The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) is quite familiar. Many sermons have been preached and many devotions have been written about the son who went astray but came home to a warm welcome of grace from his father. But there is another, often overlooked, member of the family. The other son. The one who didn’t blow his inheritance. The one who worked hard for his father, trying to earn his love. And then got angry when his foolish brother returned home to a party.
I think a lot of us can relate to that son. I know I can. I grew up in a Christian family. I always went to church, Sunday school, Scripture Union, holiday Bible club, the lot. In the car growing up rather than pop songs on the radio I got to listen to kids praise cassettes. I had Bible story reading books. I even collected a lot of the Left behind: kids series of books. I was a good, clean living kid, no sex, no drugs, no rock and roll. I even managed to kiss dating goodbye without even trying – I hadn’t read the book, I just was “gifted” by God with an ultra-shy personality. When I was young I was interested in writing and dreamt of writing the next children’s fiction bestseller. I never had a massive “prodigal son” phase. I never left the father’s farm. My faith was all about being good so that God would be impressed. I was the infant mentioned in Hebrews 5 that is stuck on baby milk when he should have weaned to the solid food of spiritual maturity. I wasn’t seeking to advance the kingdom. I wasn’t using the gifts God had given me to serve Him or help others. But then when I was about 16 things started to change. I was at a school Scripture Union weekend when the speaker gave a talk about taking ownership of your faith and letting it grow. And at the same weekend I bought John Piper’s book Don’t waste your life, which was a pretty challenging read all about how the goal of our life should be to bring glory to God, not just to merely get through surviving but thriving for the sake of the gospel. And then a group of people in my year at school started a lunch time Bible study. And inspired by the mix of the weekend and the book I started writing a weekly devotional email for that group. Which got good feedback. So then I shared some of the devotions on a forum. And got more good feedback. And then I set up a website to share them with a wider audience. And then put together some of my devotions into a book. And now through the wonders of self-publishing, eBooks and Amazon my books are available to anyone in the world. When you follow God you don’t have to give up on your dreams. They just sometimes get achieved in ways you never considered before. Colossians 3:17 tells us “whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Whatever passions you have, know that they are given to you by God. (Unless they are ‘passions’ for sinful things. Those aren’t really passions but lusts.) And you can bring glory to God by doing whatever brings you joy as a representative of Jesus. For some that may be creative things like song writing or painting. For some it will be studying. For some it will be teaching. For some it will be helping others. For some it may be sport and for others cleaning windows. You don’t have to sacrifice your passions to follow Jesus, but rather find ways to bring Him glory through your passions, being a shining light to your work colleagues, going the extra mile because we aren’t doing it as a representative of our boss or company, but as a representative of the Lord Jesus.
I learnt that God’s love is unconditional. It is not based on us impressing Him. We don’t have to earn His love. The prodigal son’s brother was trying to earn the favour of his father by working hard on the farm. The prodigal son didn’t deserve anything from his father, yet he got a party. For too long I had things the wrong way round in my understanding. I was being good so that God would love me. Yet the way it works is God loves us, and in response we try to live the way He wants us to. Not in order to make Him love us, but because He already does.