Many are familiar with the Scriptural parable of the Prodigal Son (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015%3A11-32&version=ESV). It was a story Jesus told, in the context of several other stories, to illustrate the importance and value of every person to God. Each story painted a picture of God’s heart for everyone to be saved, and highlighted His willingness to go to any length to seek them and welcome them to Himself.
The parable of the Prodigal son is especially interesting because it paints a picture of the kind of people some would consider unworthy of God’s kindness and acceptance. A son who dishonors his father, leaves home with his inheritance, and wastes all he has been prematurely given on the kind of lifestyle churchgoers frown upon. Yet, upon finding himself broke, busted and disgusted, he decides to return home and beg for forgiveness and another chance.
Of course he is willing to settle for a servant’s status, and doesn’t expect to be treated the same or given any of his former privileges. But the Father in the story, depicting God, surprises everyone and restores the lost son to his full position and privilege, without any lectures or consequences. In fact, He throws a great celebration to welcome the boy’s return, seemingly ignoring completely the fact that he is deserving really only of shame and distrust.
Before I hone in on the other side of the story, I want to just pause and acknowledge the goodness of God here. At some point, we have all been or will be like the Prodigal. We will waste and fail to value what God has given us, and we will choose (or have already chosen) something “better” than the life He has fashioned for us. We will walk (or have walked) away from relationship with Him, choosing to grab His blessings but reject His heart, and seeking to live it up outside of intimate relationship with Him.
And when we end up broken, used and maybe even abused, we will look for Him and find that He was waiting all along for us to turn back. For some, this is a cyclical process. What I love about this story is that the cycle ends with the Father’s embrace. When love and acceptance meet shame and rejection, it is supposed to be the end of the running away story. That has been my experience. While I still fail, I have been privileged to do so “at home” with God. I was scarred enough by the world and healed enough by God’s love to be convinced that running away again holds nothing more I ever want to know.
There is another side to the story, though. There is another brother, which we tend to overlook our own tendency to be like. He is the older brother, the one who didn’t run away. The one who didn’t rebel, and who seemingly did not dishonor his father. He’s the one who stayed home and continued to do everything he was supposed to do. We can imagine, if this were a real life scenario, that he ended up with more responsibility because of his younger brother’s choice to leave.
This brother doesn’t come into focus until the younger brother returns home, and the party is in full swing. And then we see in plain view the heart that this brother was nurturing in his little brother’s absence. Jesus says he was angry, and refused to join the celebration. As he talked with his father, who came out to invite him inside, this brother reveals that, while he may have been faithful in duty, he had become bitter and disconnected in his heart. He had spent his time in the field tending the flocks, but had failed to tend to his own heart. As a result, he had come to see himself as a slave, and had resented all of his service to his Father.
Here is where I want to focus for a moment, because we’ve all had, or all do have right now, someone in our lives who seems to be getting away with something. They’re running amuck, doing whatever they want, with seemingly little to no consequences. Maybe their choices are hurting us, or have caused us to bear a greater burden in some sense. And right in the middle of these kinds of situations, we have a choice: to pray or not to pray.
In the portrait of the older brother, we get a peek at a prayerless heart.
When we spend our time rehearsing the unfairness of a situation, imagining all the worst that someone else is doing, and feeling sorry for ourselves because we’re stuck being the responsible ones, we become bitter and resentful, and unable to celebrate when God’s grace moves toward the one we’re supposed to love. When they arrive at their humbling moment and are embraced by God’s forgiveness, we find it hard to be happy for them. We still feel like they need to pay a price for what they’ve done. And if there is no price to pay, we will punish them ourselves with a lack of kindness or a refusal to accept them back into the place they had before.
I speak from the experience of a trodden heart, before I understood the amazing grace of God as a Father Whose love covers a multitude of sins. Not only did I become enslaved to the role of the “responsible, faithful one,” but I found myself unable to celebrate the love of God pouring out over what I deemed an “undeserving” life. That was a dark and scary place to be.
I have also, in my years of being part of church culture, seen many fellow churchgoers fall into this trap, especially those in positions of leadership. It is a place the enemy loves to take advantage of, and an easy place to land when we aren’t intentionally and diligently tending to our own hearts. When Jesus spoke this parable, He portrayed the older son as the religious leaders of His day, which infuriated them. The truth exposed sometimes stings, and this continues to be a truth we must be be aware of, especially as we step into serving God with our whole hearts. We must make sure that our hearts are not only committed, but prayerful.
The image of the son in the field reminds me of another son in Scripture. This son is not spoken of in a parable, however. He is a real son, whose sins as well as successes have been recorded in the pages of the Bible for us to witness and learn from. David, who is called a man after God’s own heart, and who served God as King over Israel, started out as a son who served as a shepherd in the fields. The difference we see in David’s story, however, was that he spent his time in the field – his time of seeming insignificance and being overlooked – worshiping God.
The Psalms record his many prayers – honest and at times ugly. He admitted awful truths he wrestled with, but at least he was wrestling. He didn’t waste the years he spent being neglected or rejected by his father and his brothers. He spent them growing, just because He kept his eyes on God. And as he did, God revealed Himself to David.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, what I want to put before you today – no matter what position you’re in – is that a prayerful heart is a free heart, but a prayerless one is hardened by bitterness and anger and resentment and self-pity. When God invites us to feast with Him in celebration of what makes His heart the most happy, we won’t be able to as long as we haven’t been prayerful over what has hurt us and caused us trouble.
Whether it is a family relationship, people in your church, or people you stumble over in social media situations, prayer is the ticket to relational reconciliation and, ultimately, true connection with God’s heart.
He is a Father Whose love is extravagant. His love for the older brother was just as extravagant as it was for the Prodigal, but the prayerless heart can’t see its own gifts because it’s too busy focusing on what someone else has taken or received.
Sometimes it’s hard to pray, especially when we’re hurt or angry. But I read something recently about how to pray when facing conflict with another person, and it struck me as simple and powerful. Pastor Rick Warren wrote that, when we’re in a conflict with someone, we can pray this way:
“God, (insert name ) is driving me crazy. One of us has to change. I volunteer, start with me.”
It might not seem fair, but in a contest between fair and blessed, I want what will be blessed. God commands His blessing where our hearts seek unity. (https://www.derekprince.org/Articles/1000130852/DPM_USA/Resources/Word_from_the/A_Word_From.aspx).
Unity with God is not separated from unity with our brothers and sisters. And true unity, authentic unity, is only possible in the heart that is prayerful toward that end. Where disunity attempts to disrupt our connection to God’s heart through the offenses of those around us, we must be vigilant to pray through the offenses until God has won the wounded place in our hearts.
His grace will empower us, Beloved one.