I certainly don’t agree with everything the Amish believe. Their extreme legalism and shunning practices are not a reflection of God’s grace. But some Amish communities do have a practice which I find beautiful.
When one of their children grows up and runs away from the family and the Amish beliefs, although they are shunned, the family continues to set an empty place for them at the dinner table. No matter how long their son our daughter has been gone, with each meal mom and dad leave an empty chair as a symbol for their missing child. All the Amish children know of this tradition, so when they run away later in life these prodigals will be reminded at least three times a day during meal times that they are still loved and welcomed to come home.
When Your Run from God, Remember that He Still Truly Loves You
To run from home and then to return to find a spot still waiting for you at the table is humbling. But to run again is something more. And if any Christian is being honest, we all must come to terms with this uncomfortable situation we all have placed ourselves in. Every Christian ran and then was forgiven, and then we continue to run to some degree. The danger is when the shame seems to great to return a second, a third, a hundredth, a millionth time.
The only thing that can save us from the wall of shame that hinders our path back home is the belief that God wants to forgive us. If you think God barely mustered the strength the first time to forgive you, that your room was cleared out as soon as you left because he was hoping you’d stay gone, then it will be even harder to come back each time you leave.
When Your Run from God, Remember that He Wants to Forgive You
We must realize, if we are to persevere even after we sin again and again, that when God forgives, he is not gritting his teeth. He’s not doing it because he knows he must. He forgives because he wants to. If God didn’t want to send Christ, he wouldn’t have done it. God never does anything he doesn’t want to do.
God hates our sin, but he loves to forgive because forgiveness is one of the purest expressions of true love. Ephesians 1:4, 5 explains: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will . . . .”
God chose us “in love” and only because it was “in accordance with his pleasure.” God didn’t send his son to save the world because he felt so obligated to do it, for God “so loved” the world he sent his Son (John 3:16).
When the prodigal returned the father ran to him (Luke 15:20), all throughout the Old Testament when Israel would finally repent God would restore them, and while we were God’s enemy he demonstrated his love by sending Christ (Romans 5:8). Therefore, no matter how many times we run, we must always believe God passionately desires to forgive or else we will hide from him in shame.
If we don’t believe it is actually his hope that we return home, we will imagine and believe false things about our Father. We will feel his judgmental glare that is not there. We will hear his deep huff of disappointment that he never actually made. We will so torture ourselves with lies about God that not only will we feel his false hatred but we will begin to hate ourselves.
No, it pleases him to forgive us! We must stop these false thoughts and lies that have no biblical grounds and believe the truth about God. The only way we can make God happy after we sin is to give him the opportunity to do what he loves to do – forgive.
Running from God Doesn’t Take Away Your Place in God’s Home
If we run from him, he doesn’t take away our place at the table. But to enjoy our place back in his family, we must repent and return home, no matter how many times we’ve ran before.