Even the Hardest Heart: Hope For the Prodigal

Dear parent, grandparent, sister, brother, family, friend,

Has someone close to your heart turned their back on God? Has this person walked away from the faith of their childhood, leaving you with more questions than answers? Have the years passed with no change, no repentance, and no restoration? Do your prayers for them end in tears more often than not?

Be encouraged and take heart – there is hope. That is the message. That’s it. I have no other pearls of wisdom to offer. Hope is all I have to bring.

Pain, grief, and loss

In my small circle I know many people who have walked away from God, leaving behind parents, grandparents, and other loved ones with a profound sense of loss. I don’t write this in some vain attempt to convict those who have left their faith behind. That’s not my job. Nevertheless, that choice has consequences for all involved. Parents deal with the aftershocks of that choice for the rest of their lives, unless the prodigal comes home. No matter who you are in this scenario, there is pain and loss.

Walking away does not have to be forever

During my pastor’s sermon on Sunday, he read from 2 Timothy 4. Verse 11 captured most of my attention, though it was only a small part of the sermon. (Sorry Pastor Allen!) Paul writes, “Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.”

Most Bible scholars believe this is the same Mark (John Mark) who abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Sometime between abandoning Paul and Barnabas and the start of the next missionary journey, Mark had demonstrated enough growth for Barnabas to vouch for him. His walking away was not final.

Now, the above story doesn’t necessarily describe a falling away from faith. We don’t know John Mark’s spiritual condition when he left Paul and Barnabas. We don’t know if he ever abandoned his faith or if he was simply spiritually immature. I use this example only to explain my thought process. It worked as a prod in my thinking.

God works in mysterious ways.

Recently, I’ve felt burdened to pray more earnestly for the prodigals I know. This burden has been reinforced in a number of ways: the Mark reference and a couple of songs I’ve been listening to recently. I’ll get to those in a bit. For now, let’s get back to hope.

If you agonize over a prodigal, there is hope. Scripture makes that abundantly clear. The Good Shepherd is always looking for the sheep who has wandered away. Our loving father is always standing at His door looking for the prodigal to come home. He is always seeking, always searching, always calling. Never doubt this, even when time and circumstances have crushed your spirit. He agonizes for the prodigal more than we do.

A quick confession

I’ve had writer’s block for some time. Writing this article has been difficult and uncomfortable, like pulling teeth. I am afraid the results are sloppy and disjointed. Even so, I have felt such a strong conviction to write it that I am risking putting out something that is not up to my usual standards – as meager as those are. When I feel this sort of urgency to write something, I can only attribute it to God. Someone must need to read these words, even if they are clumsy and ineloquent.

There is hope

There is hope. Your child might have walked way years ago, leaving behind the church and their faith. Perhaps you are in the middle of someone dear to you leaving the faith. No matter where you are in the process, the pain is real and the loss is heavy. Even so, there is hope. God’s arms are always open, waiting to embrace the prodigal who returns. He stands ready to forgive and celebrate. Rest assured in this truth.

“Even the hardest heart”

Back in 1995, WhiteHeart, my favorite band of all time, released Inside, their penultimate album. One track from that album was recently re-released in a slightly different version than what can be found on the album. That song, “Even the Hardest Heart”, is a song of hope. I have listened to it more times than I can count over the last few weeks. While the song might not be your style, the lyrics should be able to speak to everyone.

Days and even years go by 
We wonder why or when 
But there can be no judgment here 
'Cause we know where we have been Remember all the loneliness 
Then we felt the fire 
'Cause someone else was praying, 
Believing that... 
Even the hardest heart 
Even the hardest heart 
Will break like the dawn 
And be changed by the song of love 
Even the hardest heart 
For those who have gone astray 
And those who have fallen away 
Let's all stand together and pray for a 
Shower of love 
...for even the hardest heart 

Praying. Believing. We stand ready to welcome them back. No judgment and certainly no attempt to convict them. Again, that is not our job. Our job is to pray, believe, and hope, a hope that is not empty but built on the promises of God. “Even the hardest heart will break like the dawn and be changed by the song of love.”

The relentless love of God

I will close with one final song I first heard at an Andrew Peterson concert – his Behold the Lamb Christmas show. One of his guests was singer/songwriter Jess Ray. She sang a few original songs during her short set; both were amazing though one, in particular, has been coming back to me a lot recently. I will leave you with a link to listen to the song and the full lyrics. She does a much better job of describing the hope we have than I ever could.

Let the truth of these two songs and the very words of God fill your heart with hope and encouragement. God is seeking and calling out to your prodigal. He will never stop seeking and calling. Be encouraged and take heart. Even when it feels hopeless, there is always hope.

“Runaway” – Jess Ray

I can see it in your eyes, that you're gonna run You're gonna run 
And I can hear it in the way that you speak to Me, 
That you're gonna leave 
So as you slip away, I will say 
As you pack your things, I will sing 

Even if you run away from Me 
Over the mountains, through the valleys 
I will not rest, but search east and west to bring you back with Me 
Even if you sail away from Me 
Across the oceans and the seas 
I will move again, like the mighty wind, and blow you back to Me 
I'm gonna move again, like the mighty wind, and blow you back to Me

I have seen this all before, it is all too familiar But you will never see the bottom of My storehouses of love 
So as you use the night to make your flight, 
No choice that you will make, or path you take will change My mind 
Even if one day you decide, you will find somewhere else to hide 
I will walk your way, and call your name, and wait for your reply 
Even if you make up in your mind, you don't want to be by My side 
I will leave behind 99, oh that you'd be mine I'm gonna leave behind 99, oh that you'd be mine 

Even if you stomp and scream and huff, tell Me that I'm not good enough 
I'll take every swing and every blow, until you know My love 
Even if you beat upon My chest, tell Me that you don't understand 
I will love you and teach you to love Me again I'm gonna love you and teach you to love Me again

Phill Lytle

I love Jesus, my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my church, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, 80s rock, the Tennessee Titans, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, pizza, vacation, etc...

One thought on “Even the Hardest Heart: Hope For the Prodigal

  • August 13, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    What a beautiful message of hope this communicates, both to prodigal who are “out on the mountain, wild and bare,” and far from God, as well as to those who love them and pray for their return. Thank you for sharing this!


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