Joel Osteen — Go After The Prodigals
I want to talk to you today about going after the prodigals. We all know people that used to be strong in their faith. They used to be in church and excited about God. You'd seem them week after week serving, giving, helping others.
But somewhere along the way, they fell off course. They had a disappointment, a sickness, a divorce, they got discouraged, or maybe they made poor choices and now they feel guilty and condemned like they don't really belong.
The book of James talks about how we have to go after the prodigals, we have to go after the people that have fallen away. It's not enough to just think, "I wish they were here. I really miss them. I wonder where they are". No, you've got to be proactive. God is counting on you to go get that person. Pick up the phone and call them, stop by their house, send them a note, reach out to them in some way.
We have a responsibility to bring these people back. You don't have to tell them what they're doing wrong, don't condemn them, just tell them three simple things, "We miss you, we need you, and we love you". Friends, love heals, love restores. When people know that you care, the fact that you took time to express your concern, that's what brings prodigals back home.
I had a friend that I grew up with and every summer during high school, we would play basketball together at the neighborhood church. That's where he and his family attended and they were some of the main members. They're faithfully there every week. Plus, he was very involved in the youth program. Well, after high school, we went our separate ways and I hadn't heard from him in many years.
One day I was talking to another friend and he told how this young man had gone through a divorce, dropped out of church, gotten very discouraged. Basically, he had lost his passion for life. When I heard that, something rose up on the inside. I thought, I'm going to track him down and encourage him. Hadn't spoken to him in over 20 years. I tried to call, but I didn't have the right number and checked with other friends, but they too had not kept in touch.
I finally got ahold of a high school teacher and they gave me his parents' number. They had moved to a different state. When I called him, of course, he was excited and we laughed and reminisced about old times. Then I told him, "The real reason I'm calling is because I know you've been through tough times. You've had a disappointment. You're not in church anymore. I want you to know that God has a new beginning. We miss you, we need you, we love you".
I didn't condemn him. I didn't try to pressure him into changing, didn't preach a sermon. I just let him know that we cared. He'd never been to Lakewood, and really, I wasn't trying to get him to come here, but the next sunday, sitting on the third row, there he was with his mother and his father. His parents told me, "Joel, we hadn't been in church in 15 years, but your phone call was the turning point". Today, this young man is remarried, he's back in church, very involved, fulfilling his destiny. All it took was one phone call, just a little bit of effort, a little time, a little energy, and what happened? A prodigal came back home.
I've learned we can't help everyone, but we can help someone. God puts people in our path on purpose. What would happen if we all took time to reach out to a prodigal? The person you used to play basketball with, they used to sit by you in services, they used to usher in your section. They used to greet you when you came in, now they're nowhere to be found. They're discouraged, they're struggling, life's trying to push them down. All they need is to hear you say, "We miss you, we need you, we love you". It's amazing what it does for people when they know you care, lights a new fire on the inside, and the closest thing to the heart of God is helping hurting people.
When you take an interest in someone that's fallen away, someone that's struggling, someone that's lost their sense of purpose, I can assure you God will take an interest in you. He will make your sure that you are well taken care of, and the most important thing in life is not our accomplishments. It's not how successful we are or how many people know our name. The most important thing is helping other people, and Jesus talked about how if a person causes someone to fall away from the faith, it would be better for that person that caused it to have never been born.
He used very strong language. Just the opposite is true. When you restore the fallen, when you go after the prodigals and help get them back on the right path, there's nothing more pleasing to God. You can read the bible 20 hours a day, quote every scripture in the new testament, and that's fine, but when you reach out to one of his children and get them back on course, there's nothing that God won't do for you.
I think about as a father, if you help me in my time of need, I'll be grateful. I'll thank you. I'll do my best to pay you back. But if you help one of my children in their time of need, that's a whole different story. If you help lift them out of despair, if you rescue them from harm, if you steer them down the right path, there's nothing I won't do for you. You'll be my friend for life. That's the way God feels when we help one of his children.
Jesus told a story about a shepherd that had 100 sheep, 99 of them were doing great, 99 of the sheep were happy, healthy, on course. But he said, "If just one sheep wanders away, if just one sheep goes astray, the shepherd will leave the 99 and go after the 1". That tells me we should be looking, not necessarily at who's in church each week, but who's not here. I can see the 99. I celebrate all of you, but part of my focus is, where is the one? Who have I not seen in a few weeks? Who has fallen away?
