A Journey Into the Far Country

And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, “and there” . And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. – Luke 15:1316

I wonder if the son knew where he was going. He had been travelling for days, and I am certain that as he neared the far country his eyes were big as he saw sights he had never seen back home. The sights and sounds of the far country must have been alluring to him as he took them all in. He did not have to look far to find new friends. When people saw his wealth they no doubt were quick to befriend him. He was invited to every party and welcomed to taste of every “pleasure” albeit not of course without paying a price for it. He had never had to worry about paying for things before. He did not realize how expensive this far country would be, but the enticement was too great for him to deny.

For weeks, months and maybe even years he spent and spent and spent as he, “wasted his substance with riotous living.” The English word riotous is an interesting word. It was first recorded in the year 1389 and was used to describe a life that was out of control and without restraint, which is exactly what it meant in Jesus time. There is something else interesting about this word. The word was used only this once in the entire Bible, and it also was translated in those days as “prodigal,” which explains how it became known as the story of the prodigal son. A prodigal was one who lost control of himself and thus his wasted his possessions.

There is something absolutely fascinating about the way this word was used in their culture. Jewish children were taught not to squander. In fact frugality and industry was strictly taught to them. Sons were given an inheritance by their fathers for the purpose, not of living a lavish lifestyle, but for earning even more wealth. Sons were occasionally sent to the far country for business. There, they would use their wealth to make more wealth at the hands of the heathen. When a son would leave home, his father would instruct him like this, “Son, do not be a prodigal. What I have entrusted to you is for the purpose of you earning more wealth not enhancing the wealth of the heathens in the far country. Do not waste your substance.” The son would then leave on his journey.

Thus a prodigal was not a child who merely left home, but one who squandered all that his father had given him in lavish living. Any son who returned without the wealth with which he left, was considered a disgrace to the father and was to be banished by the village. So, what is a prodigal? Is it someone who leaves the father? Yes, but not entirely. Is it someone who goes to the far country? Yes, but there is still more. A prodigal is one who gets out of control and squanders all the good and perfect gifts that the father has given them and wastes them for their own purpose and pleasure. How does he lose control? He does so when he forgets the purpose of what he had been given by his father.

God did not give us His Salvation, his Son, his Spirit and all the accompanying gifts so that we could waste it on our own fleshly desires. He gave it to us so that we would bring back more to Him. Christians who waste their lives in the business world for their own gain are prodigals as much as those who spend it all on drugs and ends up on the floor of a crack house, or selling their bodies on a street corner. A prodigal is one who takes what he has been given by God and squanders it on earthly gain, but has nothing eternal to show for it. If God gives you a beautiful singing voice but you use it for your gain, and not the Father’s, you are a prodigal. A prodigal is one who wastes what God has given you and has nothing to present back to God. He is not just a wanderer; he is a squanderer. It is not just sinful living but wasteful living.

Please consider this carefully. We often think that sin is what displeases God and certainly it is part of it. However, what displeases God the most, is when we waste what He has entrusted to us, which of course, sin often causes us to do. Thus, anything that causes you to lose control and waste your substance, is to be avoided. When the elder brother accused his younger brother of certain sins, he was missing the point. The worst part of what the son had done is misuse what his father had given him. The worst sin we commit against God is wasting our lives. Alcohol is bad but the fact that it leads to being out of control and wasting our lives is even worse. Now please understand that when we lose control and begin to waste what God has given us, a progression begins to take place, which we see with the younger son.

We will not have enough to last. (when he had spent all) The prodigal left with what looked like unlimited portions that could sustain him for the rest of his life, but without the Father it was not long until it was completely exhausted. The prodigal never imagined when he took his portion and left the father, that he could lose so much so fast. No one ever does. The losses are never expected and it does not take long. Before long, the innocence is lost, satisfaction is lost, marriages are lost, relationships are lost, peace of mind is lost, confidence is lost, children are lost, opportunities are lost, dreams are lost, hopes are lost, health is lost, freedom is lost and it keeps on wasting away until we have spent all.

