Last week a good friend told me that she was in a little bit of a spiritual crisis.
She was raised in a strong home with a strong sense of right and wrong. Being compliant, she obeyed all the rules.
She became a product of her environment; she enjoyed being right about things and that “way” worked for many years. But then she became a mom.
And as such, she is being asked to share the faith with her little people. She’s acknowledging that her path of self-righteous thoughts and behaviors have not given her much joy. And she’s trying to process that.
As an adult, she feels a lot like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal son. She confessed that she feels angry when she thinks of all of the younger brothers out there, sinning and having fun.
She told me, “I know that they’ll repent at the last minute and get the same reward as me and it just makes me angry.”
She told me that she was trying to be honest. She didn’t like how she was feeling but she wasn’t sure how to change it.
How I love love love this woman. Don’t you love her authenticity?
I went home that evening and once my kids were all settled into their beds (which makes the main part of our home the No Fly Zone) I went alone into my bedroom, shut my door and prayed for my friend.
“God the Father, YOU KNOW MY FRIEND, YOU KNOW HER BACKGROUND AND YOU KNOW HER HEART. You also know all of the resources available. Lead me to something that will show her how much YOU love her.”
I had my iPhone so I went to YouTube. I searched for “How to Know God Loves You.” I knew that was the foundational issue.
Within a minute or two I was introduced to a book entitled “The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith” by Timothy Keller, which I thought was interesting since my friend had said she felt like the older brother in that particular story.
I went to Amazon and checked out the reviews for the book. This book had over a zillion five stars. Okay, maybe it was like 2K. Still a lot.
I looked online for Wichita Public Libraries. And lookie! It was available at the Advanced Learning Library, a fabulous new library in Wichita that is worth a family field trip.
(Coffee and books in one place...THEY HAVE A READING DECK! Did I mention they have REVERIE COFFEE???)
I bought me a coffee AND checked the book out the next day.
In the introduction of this book, Timothy Keller says that everything in the book developed from a sermon he had heard early in his career, a sermon that changed how he understood Christianity.
That’s quite a claim. AND quite a way to hook this ol’ reader.
Note: I have read this book several times and each time I cry like a baby. I agree with Tim Keller. This will alter your view of God and self and others.
So no matter what stage of the journey you are on, this story is for you. It’s vital to know that “prodigal” means “recklessly extravagant.” We’ve always applied that to the son.
However, with Tim Keller as my guide, I will no longer think of this parable as “The Prodigal Son.”
It’s the PRODIGAL GOD story:
The 15th Chapter of Luke begins with the tax collectors and sinners gathering around Jesus, wanting more. And the Pharisees were complaining about how he hangs with sinners.
So when Jesus begins to teach, He’s clearly directing his parable-shooting gun straight at the Pharisees.
Most of you know the story: There was a father with two sons. The younger one asked for his inheritance and once he received it, he left the family farm to go live a life of scandalous pleasure. Once he ran out of money, he decided to return home and was surprised to be received into the embrace of his father. This little reunion made the older brother angry. The story ends with the younger brother enjoying the feast his father prepared….and the older son on the outside, refusing to go into the feast.
This parable is obviously about the open love of God the Father. But there is so much more...
Each son represents a way of living, a way of doing life and each correlated with the audience of the time (as well as us now!)
Here’s the interesting part. This parable basically pits the two natural ways that we find our happiness against each other.
Looking at the parable, it’s super easy for me to see the sin of the younger brother.
But what about the elder brother? He was without sin, right?
Let’s look closer.
He gets angry and refuses to enter the party.
He seethes with self-righteousness. (“Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me…)
He feels superior to his little brother (“when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes…”)
He is indignant (“for him you slaughtered the fattened calf…”)
I’ll be honest with you guys. I am easily the other brother and I easily feel all those emotions.
Tim Keller goes deeply into this realm and showcases the heart of the elder brother. That part of the book helped clarify this for me.
The elder brother is just as lost as the younger brother because
Because he could not see this, he was probably MORE lost than the younger brother.
JESUS IS REDEFINING SIN
"Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life." p. 43.
Jesus is looking past the behavior into the heart of things.
The greatest challenge to the older brothers: we live our lives safely, avoiding sin at all cost. We go to church. We are ALWAYS doing the things. The older brother cannot see that he is keeping himself distant from the father, not by breaking the rules, but by keeping them.
It’s called self-sufficiency.
Jesus wants to recalibrate our hearts.
Look at the entire chapter of Luke 15: There are three parables in a row:
In the first, a sheep was lost, the shepherd went out to look for it and when it was found, there was great rejoicing.
In the second, a coin was lost, a woman went out to look for it and when it was found, there was great rejoicing.
In the third parable, a son was lost. No one went in search of him.
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus leaves that out of this story. When that was pointed out, it made my heart yearn for that kind of love.
Imagine if the older brother would have told his father, “Hey, I’m going to go after that crazy kid brother of mine. Yes, it’ll cost me, but I love him so much and I miss him. He belongs here with us. So I’m going to go after him.”
Oh my stars. Let that simmer in you for a moment. What if the older brother would have taken on the responsibility of finding his younger brother?
That would have changed all.
That thought was kind of big so the first time I read it I went out on my deck and just sat alone on my porch swing. I thought of my own sons. How I want them to live that life, always seeking the lost brother.
I kept sitting with that, thinking of friends and family members that would have benefited from older brothers that were kind and loving and strong, seeking after them.
I didn’t want the stern, rule-following older brother in the picture. I wanted a strong older brother, a brother that would do whatever needed to be done to restore his brother into the family.
And then I picked up the book and kept reading, “But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead. But we do not.”
This is where my skin got all goosebumpy.
We HAVE an Older Brother that left HIS homeland to seek us. He literally left Heaven and came to our world, rescuing us in our sin and slavery to self.
He paid the price, not with money, but with something so much more valuable: His Life.
Jesus was stripped of His beautiful robes. He was stripped of His dignity. He was treated as a criminal.
All so we could be restored to THE FATHER. All so we could be brought into the ETERNAL BANQUET.
I go back to my friend. She saw that she had “elderbrotheritis.” How can she change her heart?
Let go of the To Do List.
Let go of the preconceived notion of God.
Rest in this knowledge that we don’t serve an “If/Then” God (If I do the things then I will attain eternal life) but a ‘so’ God: “God so loved the world that He sent His Only Son so that whoever might believe in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16
ACCEPTING this truth destroys the mistrust that makes us younger brothers or elder brothers.
Then everything switches in our spiritual DNA and we go from “I must obey so I can be accepted” to “I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ and with sheer gratitude and joy I obey.”
To my friend, just jump. Like a little girl, trust that Your Papa will catch you. TRUST.
The initial conversion is instantaneous and EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves it.
Once the conversion occurs, it must be fed. For me, I steep in this eternal knowledge, taking the Gospel message into my mind and heart on a daily basis.
Then I can “do the things.” But with God in me, I am better. Kinder.
Yesterday my 18-year had clothes that needed to be dried. My natural self said, “The boy is old enough to do his laundry,” but my joyful self was happy to get in there and do his laundry for him. He was grateful and I told him how much he was loved.
And it feels healthy; I understand I am involved in building my community.
As a little bonus, find this song on whatever device you use for your music: Reckless Love by Cory Asbury. Get still. Open your heart. Allow The Reckless, Extravagant Love of our PRODIGAL GOD to get in there.
P.S. Here's that book again, I've read it 5 times.