware
You’re calling me back from the dark
Though I had fallen so far
Lord, can You heal all the scars of my Prodigal Heart.

I had always though “prodigal” meant lost, or foolish, or repentant, as in Jesus’ parable, so a “lost heart”, a “foolish heart”, or a “repentant heart” made sense. Our pastor pointed out that “prodigal” really meant extravagantly wasteful, so a “wasteful heart” didn’t have as much impact. So I packed away the song in the black hole that is the “re-write pile”.

Recently preparing for worship, the biblical text for the upcoming Sunday was the parable of the prodigal son. There are so many great songs in my arsenal to choose from. The mid 1980’s, Benny Hester wrote a song called “When God Ran” about the father running to welcome home his lost son. In 1999, Phillips Craig and Dean did a fantastic cover of the same. In 2007, John Waller released a song about how amazing it was that God “Still Calls Me Son”. Then I remembered that I had written a “prodigal” song. I dug back through the archives and among the song ideas scribbled on scraps of paper and church bulletins, I re-found “Prodigal Heart” from 1999, then 2007, then 2010, then now.

After nearly 20 years of re-writings, the memories and pitfalls that formed the original song came rushing back. Some of them I have overcome, some still linger. I thought about a “wasteful heart”. Time and age revealed that the “wasteful” definition was even more poignant than the “lost heart”. In this season of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, Hallelujah, we find that Jesus took on our sin and left it in the grave. But that does not give us a license to sin. Each time we stumble, it is another hammer strike on the nails through Jesus’ hands. When we turn away, we “waste” the Grace offered us. So the redefinition of “prodigal” is even more fitting.

The point of the story was not the “lost-ness” or “wastefulness” of the son, but upon the son’s return and humble apology, the father ran to meet him, gave him a robe and ring, and celebrated the return of his son who was dead, but now lives.

The parable tells us of God’s great love for us, how He sees us from afar, runs out to meet us and celebrates our return, when we come to our senses and turn back home. Amen.

Though I stumble, I pray not to be wasteful of God’s gift of Grace.
And to be Blessed in Great Measure


Listen to “When God Ran” by Benny Hester here
Listen to “When God Ran” by Phillips Craig and Dean here
Listen to “Still Calls Me Son” by John Waller here

Listen to “Prodigal Heart” coming soon to a website near you.

If you know similar songs or have a good story, let me know.