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The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. - Luke 15:28 (MSG)
I have read the story of the Prodigal Son many times, but I really never thought of myself as the kind to run off and waste all my money and live a wild life. I was the kid everyone called “Goody Two Shoes.” I thought the Prodigal Son was one of those Bible stories meant for someone else or maybe it was just a reminder that God’s forgiveness is bigger than anything we have done.
While God’s forgiveness is bigger than anything you or I have done, I finally realized I wasn’t the younger son in the story. My problem was I was the older son.
I was typically described as mature and responsible for my age. That sounds great, right? Well, it leads right to pride. I was doing such a good job of behaving on my own, that I would often forget I needed God’s forgiveness too! That led to judgment. My sin was internal and easier to hide, so I thought I had room to look down on others whose sin was more obvious than mine.
Time in God’s word not only showed me that I was more like the older son in the Prodigal Son story, but I was also looking more and more like the Pharisees... and let’s just say Jesus didn't really compliment them on their hidden sins.
I learned that I was not entitled to anything because of the nature of my sin. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23, NLT) God’s standard is Jesus, and I’m not quite there.
Once we recognize and acknowledge our sin, we are on the path to allowing God to free us from it. What great news!
Stop your fighting, and know that I am God! - Psalms 46:10 (HCSB)
When our kids were little, we learned quickly that we weren’t able to determine who had what first, who touched whose stuff, or who did this, that or the other! The rule in our home became, if mom or dad hears you arguing over something, we take it away from everyone - no questions asked. In an effort to hold on to our sanity, we stumbled onto a principle that worked pretty well. Following the introduction of this rule, we would hear the kids start to argue, then they would whisper to remind each other, and then resolve it themselves! Wow!
In the story of the prodigal son, what was the older son fighting for exactly? What did he think he deserved that both his earthly and heavenly fathers had forgotten about? He wanted to argue and yell and make his point known. I don't know about you, but I am often prone to this way of thinking. Has God forgotten? How can I remind Him and those around me of what I need - what I deserve?
God has shown me how often I am fighting for the wrong things! Just like my kids, these are things I should be quiet enough to hear God whisper about. When the Israelites were crossing the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt, Moses reminded them in Exodus 14:14 (NIV), “The Lord will fight for you, and you won’t have to do a thing.” What a promise!
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” - Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT)
Sometimes, like the Prodigal Son, I act and think as if I have the answers - as if somehow God will be impressed if I try to handle things on my own. This really came to the forefront when I had some friends ask me how, as a mom of three young kids, did I have everything together? It sure didn’t feel like I had it all together. I was actually really struggling, but that was the mask I was wearing (even around those close to me).
For me, an entitlement mindset can manifest in a desire to control situations around me (or other’s impressions of the situation). This leads to worry (because I am actually not that good at controlling situations around me), which eventually leads me to the place where God has to remind me that my real problem is a lack of faith.
Many times in my adult life I have allowed my worries to spiral out of control and I need to go back and remember Matthew 6:25-34 for God’s reassurance. I am not sure He could be any clearer. “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” (Matthew 6:30, NLT)
While it can hurt to realize you struggle with the same things over and over, I am so grateful God has indeed spelled out my issue so clearly. And little by little, time after time, He has taught me to trust Him more and trust myself a little less.
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” - Luke 16:10 (NLT)
Do you always take the biggest piece of cake? Do you rush to beat someone to the shorter line at the grocery store? Do you speed up to keep someone from passing you while driving? These aren’t big things and they may seem silly, but they can show the condition of our hearts. Are we putting others first?
Sometimes an entitlement mindset is obvious to others, and sometimes as we get older, maybe we just get better at disguising it as something else.
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:3-4, MSG)
God tells us over and over again that the way to win in this life is to lay our lives down for others. We will never get ahead in God’s eyes if we are pushing ourselves ahead in the eyes of the world.
So what does taking the biggest piece of cake have to do with Heaven? When we are faithful with little things like cake and our behavior while we are driving, we open ourselves up to be available for things that can make a huge impact on this world and hopefully in the next.
An unlucky loser is shunned by all, but everyone loves a winner. - Proverbs 14:20 (MSG)
This verse pretty much sums up the experience of the Prodigal Son. He had many friends when things were going well, but when things took a turn his friends walked away.
Have you ever wondered why you were born where you were, into your family, with the things you have? On a trip to Haiti in 2009, I spent a week wrestling with these questions. Why did I have so much when they had so little? Why had my life seemed so easy when their lives seemed like such a struggle? I am not sure I will ever be able to truly understand these things this side of Heaven, but I do know that God showed me all I have is His and He wants me to use it for His glory.
In another translation, it is said like this. “The poor are despised even by their neighbors, while the rich have many ‘friends.’” (Proverbs 14:20, NLT). And while you may not consider yourself rich, compared to most of the world, you are.
Even more perplexing to me was trying to figure out why so many of them had faith beyond what I had seen or experienced. What reason did they have to worship God in a church where the floor is made of dirt and some barely had clothes to cover themselves?
Sometimes all the THINGS of this world and specifically of our culture cause us to lose sight of our need for God. We have become so entitled, as if the things God has entrusted to us actually belong to us, and we lose sight of God’s purpose. I have done nothing to deserve one thing more than any brother or sister anywhere in the world. Nothing.
People may love you in this life for what you have, but you can’t fool God. Everything you have is His and He is asking you to use it for His glory.