You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6, 8
My wife is always stressing the importance of you, your prodigal spouse, and your entire family, coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As Thanksgiving approaches, I must share an incident from our pre-divorce days that has come to mind several times.
In the early 1980’s, our family was attending a large church in Fort Lauderdale. Even though home was sometimes a battlefield, three times a week we put on the masks Charlyne has told about previously, and went to church as a happy Christian family.
Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, that church prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner to 5,000 people. It was quite an undertaking, with each dinner being handed out personally, and 5,000 people sitting at tables in the church parking lot. Like many members, I took off from work for several days to help in preparation for 5,000 people coming to dinner.
My assignment was to make sure that tables were straight. I was handed a pre-cut stick, and spent hour after hour verifying my stick, and no more, would fit between tables.
On Friday, hundreds of us were given instruction to be altar workers, to minister one on one to people expected to respond following a brief sermon by a well-known evangelist. We were told to select someone to stand with who was of the same sex, about our age, and with whom we could relate.
Saturday, after thousands of Thanksgiving dinners were served, the evangelist gave a simple plan of salvation, and then “drew the net,” as he invited people to make a public decision for Christ. I found myself standing behind a man I would soon learn was named Gilbert. He was about half my size, and later told me that he was from Mexico. The address this homeless man provided was later found to be nonexistent. Everything he owned, he carried with him inside a small bedroll.
On that Saturday, my new friend, Gilbert, asked Jesus to forgive his sins, and to be Savior and Lord of his life. Later in the afternoon, Gilbert was one of the hundreds baptized in water by one of the church pastors. The transient who owned nothing now had a place awaiting him in Heaven.
Three days later, I was at my job at the eye bank. We received a call from the county medical examiner that, as allowed by Florida law, he had authorized corneal removal for transplant from an unidentified deceased person.
When I arrived at the medical examiner’s office, the attendant told me the subject had been sleeping in a Dumpster, which had been emptied. He had been crushed when the truck driver compressed his load of trash. As the sheet was pulled back from the body in front of me, it was Gilbert; the man I had seen led to the Lord just three days before!!
You may know that I use exclamation marks sparingly in my writing. I do not feel we, as Christians, should be surprised by anything God does. In this case, a “!” is all that can express my shock on that Tuesday afternoon. In fact, I need to go back and add a second “!” to the last paragraph. Nothing can describe the feeling of seeing a soul won to Christ, because a local church did the hard work and planning, and then to stand over the same mangled body, knowing that person had been called to life eternal, and to live in the mansion God had promised to Him.
Gilbert’s relatives in Mexico later claimed his body. This little man had been someone’s prodigal. I later learned that he had two small children. I have wondered many times if someone had been praying for him to come to Christ. I have also wondered time and time again if Gilbert would have finally been reunited with his family. When I reach Heaven, Gilbert is one person I want to see.
God allowed me to meet and counsel with Gilbert, and then to see his dead body only 72 hours later for a reason. The Lord was giving me a heart for prodigals, and to see they can come to Him, regardless of the circumstances.
If you have a prodigal for whose salvation you are praying, you have a “Gilbert.” Most modern Gilberts do not sleep in Dumpsters, nor do they carry all their belongings on the streets with them, but inside, all Gilberts, both male and female, are the same. The God-shaped vacuum in their life needs to be filled. Motorcycles, money, material things, or a new romance will never fill that void. Only Jesus can bring the peace that they are seeking. Your prodigal’s coming home to you will be the result of their coming home to Christ.
May I ask you the bottom-line question? Are you praying as much for your prodigal’s eternal destiny as you are for them to simply come back in your door? When I discovered Gilbert on that cold stainless steel morgue table, I can assure you my first thoughts were about his life eternal, not about his marriage.
As a stander, you need to be praying that if your spouse doesn’t know Jesus personally, they will surrender to Him. It is beyond selfish to only be praying, “Lord send my spouse home now, Amen.” Your marriage may last 40, 50, or even 60 years, but after that, you will have all eternity to live in Heaven, if you have accepted Christ, but where will your spouse be? Will the most important issue on judgment day be a restored marriage or a restored soul?
You need to also be praying that just as the church in Fort Lauderdale reached out to share the good news of Jesus Christ to that community, that God will have someone with a willing heart, in the right place at the right time, to reach out to your prodigal. Jesus can save the up-and-out as well as the down-and-out.
Life is fragile. God can call any of us out of this world before our next breath. Many prodigals, by their lifestyle, are flirting with death. Our prayer has to be that they will find Christ before it is too late.
This week may we not be so self-centered that our prayer is only, “Lord bring my prodigal home to me,” but also include, “Lord, bring my prodigal home to You and to me.” Where you (and your prodigal) will spend all of eternity hangs in the balance.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:21-24
Because He lives,