It's not enough to just come in and hang out with my friends and celebrate God's goodness, we have an assignment. We have to leave the 99 and go after the 1 lost sheep. That means you may have to stop by their house sometime. You may have to invite them to dinner and see what's going on. You gotta be willing to be inconvenienced, to make sacrifices. You're looking for that one lost sheep, and it's great when your family and friends are happy, healthy, everybody's moving forward. Celebrate that, but at the same time, be aware of who's not here. Who's discouraged? Who's struggling? Who's headed down the wrong path? Who's dropped out? That's when we have to kick it into gear and go after the one.
See, every one of you should pastor your own group. There should be 10 or 15 people you see here every week. They sit close to you, they usher in your section. They check your children in at the nursery. That's your congregation, that's the people God's put in your life. Watch after them. Be aware when they're not here. Notice when they're discouraged, when they're not the same. If you haven't seen them in a few weeks, don't just think, "Well, I hope the church checks on them, I wonder where they are".
No, let me tell you a newsflash, you are the church. They are a part of your flock. Reach out to them, call them, find them on facebook, send them an email. God is counting on you to bring that sheep back into the fold. Now, here's the key, I can't bring in your sheep. I don't have the relationship one on one like you do. You can't bring in my sheep. God is counting on each one of us to watch after our own flock.
I've read a story about a gentleman that taught sunday school. His name was Mr. Kimball. He was very successful, a businessman, very influential, and he taught junior high boys back in the 1800s in a small church. One day he noticed that one of his students, an 11-year-old boy, had not been at class for several weeks and he was very concerned. The next day after work, he headed out on the streets of Boston looking for this young boy, and he searched and searched, and finally after a few leads, he found the boy's home, knocked on the door and told the parents who he was, and they said, "The boy is not here. He's across town working at a shoe store with his uncle".
Mr. Kimball took the long ride across the city and found the shoe store. When he walked in, the little boy saw him, he was so surprised to see his sunday school teacher. He thought it was just a coincidence and he'd come in to have some kind of work done on his shoes. Mr. Kimball said, "No, I didn't come to have any kind of shoe repair, I came because I'm concerned about you. Where have you been? Are you okay? Is there anything that you need"?
The little boy, so surprised, he said, "No, I just quit coming to class because I didn't think it mattered. I didn't think you really knew my name, and I certainly didn't think you would miss me". Mr. Kimball looked him in the eyes and said, "Young man, it does matter. I need you. You're a very important part of my class".
That young boy practically never missed another sunday school class. He went on to become the most influential minister in the 1800s. His name was D. L. Moody. He touched his generation in an amazing way. It can all be traced back to Mr. Kimball. Had Mr. Kimball not gone after the prodigal, a young boy, had he been too busy, or had he just celebrated all the other boys in the class, not aware of who wasn't there, then I thought that D. L. Moody would have touched the world like he did.
The real question today is, who are we missing? Who is not here that used to be here or who is not here that should be here, a family member, a friend, a co-worker. Some people today, they've not only dropped out of church, they've dropped out of life. I want us to have a new passion to go after them.
Growing up, we had a dog named Scooter. He was a big german shepherd and Scooter loved to chase squirrels. If we saw a squirrel in the yard as children, we would say, "Sic 'em, Scooter, sic 'em". Scooter could be laying down half asleep, but when he heard that word "Sic 'em," he would take off running 90 miles an hour. Half the time he'd never even see the squirrel, but if he thought there was a squirrel to be found and he heard that word, "Sic 'em," he'd take off with great passion.
The word I want us to get in our spirit today is not profound. It's not theological. You can find it in the book of Joel, but not in the bible Joel. That word is "Sic 'em". The family member that's off course, sic 'em. The friend that used to sit by you, sic 'em. The neighbor that used to come to church, sic 'em. The co-worker that dropped out of life, sic 'em. My challenge is sic 'em, Lakewood, sic 'em. O
ur attitude should be, "I'm on a mission from God. If you're a prodigal, you better watch out. You're on dangerous ground. I've got you in my sights. I'm going to call. I'm going to text. I'm going to email. I'm going to pray. I'm going to believe. I'm going to visit. I'm going to encourage. I'm not going to leave you alone until you've come back home," why? Because we miss you, we need you, we love you.
Each year, I have our staff call every person that comes to Lakewood, at least everyone we have a record of. There's some 80,000 different people that come annually and, of course, we can't reach them all, but I have the staff tell the people, "Joel and Victoria are checking on you. They want you to know that they love you, they need you, they're looking for you". Listen, lakewood wouldn't be what it is without each one of you. You may come and sit way up at the top and think, "Man, nobody even knows me. They don't have a clue I'm here".
