Even the most unchurched among us know of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, we find a story that seems simple on the surface: a younger son of an extremely wealthy man chooses to collect his “rightful” inheritance before his father, who we assume is healthy, passes to the afterlife. This particular young man then squanders his inheritance on his lustful appetites in a faraway land until he loses everything given to him. A short time later, he is so reduced in his station that he takes a job feeding/tending to swine, which for a 1st-century Jew living in the Middle East would have been the lowest point imaginable. Coming to his senses, the young man journeys home and rehearses what he will say to his father so that the old man will have pity on him, and at least bring him on as a hired hand.
For my daily Bible study/reflection, I recently signed up for a 30-day preview of Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” on my Bible app. Yesterday’s reading was titled “Recall What God Remembers.” The opening question was simple enough: “Am I as spontaneously kind to God as I used to be, or am I only expecting God to be kind to me?” To me, that was a stone-cold stunner, a People’s Elbow of truth delivered right between the eyes. I realized that I have been just like the young man in the parable of the Prodigal Son: God has become a source of transactional blessing to me…if I pray enough and have faith, and sprinkle in some good deeds/works here and there, and don’t do anything too egregious, then maybe He’ll bless me, and give me direction in my life. But relationship? Love? Well, of course I LOVE God, but I’m busy, and he’s already omnipotent, right? So He already knows what I need, anyway…
I remember Pastor Tim Rice (at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida) once delivering a sermon on this very same parable, and what he said was recently repeated in something else I heard (I think it might have been a podcast): at the heart of what this younger son tells his father at the beginning of the parable is an attitude of, “Hey, Dad, you’re dead to me. Just give me what I think I’m owed, and I’ll be on my way.” Sort of like, “Yeah, I love God, but I can’t really see Him, so I’ll just take His blessings of eternal life and forgiven sins and be on my way…”
We say we love God, but do we really? Do we refer to Him as “Lord”…or “Father”? Sure, we fear Him, as well we should if we recognize His immense and indescribable power, but are we fond of Him? Do we long to talk to Him, and listen for His voice? Are we already satisfied that we know enough about Him to get by, or do we hunger for even more knowledge, fully realizing that even if we devoted every moment to studying His word and His character, we wouldn’t even scratch the surface of who He is? Do we envision Him as the One that cheers us on, and who rejoices with tears of pride when we do something (anything!) that pleases Him? Do we imagine Him saying to all gathered around His throne, “That’s my boy/girl!” when we do what He commands us to do? Do we dream of climbing up into His lap one day and just resting in all that He is?
Or is He pretty much dead to us, only there for us to acknowledge with a few empty words in the morning or at night, and some rote memorized phrases at dinner? What would you say about a friend or family member, someone that you were once close to and sought you out all the time to just talk, but now you only hear from when they need something or when they’re in trouble…especially when they find themselves in difficult circumstances because they completely ignored advice that you gave them repeatedly? If you’re like me, you’d probably put on your self-righteous coat. Yet, yesterday morning, I asked that question to myself, and saw a familiar face staring back at me in the introspection mirror. Then I saw God, Abba Father, smiling and telling me that even though I have treated Him as an arrogant younger son so many times, He is ready and oh so willing to bring me back into the fold as so much more than a hired hand.
Father, we are in wordless awe at your power, and at what you have brought forth into creation. You are a father that loves surprising His children with good gifts, and we marvel at the discoveries that you allow us to see and experience every day. May we never forget the awesome things that you have done, that you are doing, and that you will continue to do in our lives, and the lives of those that we love. May we never miss a chance to thank you for every blessing, and to praise you in every storm, for Your will is perfect and always perfectly timed according to what our needs are. May we long to talk to you, even when we just jabber on like mindless children, but may we also remember to listen for Your voice everyday. Please send your Holy Spirit to guide us, so that we can make you known throughout all the places where we have influence. May you expand our horizons as well, and give us the courage to take risks so that we may show a world that doesn’t know you just who you really are. May our struggles count, and bring your people closer to you, so that we can be your hands and feet in the world, and serve you not because of what you give us, but because we are so caught up in our adoration of you that we know no other way to express it.