We look back and wonder where it all went. Many Christians wandered aimlessly away from the father, with all their father had given them and wake one day only to find that it is all gone. They have lost everything. They are spent, empty and drained. A life that once looked so full, is now littered by broken marriages and empty relationships.

Please consider this truth. Before you blame your partner for an empty marriage, take inventory of yourself. Perhaps you have spent all your love and attention on yourself and you have nothing else to give. Tragically, many people seek a relationship to refill their emptiness and then they drain the other person and destroy another relationship. Empty people are often drawn together by the commonality of their emptiness, then try to get back what they spent from one who likewise has nothing left to give. That is why divorce breeds divorce. How sad to see the emptiness in the lives of prodigals.

Sudden famine. (there arose a mighty famine in the land.) It appears that it arose as if suddenly and without warning. That is how it works in the far country. Everything seems to be going along well. Our career, our friends, our finances, our health all seem to be in a great position when out of nowhere famine strikes…with a vengeance. This was not a common famine. It was a mighty one. The problem for the prodigal is that the protection and provisions of home were not there.

When I was a boy, I remember a man who came to the rescue mission who had once been in evangelism and had graduated from a Christian college. He had lost everything to sin. He never dreamed that one day he would have nothing, but when you get away from the father, that is exactly what eventually will happen. He was left to wander in this world without the protection of a church or Christian family and friends. He finally wandered into the Rescue Mission with nothing.

Want. Let’s examine this carefully. (he began to be in want.) Suddenly, nothing was satisfying to him anymore. Everything began to fall short of pleasing him. That is what happens to prodigals that lead them to addictions. The cravings become stronger than can be satisfied. More becomes less. Nothing fulfills. Sin begets more sin because sin does not satisfy the cravings. It never does. It never will. The one who has lost control of themselves is one who no longer can be satisfied. Then, when all is gone, all that they have left, are the desires, but not the substance to fill them.

Bondage. (And he went and joined himself) He sold himself. He was not a son to these people. He was not a friend to these people. He was not a valued servant to these people. All he was to them was an animal to be used for their delights and pleasures. Remember Samson being used for sport as he grinded at the mill? That is what the prodigal had become. He was sport to them. It is strange how Christians who have lost everything, seek to belong to the very world where they lost it all.

One danger for people who are in the far country, is not just joining themselves to someone in the world. There is also the danger of joining yourself to a so called “Christian” leader whose agenda is not the same as the Fathers. I am not casting stones at anyone, but there is a danger of coming back to church without coming back to God. It happens far too often. We come back and conform to all the things that make us fit in as a citizen at that church and it all seems fine. Our walk with God has not been restored, and we are as far away from God as we were, but for a season we feel like we belong. Be careful. There are churches in the far country too.

Lack of fulfillment. (he sent him into his fields) For all of his life, all the work he had done was to further the gain of the family, and as a son he could look at it and feel fulfilled by it. All he was to that citizen in the story, was someone to make money for him. There was absolutely nothing in it for the prodigal or for his father in the long or even the short term. It is impossible for work in the far country to fulfill a son. That is why so many preachers struggle with even staying in church once they leave the ministry. They have to forget the fulfillment they once felt serving the Father, so they separate themselves from it entirely. Only what we do for the sake of the Father will fulfill us.

Degradation. (to feed swine) Did you get that? He sent him to do something he never ever thought he would do. This young man had probably never tasted pork and now he was feeding them for his new master. Serving sin is not always the same as committing sin. It is tragic when our life of sin makes us a servant of sin and leads us to do for money, things we would never have even considered for pleasure. Many a woman who sells her body for money never dreamed of being a servant of sin. Many former preachers are now sold to making money and never serve God again. We started out living for eternal gain and end up living only for mere survival. It is sad to see a Christian sell out to survival. What is survival? It is when you are living your life just to feed the needs of your flesh until you die.

An intense hunger for substance. (And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat) That is hunger. Please understand something. The prodigal was not starving. He was no doubt being fed by his owner, but whatever it was he was being fed was so empty and unfulfilling that he referred to eat the food of the swine. In other words he saw more nourishment in those husks than in what he was being served. No doubt, the master valued his swine more than he did the prodigal, so he fed them better. When you leave serving God as your main purpose. NOTHING that the world offers, will fill that empty spot.

