By definition, the word “prodigal” indicates that a person is wastefully extravagant. So often when listening to teaching on this passage, I focus on the depth of the father’s love for his son. I know that I can identify with the son in some way, but that doesn’t tend to captivate my heart’s attention. Maybe it should. It is sad to say how often I could probably relate.
The relative parallels between the younger son might not seem obvious at first, but adjusting the lens a little can really cause things to come into focus. The son wanted his inheritance upfront. He felt it was owed him, and he was ready to move on. Do you ever have those moments when the day-to-day grind just gets to you? You are doing the right things and following God’s instructions, but feel that you are ready for more. I have to say that I am a pleaser and a fixer. I want to keep people happy and I will do what I can to calm the waves for people to coast and get along. There have been times that I have felt God wasn’t moving fast enough, and I needed (wanted) things to be in place faster — in my time.
Isn’t this familiar to the passage in Luke 15 in so many ways? The younger son had no patience for the proper time. His timing was immediate. He had no regard for anything but self-gratification. Then, when he received his inheritance, he was truly ready to live life. He thought this was everything he wanted and the key to his happiness, but he wasn’t satisfied. He continued to try to fill a hole and appease his desires for more with more stuff. He surrounded himself with people who would approve of his choices and cheer him on, but it was all temporary. When everything was spent, he was still left in want, but without resources to even take care of his most basic needs. Even then, he looked for a way to make things work on his own and signed on as a hired hand to feed pigs. He was so hungry. He longed for something to just fill him up. So much so, that the very pods for the pigs appealed to him. Not until he was in total desperation did the thought of home surface.
In my experience, the end results have been the same for me. Failing to wait on the Lord for his provision never leads to the best outcome. Often times, it leads to the worst. I find myself in a place I never intended to be, far away from the path where God places my very steps. Let’s be honest. My selfish motivations are what get me there, and even when I realize how wrong I am, I try to rely on myself to clean up my mess before taking it to Jesus. Why is that? Pride is not an asset. We must humble ourselves, realizing that God’s desire is always to meet us where we are, in the midst of our mess. Even if we are just a little off course, we can only be set right by God — waiting on him, trusting him, leaning on him, following him.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
— Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
— Romans 5:3-8 (MSG)
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.
— Proverbs 3:5-12 (MSG)