TA-DA! The winner of the drawing for Designed for Devotion, the new book by Dianne Neal Matthews is Karen!!!!! Congratulations, Karen, I know you’re doing to love it. And thank you everyone for putting in your names.

I know you’ve had the experience of reading a verse and thinking, “Did they just put this verse in here? How could I have read this passage so many times and never seen this verse before?’

I felt like that many years ago when I read Proverbs 19:19: “A man of great anger will bear the penalty, For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.” Doesn’t that sound like something right out of a 12-Step Program? Or from a psychology book on tough love? You mean God was and is the first Psychologist? Who woulda thought?

Well, I had that deja vue experience this morning when I read, “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him” (Luke 15:16). Of course you recognize that verse which is within the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or Parable of the Loving Father or Parable of the Jealous Brother–take your pick, they all apply). The part that hit me was, “no one was giving anything to him.” I’m sure I’ve noticed that before but it really hit me strongly this time.

Talk about Tough Love.

Yet, haven’t we all prayed for our wayward family and friends: “Bless them, Lord”? When do we have the courage to pray, “Lord, withhold your blessing”? Ohhhh, that’s makes me feel tense.

The most difficult and risky prayer I’ve ever prayed for a prodigal loved one is: “Lord, do whatever it takes to draw him to You.” Just thinking of that makes tears come to my eyes and fear creep into my heart. At the same time, I’ve prayed more often, “Bless him and open his eyes to Your love for him.” It’s just seems incongruent to pray, “Lord, withhold your blessings from him to reveal your love for him.” 

Strange, isn’t it? We easily connect love with blessings but have a hard time connecting love with a withdrawal of blessings. How can that prodigal get the connection to God’s love if he/she doesn’t experience the blessings? We don’t think they’ll get “it.”

Yet, the Prodigal Son returns to the Father repentant and taking hold of grace by saying, in effect, “Because of my neediness, I know I don’t deserve even coming back to your care as a son, only as a servant.” 

If that Prodigal Son had turned back to the Father because of the Father’s blessings, he might have come with the attitude, “I deserve restoration–after all, look at the blessings I’ve had.” He would have returned with an entitlement attitude instead of a repentant attitude.

Of course, every person is different. God knows his or her heart and what will draw them back. For some, it will be withholding something and for some it will be giving blessing. In each of our choices as we respond to our Prodigal, we need God’s direction and wisdom in how to pray for him and how to respond.

Sometimes “blessings” can be defined in different ways. It could mean giving what we know is dangerous, although, obviously, that’s done with great wisdom. (You wouldn’t give drugs to a drug addict.)

Pastor and author R.C. Sproul, when referring to the Prodigal’s Father, writes, “His granting of it [the prodigal’s inheritance] was not an act of parental weakness but of wisdom and courage. Sometimes it is necessary for loving parents to let their children go out on their own even when it is obvious that they are neither mature or trustworthy” (God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children).

The Prodigal Son story and Proverbs 19:19 are about Tough Love. About giving and holding back. About having the wisdom to know when to do what. How wonderful that we don’t need to depend upon “formulas”: one size fits all. God’s wisdom, guidance, and direction are available to us in our responses in each opportunity.