Whenever the subject of the prodigal son comes up, we picture a young person who has lost his way. We use this story, and rightly so, to show the dangers of a life of aimless, godless living. For many mothers and fathers this story gives hope to the day that their own “prodigal” child returns home. If it could happen for the young man in this biblical account, surely it could happen for us. Amen, somebody.
While all of the above is true I want to point in another direction. I would like us to consider that the prodigal son is in good and regular standing in the church, not a person living a dual life, one way in church but a different and less spiritual way throughout the week. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s look at it another way.
The problem with the prodigal son is that he took his future and the potential it held and wasted his present opportunities. He believed his choice of lifestyle was in his best interest. I would go so far as to state that he meant no one any harm and that he expected a long and prosperous life. Yet, the net effect of his erroneous choices was a wasted life, up to that point, and a stunning realization that unless he made a drastic change he was doomed. I can’t say it any better than the way it is worded in Luke 15:17, “And when he came to himself.”
Reading this familiar story I was struck by how closely it parallels our lives as typical members of the body of Christ. (Of course this may NOT apply to you!) For all practical purposes we have become prodigal sons and daughters in good and regular standing in the church. Let me explain.
Somehow over the years it has become acceptable to live compartmentalized lives as Christians. Although we keep high moral standards all along the way, we segregate what we do for God and what we do for living in separate buckets. Church, ministry involvement, tithes, offerings, evangelistic campaigns, etc all go into our “God” bucket.
Career choices, professions, business opportunities, recreational pursuits, etc fall into our “Life” bucket. No overt sinning or immoral conduct, simply surviving and thriving to create a better life. And, as we have been trained since childhood, we give these areas of life our focused energies and best resources.
1 Corinthians 10:31 implies a totally different way of living for the believer. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”. That text is just a sample of the myriad of texts stating that we have been “bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” 1 Corinthians 6:20
On some small level I am starting to grasp this concept of what it means to have a new mind and to be a new creature. I am starting to realize that for far too many years I wasted my living on riotous living. To paraphrase it for today I am saying that I wasted my best years, my best, most creative energies, my best resources, my best gifts and talents on merely surviving and trying to find enjoyment in my “non-God focused bucket of life.” Moral behavior all along…absolutely. God-inspired and God-led…hardly.
But thanks be to the goodness and grace of God as demonstrated in the biblical account of the prodigal son I can come “home” and be restored. Yes, although I have not put God first and instead used the blessings of life He has given me for my own selfish purposes, He is still welcoming me back with open arms. As I make my way back home, back to a commitment and dedication to Him I am met with eager arms of love and forgiveness.
Not only does He forgive, He restores. And more. After all I’ve wasted, He still presents before me a feast of the best life has to offer. True happiness, fulfillment, peace of mind, purpose and security are all placed before me. A robe has been placed around me signifying my divine royalty. No shame in my game. I am restored. A ring placed on my finger signifies the unbreakable connection restored to me. I am somebody.
The story doesn’t end there. In Luke’s account we see the negative reaction of the brother who remained at home. It reflects the reactions of church members who have born the heat of day and are reluctant to embrace those who have experienced the epiphany as described in the parable.
To this group there is a sense of suspicion towards the “prodigals,” and along with this suspicion a second-guessing of motives and a sense of unfairness. All of which, to some degree, is totally understandable. It’s at times like this we can find guidance and confidence in the father’s impartial response. It echoes Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”
God has a level of love that is not interested in keeping score. God’s love is far above all slights and remembers no disrespect. It appears to be a love with only one motive – implanting that love in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls.
That love knows that our happiness is wrapped in our connection with Him. Finding our destiny on earth is the essence of our finding in Him our all in all. Finding our senses and coming to our right minds is to remember how big He is and how deep His love has always been and will be forever.