Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Our Prodigal Approach To God
If you had to choose, would you say you’re more like the Prodigal or the elder brother? There will be a test.
Several weeks ago I wrote about my sudden attraction to Jesus’ story concerning the two brother’s approach to the greatest dad on earth. (To read it, click here.) At the risk of giving you understanding which you could use to harpoon me, I think I am more like the elder brother in my approach to God than the younger Prodigal. I’m afraid he’s been something of a mentor to me. I’ll have more to say about what that means, but today I write for all the Prodigals in the world. Let’s hear it for them.
I know it’s inviting, but let’s skip over the binge living and mud-mucking part of the story, and get to where repentant Prodigal came up with a plan for the next part of his life. “I’ll sneak back into town and live and hang out where the day laborers gather,” he might have surmised. “Maybe my dad will take pity on me and hire me a time or two. God knows, I’ve been worse than a thief to him, let alone an awful son. But maybe he would let me work around the farm now and then. That’s the best I can hope for.”
Imagine the reunion. The greatest dad on earth is dazzled with the delight of his returning son. Without the slightest concern about his son’s sloppy looks or strong odor, dad launches into a kissing marathon. My goodness. My God.
I wonder how long it was before Prodigal noticed that his father was ignoring his speech. While Prodigal is progressing with his planned lament—I’m not worthy—dad gets busy with what’s really important. “Okay, son. You go right ahead and say what you’ve got to say. . .get it all out. Excuse me for a moment—Hey, servant Sam and servant Sue! Get the royal robe and the family ring and shoes and put ‘em on my son—I’m right here, son, you’re doing just fine—and get that fat pig of a calf ready for dinner. We’re gonna party until my son gets it through his beautiful, thick skull that He’s my son! Ooh! I just love my boy. Ain’t he something?!—Okay, son. You all done now? Come here, you wonderful boy, and let me kiss you! Didn’t I tell you that you’d always be my perfect son?! Have I got plans for you!”
I wonder if Prodigal resisted the father's hugs and kisses. But I’m dirty—can’t you see?! I wonder if the Prodigal resisted the royal robe, ring and shoes as much as today’s church does? And I wonder how long it was until he believed they were truly his and they felt comfortable? How long did it take for the Father’s soothing treatment and words to take the sting out of Prodigals’ pigpen memories? See anything relevant to today’s church?
On the other hand, maybe Prodigal blinked, wiped his eyes and gulped a few times at his father’s grace, and shut up and received it. Maybe Prodigal quickly traded his plan for dad's. And was really happy.
Could’ve happened. Might have been. End of story—happily ever after.
I see the Prodigals’ approach today in those of us who voluntarily and regularly assign ourselves to an ugly place with God. We might say, “Father, you know how I am—no good, through and through. I’m such a lousy sinner! I don’t even know why you put up with me. I’m a loser Christian—always a failure. But I re-dedicate myself to you for whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.”
Have you heard that before? I think it’s a Prodigal echo, or a Milli-Vanilli style lip synch.
For those of us with a Prodigal approach to God, I think the Holy Spirit is forever working to convince us that we have already been made royal. What a task! (I’ll bet He has a lot of overtime hours.) Imagine: we whip up a brilliant, lamentations-style prayer approach to God—I’m such a sinner, why do you put up with me, make me a slave—and then wonder why we never hear the Spirit ‘Amen’ our prayers. We don’t hear much of anything because, like the father in Jesus’ story, God is ignoring our lament and carrying on with what He thinks of us.
“Glad you’re here. Let me put this on you. Royalty needs a robe.”
Maybe we’ll become more accepting of the Father’s opinion of us—what a compliment that would be—and start regularly approaching the Father not to apologize, but to receive. “Here I am, Father. What are your thoughts toward me? I’m here to learn.”
Could happen. Might be. End of story—happily ever after.
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17; italics mine.)
We’re better off than we think.
P.S. I’ll bet the servants of the father continually reminded Prodigal about who he was, too. Don’t you think he would have needed all of the reminding he could get? It’s what I mean to do for all the royals of the Kingdom.