“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘you disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me and I will return, because you are the Lord my God. After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him, ” says the Lord
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
A mother waits; no word comes. Promises are broken, excuses made and the days of silence become weeks. Love and hope are mute in her heart, only endurance is heard. She is continually braced for bad news, for more pain, another hammer blow to her hope.
A father prays; nothing seems to change. Money flows through the child’s hands to self-destruction, to profligacy and risk, to endanger the lives of others and leave lifelong scars. Disappointment threatens to spill out into words of condemnation and anger.
A child grows into independence, into a self-absorbed and reckless adulthood, where pleasure rules, and anything that hurts is drugged into silence by substances, by adrenaline, by noise and constant activity… anything rather than hear the quiet voice of loving forgiveness, the persistent whisper of regret and shame, or the weeping inner child crying for hope and love and belonging.
Lord, we live in such fear for our lost sheep. Terror shoots through us in the night as we wonder where they are, who are their companions, what is happening to them? Behind the bravado of their words, and the facade of a smiling face, we hear and see the child we loved who is lost to us, seemingly forever. We guess at the risks they take; at the damage they are doing to themselves and – we fear – to others and are convulsed by grief.
You made them beautiful in your image, gifted them with compassion, creativity, energy and insight. You made them loving in your image, destined to give and receive in trust and generosity. So many gifts being squandered in a far country, on worthless things that will not last. So much energy and ability being devoted to finding fulfilment and meaning in created things, instead of the Creator. You made them above all to know and be known by you, finding their identity, security and purpose in being your beloved children. Surely, as we weep over them, your tears fall too?
God of the lost and broken, hear our prayer for our lost sheep. We know that you see them, that their ways are not hidden from your sight, and no matter how far, fast or purposefully they run from you, they cannot outdistance your love. We know that the pain we experience is a mere echo of your loving heart for the lost of this world, so determined in rejection of you and in seeking to assuage their desperate need with other things.
God who sees, who meets the exiles in distant lands, meets the despondent in the wilderness, meets the proudly independent at the peak of their achievements, we are glad to know that you will meet our lost sheep in their chosen places. Those who have quietly walked away from faith; and those who have left a trail of destruction in their going – both are equally in need of your power to restore them to life and hope. They are astute in avoiding your people; adroit in avoiding conversations about faith; resolute in their rejection of Christ who loves them, quoting a multitude of ‘reasons’ which chime with their culture. But your Spirit is not bound, and your voice is not silenced. Speak to them we pray, loudly and clearly, persistently and tenderly. Break down their defences, undermine their arguments, make them profoundly dissatisfied with all that has mattered to them, so that their hunger drives them home to you.
How long must we wait for them? How much damage must they do before they come to their senses? You see and know and love them, will you not lay hold upon them in power today, and deliver them from the spirits which bind them to darkness, rebellion and unbelief? Your Son died for them, rose to deliver them into your family as redeemed children with a place in glory, shall his labours not bear fruit in these lives?
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.