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Trust God as Abba in “The Return of the Prodigal Son”

The hospitality of God to us is so beautifully expressed in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). But most of us struggle to experience the heart-warming love of Abba Father that Jesus offers in this story. Rembrandt’s famous 17th Century painting of Jesus’ parable, “The Return of the Prodigal,” is a great help.

Linger with Rembrandt’s painting for awhile. Look into it with the eyes of your heart. What do you notice? Where do you see yourself in this picture? What do you feel? What was your relationship with your own father like? How do you feel in your relationship with your heavenly Father? See if you can feel connected to the God that Jesus knew as “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36).

A Meditation on The Return of the Prodigal Son

When Henri Nouwen was in a Dark Night of the Soul he spent months with Rembrandt’s original painting in the Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg. It healed his depression and the distance he’d felt from God. Then he wrote his wonderful book, named after the painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Let’s look at Rembrandt’s painting guided by Henri Noun’s insights.

In the Background

Consider the figures in the background of the painting. Do you identify with one of these onlookers? Does one remind you of someone in your life? Does one represent your heartfelt image of God? Spend a few moments reflecting and praying as you consider each onlooker:

  • Pharisee / Elder Brother on the right in the foreground. He looks down on the father and prodigal son with a frown of condemnation.
  • Tax collector seated near the center. He beats his breast in humble confession of his need to receive the father’s mercy with the prodigal son.
  • Man or woman looking on from behind. He or she is looking on with interest, close to the father’s embrace but seems so far away.
  • Shadowy figure on top left. He or she seems far removed, observing the father love the prodigal but not entering into the experience personally.
Joining Prodigal in the Father’s Embrace

Have you accepted that you are in the position of the prodigal son before the father? All of us — even if we’re hard-working, dutiful elder brother types — have left our Father and need to return to him. If you are in the position of one of the onlookers step into the Father’s loving embrace.

  • Look closely at the father. His face is soft and his eyes are focused on his son. He’s leaning down and he’s extended his arms to embrace his son affectionately.
  • Notice that his right (dominant) hand is slender and soft and his left hand is larges and rough. Our Father God is strong and tender, holy and gracious — these are his two sides of love. He leads with his kind hand and that is what draws us to repent (Romans 2:4). (In contrast the Pharisees right hand is dark and large and it covers his left hand which is soft — they were condemning and lacked compassion.)
  • To receive this fatherly love you need to fall at his feet as the prodigal did. Cry out to your Heavenly Father about what you’re struggling with today… Share your hurts and stress… Confess your sins… Bury your head in his chest… Feel his loving hands on your back holding you close… Listen to his heartbeat…
Ministering the Father’s Love to Others

Can you imagine yourself as the father? You may not have thought of that before, but there are people in your life who need your love and care.

  • What do you have to give that others need? Thank God for gifts he’s given you, the things he’s taught you, and the love he has put in your heart that you can share with others.
  • Who in your life needs your blessing? Pray for these people.

Hold Abba in your Heart

When you put your confidence in Jesus Christ he puts the Holy Spirit in your heart. The Holy Spirit is your Strengthener and Advocate in all things. He intercedes for you to help you know and rely upon God as your Abba (Galatians 4:6).

Try holding the embrace of Abba in your heart. Let Rembrandt’s picture to be drawn on your heart. As you meditate on the painting, pray to God as “Abba.” My little Breath Prayer inspired by Psalm 33:21 may help:

“Rejoice in Abba… Trust no other name.”

To help you appreciate this great truth and hold onto it you might try the Breath Prayer this way…

  • As you breathe in pray, “Rejoice in Abba…” Let breathing in represent appreciating Abba, the precious and holy name of God given to you by Jesus. It helps to smile while you do this!
  • Hold your breath a few moments to help you mentally and emotionally hold onto the sweet revelation that the Lord God is your dear Papa…
  • As you release your breath pray, “Trust no other name.” Let releasing your breath represent letting go of the people or things in life that distract you or damage your trust in your Heavenly Father.

Be Embraced By Abba Now!

My book Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke will help you to experience the God that Jesus knows as Abba. One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled “Jumping Into Abba’s Arms!”


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