Last week, Kenneth Allen fired up the John Deere and headed for a Minnesota county fair. Why not? It wasn’t far—practically beside his spread. No big deal, right?

Oh, but it was.

The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office was notified immediately and a state legislator happened to be on the scene and got involved. According to USA Today, the joyriding incident was over within minutes—Kenneth Allen didn’t have permission to take the tractor and was escorted home.

“Kids will be kids” his father told Fox 9.

But Kenneth’s father quickly popped the hood and removed the tiny battery from the toy tractor. Yes, Kenneth is two and a half years old. He’d quietly taken the miniature John Deere, heading out for a solo ride on the fair’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

Countless parents across the nation laughed—misbehaving children are nothing new. But can you think of one in the Bible? Does Scripture ever tell us of an errant child?

Oh, ho, they’re everywhere!

Cain killed his brother Abel; Jacob deceived his father to steal his brother’s blessing; Hamor’s princely son defiled Dinah; Jacob’s 10 sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery---and we aren’t even out of the first book of the Bible. (Genesis 4:1-8, 27:1-35, 34:1-2, 37:12-28)

Perhaps Scripture’s most famous immoral child is the one who demanded his inheritance and then squandered it on wild living. We call him the prodigal.

You may wonder what “prodigal” actually means. Merriam-Webster defines it as “One who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly; One who returns after an absence.” The prodigal did both. He wastes his money, ends up starving, and goes home.

What most don’t consider is that the prodigal didn’t return out of love. It wasn’t because he missed his father. He returned because his life had become hopeless.

It can take that. Many need to reach the end of their money, their health, or the loss of a loved one before they can say, “I need God, and I need him desperately.”

Jesus then paints a vivid scene of the prodigal’s return. Who first sees the wayward son?

The older brother;

The servants;

His mother;

His father; or

Both 3 and 4.

Think for a second—this is an important moment.

It’s number 4, the father. Jesus says: “While [the prodigal] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him...” (Luke 15:20)

The father saw his son in the distance because the father had looked down that road every day, hoping for his child’s return. Jesus tells us this parable, hoping we’ll see that we have the same loving, forgiving Father in heaven. God longs for our return. He lets us go, refusing to force us to stay, but every day He hopes we’ll come home.

Most Christians know this story so well that it bores them. “Yada, yada, the prodigal,” they’ll say. “I’m frugal, love God, go to church, end of story.”

But consider this: Have you squandered other blessings God has given to you? And are you so tight-fisted that you’ve refused to share them, turning from someone truly in need?

Have you chosen your path, instead of praying, listening, and following what God has for you? It may be as big as the choice of a job or as small as helping with Sunday school. You may keep failing to invite the neighbor to church or fear criticism from speaking God’s truth to the man hurting his wife. You know in your heart what it is.

Young Kenneth Allen also knew. He was a naughty boy, taking off without permission. But his father said, “I was glad to see him.”

Our Father feels the same.

You may be starving emotionally or spiritually, in poor health or financial ruin. Your relationships may be in a mess and you may feel hopelessly lost. Listen to me, there’s always hope with God. He is forever there. You can get down on your knees or simply bow your head. Do it right now. Confess your mistakes. God loves you and will help you.

Whatever has happened, it’s never too late to go home.

The Rev. Mathews is an attorney, faith columnist, and the author of “Reaching to God.” She can be reached at Letters@RAMathews.com. Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews.

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