A large pane of glass intended for a window had fallen and shattered into thousands of splinters. One moment it was a thing of usefulness, and the next it was being swept up and dumped as useless. Human lives become shattered by sin just as easily and quickly; but we must never underestimate the Lord’s ability to renew those lives. Christians sometimes have a tendency to regard their failing fellows as hopeless, but it is not so with the Lord.
A most encouraging illustration is given by Isaiah for us as well as for Israel in the earthly days of Messiah. “A bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:1-3). Many who fit into these two categories would have met the Lord Jesus in Palestine, but He did not consign them to the scrap heap. He was in their midst as Jehovah Ropheka, the Lord who restores. David rejoiced in this when he wrote in his shepherd psalm, “He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).
The word “bruised” indicates a fragile reed, one which cracks into pieces. Isn’t this what happened to Peter in his denial of the Lord Jesus? And it may be so with us too. “I just fell to pieces” is an oft-quoted confession. We thank God that Peter was restored to strengthen his brethren; and the same has been true with us so that we can be used to restore others. When did I last pray for, or seek out, my brother or sister who had been overtaken in a sin? (See Galatians 6:1). Incidentally, the reed was often made into a pen for writing, or a flute for music. When it became worn or cracked it was thrown away and replaced by another. No attempt was made to restore it. But God’s ways are not man’s ways, and the divine Restorer is able to make a failing Christian a useful, happy instrument again. Onesimus and John Mark are two who were restored and learned to “burn again” for Him and the testimony.
The prodigal son is still the classic example of man’s extremity and God’s opportunity. One of Britain’s greatest preachers was the worst of reprobates before his conversion. A life of crime, which included gambling and pick pocketing, brought on such remorse that he planned suicide. In the passageway of a rooming-house he was about to kill himself with a revolver when he heard a voice reading in an adjoining room the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. The Spirit used this to prevent the suicide and to bring him to Christ. The former pickpocket, who wore gloves for several years after his conversion to remind him of his once evil practice, was used mightily of the Lord to lead others to the Saviour on both sides of the Atlantic.
The principles of repentance and forgiveness seen in the story of the prodigal son may also be applied to wayward children of God. They may regard themselves as shattered glass, smoking flax, or bruised reeds but scriptural example forbids us to despair concerning them. We must be strengthened by the patience, the expectancy, the forgiveness, and the love of the father in the Lord’s parable, and continue to pray steadfastly for them. We must not sin by ceasing to pray for them; we have a responsibility to plead that they will come to themselves, confess their sin, and ask for forgiveness and restoration.
Such was the case with a recent acquaintance of mine. Raised in a Christian home, he was saved, taught in Sunday school, and later youth classes. He was happy in Christian service until one drink of alcohol started him down the slippery slope away from God, home, and friends. “I loved the taste of alcohol” he told me, and the tears appeared as he unfolded his pathetic story. He lost family jobs, and respectability, but he never lost the assurance that his Christian mother would continue to pray for him. Thank God for patient, persistent, praying mothers! The day the wayward son was called to the bedside of his dying father he reinforced himself with alcohol to face the ordeal. Too weak to speak, the father pointed to the son and then to heaven. “I knew what he meant”, was the comment. Following 8 years of excessive drinking, and 2 years of sobriety after turning to the Lord in repentance, this “prodigal” has returned home. He is alert to the cause of his downfall.
Christians cannot play fast and loose with alcohol any more than with heroin or marijuana. Is there not a solemn warning to us all in the experience of Nadab and Abihu? The warning given to their father Aaron, high priest in Israel, seems to indicate that they were under the influence of alcohol when they offered strange fire (see Leviticus 10:1-11). Their actions brought shame on their family and their nation. “Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12)