Let me tell you, you're needed. You make the service better. "Well, I just watch on television, Joel, you don't even know me". May not know you, but we need you, we love you, you're a part of this ministry. Now, look around in your life this week at the people God's put, at the office, the receptionist, she seems discouraged. She doesn't seem like her normal self. Reach out to her, that's the one sheep that's gone astray.
The place you buy gas each week, the normal attendant isn't there, don't go the next 6 months wondering where he is. Ask another co-worker, "Something wrong with him? Is he sick? Did he get laid off? Did he have an accident"? Then you can at least send a note or let them know that you're praying. When people know that they're missed, they're needed, they're appreciated, it makes what they're going through much easier.
A lot of times we don't recognize who God has put in our lives. Some people, like the 11-year-old D. L. Moody, they're going to be world changers. They're going to be history makers, but right now, they're off course. They're discouraged. They've lost their sense of purpose. You can be the Mr. Kimball in their life. "Well, Joel, I don't want to get involved in their business. If I call them, they may be embarrassed. They may even get offended".
No, understand, they are your business. We have a responsibility to help bring back the people that have fallen away. Don't leave them alone. They may not respond the first time, or the fifth time, or the twenty-fifth time, but keep calling, keep texting, keep knocking on the door, keep praying, keep believing. At the right time, your message will go through.
Right now, the soil of their heart may be hard and rocky. They won't listen to you, goes in one ear and out the other. The more you talk to them, the worse they get. Here's the good news, the seed you are planting is alive and it will never die. Did you see on the news they found a seed the other day that was 30,000 years old and it's still alive? The only thing that kept it from growing is it has never been put in the right soil.
Well, you keep planting those seeds, and at some point, God will change the condition of their heart and the seeds you have planted will take root and come to life. What am I saying? You're never wasting time going after a prodigal. The seeds are going in.
For many years, my mother prayed for a man by the name of Bill Nash, country western singer, very talented, very popular. My mother had never met him, but she would see his name on the marquee, the side of the freeway, "Bill Nash in concert tonight". Bill grew up in church. His parents were missionaries, came from a great family of strong faith, but in his late teens, Bill got off course, running with the wrong crowd, got into drugs, and instead of singing in church like he grew up, he started singing in the bars, the night clubs.
Down deep, Bill told how he was miserable. He knew God's call was on his life, but like Jonah, he was running, and every time my mother passed that sign on the freeway, "Bill Nash in concert," she would pray again and again. "Lord, thank you that you're working in Bill's life. Lord, brink him back home to the church". Mother had never met Bill Nash, never seen him in person. Why was she so interested? She understands this principle, we're supposed to go after the prodigals.
Jesus said, "It's the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy". It's great to come in each week and celebrate together. This is important, but our real work begins when we dismiss these services. Let's go find the sick, the prodigals, those that have gone astray, those that are struggling with addictions, those that feel like they made too many mistakes, that they wouldn't be welcome. Make an effort to bring somebody back into the fold.
It's easy to think, "Oh Joel, it's their own fault. They made the mess, I tried to warn them. I don't want to get my hands dirty". No, galatians 6:1 says, "You who are mature are to gently restore those that have fallen away". Notice, "Gently restore". In other words, don't have a holier than thou attitude. "Man, what's wrong with you? You grew up in church. You should know better than this".
We're not supposed to condemn people, belittle people, make a spectacle of them, that's going to drive them further away. It says, "Gently restore". That means, "Hey, I know you've had some setbacks, but God's mercy is bigger than any mistake. God wants to give you a new beginning. Why don't you come back home? It's not the same without you". That's what's going to draw people back.
The scripture says, "It's the goodness of God that leads people to repentance". Today, many people have the wrong concept of God. They've made mistakes, they've gone astray, and now they think that God is mad at them, and God has a ball bat up in heaven just waiting to push them down further. They live guilty, condemned, feeling wrong on the inside. The last place they want to go is to church. They think they'll even feel worse.
What's the problem? They've heard all about the judgment of God, they haven't heard much about the goodness of God. Yes, in the old testament, God did get angry with people at certain times, but friends, the good news is we live under the new testament. Because of what Jesus has done, God is not mad at us anymore. One of the best compliments I've ever received, an older gentleman told me, "Joel, you've made God good".
He grew up in a church where he heard that God was mean, he could never measure up. He just wasn't good enough. At 18 years old, when he got old enough, he dropped out, hadn't been back to church in 30 years. He said, "When I heard about the goodness of God and how God was for me, how he had mercy for my mistakes, and how he wanted me to live in victory, it changed my perspective of God". It helped restore his faith.
