I don’t know exactly how this post is going to come out…….I’m still in the messiness of processing this, and writing is usually my best way of processing. So here goes.
It was a couple weeks ago, the day I read Luke 15 in preparation for Bible Study that evening, and thinking about what I wrote in my previous blog post. I went out for a walk with the baby I’m nannying, and it wasn’t long before Paraclete walloped me on the side of the head with it: You’ve been acting a lot like the older son this past year.
And it’s true. There have been various moments in the past year+ when I’ve internally cried out the questions to God…“I was doing what I thought You called me to do. What happened?? What more do You want from me? Why did You take it all away? I don’t deserve…”
Do you hear the voice of the elder son there? ‘All these years I have served you, and you never even gave me a small party.’ As if service and outward obedience earn the right to demand fair recompense.
Part of me wishes we knew more of this story—how long had the elder son harbored such bitterness and resentment in his heart? How did he respond to his father after this? Did he stay the same, hard and unforgiving? Or did he repent?
But Jesus had evidently done what He intended with the story as is.
We know that His hearers at the time, the Pharisees, didn’t take to heart the application of the story. They didn’t change their attitude – they still hated Jesus for what He claimed and preached, and they still ended up killing Him as their attempted solution.
But what about someone like me, who never set out to harbor resentment and feelings of injustice towards God? Someone who comes to see the folly and selfishness of such a heart attitude? What am I to do to change and not be like that anymore?
I think the answer to that question actually takes us back to the other two parables in Luke 15, which each follow a very similar pattern. Something is lost, the owner searches and finds it, a celebration ensues, and the parables end with the statement “I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (vs. 10, vs. 7 is similar).
But really, what did a sheep and a coin do to repent? What could they do? They don’t even have enough sense to try to be found. It was all up to the owner to find what was lost, and yet the final verse compares them to a repentant sinner.
Maybe repentance has a lot less to do with me and my ability to return to God than I would like to think.
So how should I respond when the Holy Spirit points out something like this?
I guess the first step would be to confess it—to agree with God that what He said is true. And then to repent of it—to trust God for the grace and strength to stop resenting Him for what I don’t have and instead believe His promises of all the good things He has given me.
Easy to say, hard for my prideful flesh to be willing to do.
At the root of such bitterness as the elder brother showed is belief in a falsehood: That I deserve commendation and reward for my good behavior. What is the truth about every single one of us? What do we truly deserve? Only God’s condemnation and punishment for our sins against a perfectly righteous God. All else is only by grace.
I want and expect promises of comfort and ease—but that’s not what Christ gave. He promised that we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), and yet in the same breath He promised His peace. So why do I try to stiff arm the challenges? In so doing, I also reject the lessons God has for me in those experiences.
Can I learn and choose instead to embrace whatever He has for me, knowing that He is a good Father and so whatever He sends must also be for my good? Not a journey that my heart has made much progress on….though I know and believe it to be true.
Like I said – I’m still in the midst of processing this. I don’t have the application all neatly packaged up and ready to be implemented….Lord help me to have the humility to submit to You and repent!