As a nine or ten year old I went Christmas shopping in a big city with my family. A crush of adults pressed against me on every side. Looking down at gray slush, galoshes, legs, and dangling hands, all pushing into the store, I grabbed the nearest black gloved hand and said, “Don’t lose me, Daddy.” The owner of the hand looked down at me and gave me a surprised smile. It wasn’t Daddy. Panic and terror gripped me. I still hate crowds and shopping, even though my dad swooped in and claimed me.
Sometimes that childhood fear returns. I worry about getting lost from God. Two Bible stories appear to have opposite meanings. In the lost sheep story (Luke 15:3-4), God keeps track of his sheep and goes looking for them just like my dad looked for me on that shopping trip. But, in the prodigal son story (Luke 15:11-20), God doesn’t go looking. He waits until the son heads for home. What makes the difference? How can we know God is keeping track of us and will come looking for us if we wander off the path?
The key seems to be that word, “wander”. Sheep don’t intend to get lost. They get distracted and take their eyes off the shepherd. When they look up they get scared and bleat for help. But the prodigal son deliberately goes off track. The son’s behavior says to his dad, “I wish you were dead so I could have my inheritance. Give it to me anyway.” That father doesn’t go chasing after his wayward son. It wouldn’t do any good. The son doesn’t know he’s lost, he isn’t scared, and he isn’t crying out for help. He must turn back before the father can reach his heart.
God looks for us when, distracted, we wander off. If we choose to turn our backs on Him, he waits for us to turn toward him. The difference is huge. While I hate the sheepish feeling I get when I look up and find I’ve wandered, I feel safer knowing Jesus, the good shepherd, won’t lose me, and a loving father watches for my return.
Have a blessed day enjoying whatever pasture God brings you.