Monday, May 4, 2015

The Joy of Finding What You’ve Lost

Few things are worse than losing something important.

Do you know why things you’ve lost or misplaced are always in the last place you look? Because after you find them, you stop looking. (No one has ever accused me of failing to recognize the obvious!) But what about losing something important and feeling much relief when you looked in that “last place,” and there it was?

We’ve all those moments: Being in a hurry to leave, wondering where the car keys are. Planning to go food shopping and unable to find the grocery list. Being all dressed for the concert when a panicky thought sets in: “Where are the tickets?”

Once I’d planned to use a quote from magazine article in a column, but lost the article. It was before the Internet (can you remember back that far?), so I couldn’t retrieve it online. I managed to obtain a photocopy of the piece. Then I lost it again! (Sometimes I think some black hole swallows up some of the stuff we misplace, along with the occasional odd sock.)

A sense of loss seems most acute when what we’re seeking has considerable value: an expensive piece of jewelry, a wallet, or a book that has meant a lot to us. Losing keepsakes can be particularly troubling, being irreplaceable. Maybe a cherished old family photo. A unique gift received from a loved one that holds much sentimental value. Or perhaps a special letter or note that arrived when greatly needed.

Interestingly, Jesus talked about keepsakes and the agony of losing them. In Luke 15, He talked about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and left them to seek one that had strayed. Next He cited a woman who lost one of her 10 silver coins. She searched until she found it, then threw a party. Finally He told about the lost son, a parable known as “the Prodigal Son.”

In the parable of the son, a wealthy father yields to a son’s demand to be given his portion of the inheritance. Since his father was living, essentially the son was implying, “I wish you were dead, so I could have your money.”

The wayward son leaves town, squanders the considerable fortune he had received, survives in squalor for a time, and then decides to return home, humble himself before his father and hope he’d hire him as a servant.

Instead, as the son approaches in the distance, the father spots him. Despite the circumstances of his son’s departure, he rushes to him and offers a warm, welcoming embrace. And then throws an impromptu feast to celebrate the long-awaited return.

Some people might regard these stories as sentiments about the happy moment of recovering things lost. But in them Jesus gives His followers a glimpse of the heart of God. Because in the Lord’s sight, most of us – if not all – are or have been prodigals, wandering away and pursuing our own desires. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Most of all, these stories present God as a seeker. He eagerly and persistently seeks us, even when we have no interest in being found by Him.

The shepherd could have concluded, “I’ve still got 99 sheep. That one’s more trouble than it’s worth, anyway.” But he didn’t. The woman still had nine coins, but was relentless until she clutched the 10th coin in her hand – and then wanted to share the good news with her friends. And the father, despite the great emotional pain his rebellious son’s departure must have inflicted, didn’t wait with arms folded, telling his son upon his return, “Well, I suppose you’ve seen the light. Now you want me to act as if nothing happened?”

No, the father was overjoyed by the son's return. In fact, he couldn’t wait for his arrival. He ran to him, hugged and kissed him, and immediately made him guest of honor for a very special shindig.

We sometimes hear of people making a “decision for Christ,” or “committing my life to Jesus.” And this is legitimate. Jeremiah 29:13 states, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” But the Scriptures clearly show even when we want nothing to do with God, He diligently seeks us.

When tax collector Zacchaeus turned from his past life to follow Christ, Jesus responded, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). At the conclusion of His story of the shepherd hunting for the lost sheep, He said, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14).

At the core, these are stories of mercy and grace, truths we can embrace ourselves. Often we don’t want to find God – He’s the last place we want to look. Like the prodigal son, we deserve to be disowned by God, but He doesn’t do it. We certainly don’t deserve His unconditional love and acceptance, but He gives them still. What could be better news than that?

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