But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight (Luke 15:17-18).
As I read this story of the Prodigal Son, I thought of the many prodigals I’ve met in my nearly 40-year journey with Christ.
There are many reasons people leave their heavenly Father.
Sin is one. People leave God because they feel stifled by His commandments. They want to live according to their own whims, and not according to His rules.
But I’ve also met many who leave their Father because they’ve been hurt – hurt by unkind words spoken by unkind people in pews. They’ve been shunned because they dress differently, or have different religious views, or political views. They’ve been not-so-secretly disdained because of their backgrounds, their education, their standard of living, the color of their skin, their culture . . . .
Dozens of reasons.
So they go out the door and don’t return.
At first, they might feel uncomfortable, but as time goes on other activities take the place of Sunday morning in church. And thoughts of their heavenly Father drift into a fog of what used to be.
Ahh -- and I've seen this happen many times -- if they listen carefully, they will hear the patient voice of their heavenly Father pleading, “come to your senses and return to Me.”
That's the key: return to Him.
I know from personal experience, church people will often disappoint me. After all, they’re sinners, just like me. Sometimes I, too, hurt others. Usually it's inadvertent. By accident. A careless word. A thoughtless glance. But sometimes I hurt others, even (Lord forgive me) disdain others, because I self-righteously disapprove of their lifestyle, their philosophy, their theology, their culture . . . dozens of reasons.
It hurts when people so casually and callously dismiss each other.
But I learned decades ago my primary purpose in attending church should not be for the people in the pew next to me. I should attend for Jesus. To meet Jesus. To serve Jesus.
To learn to love like Jesus.
Have you left the church because of the way others treated you?
Return. For Jesus.
As it is written: Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:12,13).
And: Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).