I have lost my keys, my wallet, my organizer, money, a watch, a hat, a coin purse, sunglasses, tickets, as well as a number of smaller, more insignificant items. In each case, it seems to follow a predictable pattern:
1. I discover that something important to me has disappeared. (This frustrating realization usually occurs at the precise time I need the item, and so it compounds my irritation.)
2. I drop everything else I’m doing to search frantically for what I’m missing. This usually involves first looking in conspicuous places like the bedside table, my Tom Bihn backpack, or the bathroom counter (don’t ask). If it is still nowhere to be found, I try retracing my steps from the last time I remember having the item. By this time, whatever good mood I had prior to the discovery has vanished, and in its place is a blaming, brooding, suspicious person who thinks someone “took” the item without telling me.
3. If and when I find the lost item, I experience relief, make apologies for the people I accused, whisper to myself promises and plans about how I will not lose it again, and generally feel grateful.
Losing something important does that to me.
God knows what it’s like to lose something. Something valuable, even treasured. Something He desperately wants back. But, unlike me, He always knows where it is, and His seeking is never to find, but to restore.
What He has lost is a person. The person is someone you know. He is a neighbor on your block. She works with you in the office. He sits in the seat next to you in class. You see her in line getting a coffee early in the morning. They look normal, function fairly well in life, but are spiritually lost.
The lost person may or may not know he or she is lost. But being spiritually or morally disoriented, they can’t find their way back on their own. As soon as they approach the realm of spiritual truth, nothing looks very familiar. They can seem confused, troubled, even questioning whether they want to be found. But unless they have help, unless someone goes after them, they will not find their way home.
Jesus was once asked why he spent so much time with people who didn’t fit the religious mold, who were embarrassingly messy in their past, who still said and did things that revealed their biblical ignorance and spiritual immaturity. He not only spent time with them, he regularly engaged in conversations with them over lunches and dinners, in larger and smaller groups. “Why” they muttered, “does He welcome and associate with these spiritual halfwits?”
He answered them by telling three stories (which you can read in Luke 15): In the first, a sheep wanders off from the flock; in the second, a woman misplaces a valuable coin; in the third, a young man demands his inheritance, leaves home and squanders it in Vegas-styled living.
Each of the stories share similar parts: Something valuable and important to the owner is lost. The person drops what he is doing to search for it. When he finds it, he rejoices and celebrates. The shepherd searches for the sheep, finds it and carries it home. The woman crawls around her floor until she sees the glimmer of the coin, and then celebrates. The father lets the son go, waits patiently (and in agony) until much later, in the distance from the house, he sees his son trudging home; he runs to meet him, kisses him, and throws a party celebrating his return.
The lost are found.
Jesus defined his mission this way:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
That’s why Jesus spent so much time and energy on these people. They were lost, and needed to be found. And they mattered to God.
Just like you and me.
However and whenever you became a Christian, I can assure you it was because someone loved you and cared for you enough to see that you understood the Good News. There was a time when you were lost, and—if you’re a Christian—a time when you were found. God is behind this.
This year, I’m asking God to help me see everyone with new eyes––to remember that each individual matters greatly to Him; and if they are lost and have not experienced the gracious gifts of cleansing forgiveness and new life, to reach out to them and do what I can to help them find their way to Jesus.
Join me––won’t you?