Today, he's back in church. My mother prayed year after year again and again for Bill Nash, and one day through a series of events, Bill decided to get his life turned around. He wanted to go to church, but didn't really know where he should go. He thought, "Most churches probably wouldn't want somebody like me. I've live a rough life, got a reputation for being a partier".
Turned the television on and he saw my father talking about the goodness of God. That sunday, he came to Lakewood, the old auditorium, sat in the very back and an usher saw him and recognized him, got him hooked up with my mother. My mother gave him a big hug and told him how she'd been praying all these years and him being there that day was a dream come true. Bill Nash, with tears coming down his cheeks, that day at Lakewood, he felt loved, wanted, accepted.
A few months later, Bill Nash gave his first christian concert right there at the Old Lakewood Church. He's been using his talents for the Lord ever since them. Bill Nash right here on the front row, we all know him and love him, great man of God. Come on, we don't love him that much. That's what happens when you reach out to a prodigal, almighty God goes to work. God begins to deal with the person.
In the natural, like with Bill, it may look like, "They're never going to change, their so far off, they're not receptive. I'd be wasting my time". No, God knows how to soften the soil. You don't have to condemn them, love is what never fails. Just sow the seed, "We miss you, we love you, we need you". Let God do the work.
Sometimes we think that we're supposed to convict people. We're supposed to make them feel bad. "Hey man, where have you been? Don't you know you're a sinner? Don't you know where you're headed"? Some people think they're supposed to try to scare the hell out of people. But our job is not to convict people, our job is to sow the seed. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts.
The word "Gospel" is literally translated good news. Our message is you may have made mistakes, but the good news is God has mercy. You may have fallen off cource, but the good news is God is waiting with open arms to receive you back. You may have had a setback, but the good news is God can turn it into a setup to do something greater. When you go after the prodigals, remember it's good news. Don't be angry, harsh, judgmental, condemning. Have a smile on your face. Be kind, loving, forgiving, merciful. You're sharing good news.
Years ago, there was a minister that was touching the world, doing great things, very well respected, but he had some people accuse him of a lack of integrity. These rumors spread and took on a life of their own. They got blown way out of proportion. Very little, if any, of what people were saying was really true, but he was so heartbroken, down and discouraged, he stopped ministering.
Month after month went by, you didn't hear anything from him. He's much older than me and much more experienced, but deep down, I really felt like I was supposed to call him and encourage him. My mind told me every reason why I shouldn't do it. "Joel, you're going to embarrass him. You're going to put him on the spot. He's going to get mad at you. He knows so much more than you, Joel, why would he even listen to you"? On and on, and I kept putting it off.
One morning, and I woke up and I felt it so strongly and I called him. He was so depressed, I could hardly hear what he was saying. He answered in the weakest most possible voice. He said, "Joel, I'm done. I don't have any fight left in me". He was very convincing. I didn't have all the answers. I didn't know how to cheer him up. All I knew to tell him were three things, "We miss you, we need you, we love you".
Five-minute conversation, I hung up the phone. I thought to myself, that was the biggest waste of time, didn't do him any good or me any good. In fact, it did just the opposite. Instead of me cheering him up, he depressed me. I felt like I wanted to quit after that.
Two months later, he called back and told how he had already decided to get out of the ministry before I had called. He was going to formally resign and start doing something else. But he said, "Joel, when I heard you say, 'we need you,' something began to stir on the inside. I began to feel a sense of purpose and I quit thinking about my failures. I quit listening to all the accusing voices, and I started to dream once again". He got back into ministry. Today, he's as strong as can be, touching more people than he ever did before.
It's amazing what happens when people know they're needed, they're missed. One phone call, one text, one visit, to you it may seem insignificant, but when people know you care, it breeds new hope back into their spirit. I'm asking you to go after the prodigals. Who is not here that should be here? A family member, a friend, a co-worker, they've gone astray, leave the 99 and go after the 1. There are people just like my high school friend, all they need is one phone call just to know your concern. God will use your act of love to ignite something new on the inside.
You remember my dog Scooter and that word "Sic 'em," go after them, track them down. What would happen if we would all bring someone back with us to church next week that used to be here? We could touch our community, our world in a much greater way.
Look around at the people that are close to you. That's your congregation. That's the flock God's put you in charge over. Watch after them each week. When they're not here, don't just think, "Well, I miss them". Find out where they are. Let them know you're concerned and that you did miss them.
Listen, if you'll make it your business to take care of God's children, God will make it his business to take care of you and your children. As you help others stay on the right course, God will make sure you and your family fulfill your destiny and I believe and declare you will become everything God's created you to be, amen?