No one cares. (and no man gave unto him.) He had spent all, and no one cared. He was a broken son, not an evil man, but no one cared. No one gave him substance. No one gave him clothing. No one gave him shelter. No one gave him hope. No one gave him encouragement. No one gave him love. He was all alone, and no one cared. Please remember, that this world is only interested in the profits of this life. To them, there are no treasures in heaven so you are just a commodity. You were accustomed to being cared for and loved and now you have no one who really does. You begin to wonder if anyone back home cares. You ask yourself why they have not come to find you and to help you. Your mind plays games with you, and sometimes you are convinced that maybe even the father does not care.

Despair. (I perish with hunger!) Was he dying? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but he felt like he was. In his mind, life seemed over. Did he contemplate ending it all? I do not know, but I do know that he saw nothing but the end. What does a person do when they think it is all over? I have seen it happen with many people when they get away from the Lord. They reach a point where they absolutely don’t think they can ever get back. Finally despair sets in and desperation leads to many horrible decisions. Thankfully, for the prodigal it led him back to the father.

A sense of worthlessness. (And am no more worthy to be called thy son) There comes a time in the far country when you feel completely worthless. It is here when you are close to being at the end of yourself but there is a danger. This can lead to despair. Many prodigals give up at this point when in truth it is the place that best prepares them to return home. They once thought they had value in and of themselves, but now they realize that they have no value, outside of God.

A loss of hope for the future. (make me as one of thy hired servants.) He had lost any hope of being restored as a son, and now was willing to just be a hired hand. When you are in the far country you will begin to believe there is no hope for you. Hope is a rare commodity in the world. Hopelessness is in abundance. Many prodigals believe they have no value left for God. They can no longer serve as a son, so they must grovel as a slave.

How did it come to this? How could one who was given so much fallen this far? Unfortunately, it happens all too often. God bestows upon us so much, and then we waste it until there is nothing left and the process begins in our lives. Here he was, at the very depths of a wasted life.

I wonder how long he was gone. I guess I always thought it was for a short season, perhaps a year or maybe two or three at most. The Bible does not say because it does not matter to God. He watches and waits for as long as it takes for us to come to ourselves. Maybe it was ten years or even longer. Maybe it was so long, that the elder brother had begun to deny he even had a brother. So much had changed about the son. He had aged more than the ten years he had been gone because of the hard life he had lived. Imagine that day after day for all those years, the Father went out and looked for the son. Maybe the servants whispered among themselves, “Our poor master, that boy is never coming back. Why does he do this to himself?”

We make things so much cleaner than they really are. Maybe it was twenty years or even more. Why do I make such a big deal about this? It is because there are many prodigals who have been gone so long that they cannot even imagine coming back and we can’t imagine accepting them back. Please understand, prodigal, that it does not matter how long. Come home. The Father has never stopped watching…hoping…waiting. I know you’ve wasted many precious years, as the song says. It is OK. Come home. Yes, the paths of sin too long you’ve trod. Come home. Just as so long ago you left the Father for the far country. It is time to leave the far country and return to the Father.

I remember as a boy singing the old hymn, Coming Home. It always touched me back then and it still touches my heartstrings to this day.

I’ve wandered far away from God,
Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod;
Lord, I’m coming home.
I’ve wasted many precious years,
Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears;
Lord, I’m coming home.
I’m tired of sin and straying, Lord,
Now I’m coming home;
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy word;
Lord, I’m coming home.
My only hope, my only plea,
Now I’m coming home;
That Jesus died, and died for me;
Lord, I’m coming home.
I need His cleansing blood I know,
Now I’m coming home;
O wash me whiter than the snow;
Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home
Never more to roam;
Open wide Thine arms of love;
Lord, I’m coming home.

Perhaps that song means so much to me because I went away. Sadly, far too many people consider going away merely to mean leaving church but it means far more than that. Going away means leaving the fellowship and security of the Father. Could that include getting away from church? It absolutely could, yet there are many in church who are away from God. They lost their walk and their love for Him a long time ago and are now in the far country wasting their substance in out of control living.