Over these last few weeks my articles have centered on the parable of the prodigal son. The Biblical reference for that parable is Luke 15:11-32. As we’ve looked at and sought application to this account in this series of columns so far, we have seen the boy reject everything in hopes of gaining everything with the result that he lost everything. That’s pretty much where we left him.
It is a sad testimony to the human condition that many times the only time we turn to God is when everything is lost, our lives are in ruin and there is no place left to turn. C.S. Lewis catches the malady right when he penned these words, "It is a poor thing to strike our colors to God when the ship is going down under us. A poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up our own when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him only because there is nothing better now to be had… It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even that He accepts. The creatures illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creatures sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it unmindful of His glory’s diminution" (Lewis, "Problem of Pain").
That is what we see in our parable. We would like to read that this prodigal’s heart turned back toward home, that he began to miss his father and brother, but what we read is nothing so noble. "He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father. When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him" (Luke 15:16-20, The Message).
It is his stomach, not his heart that leads him home. There is an important lesson here. As a pastor many times I will talk to someone whose decisions have led them to the brink of personal disaster. Now, like the prodigal in our story they face a decision: will they wake up, smell the coffee, realize that the road they have chosen will lead to ultimate disaster and return home or will they continue to run head-long down the road to certain destruction? Albert Einstein is credited with giving this definition of insanity: Insanity (is) doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Too often I find people who have ruined their lives by foolish decisions, foolishly thinking that more foolish decisions will fix it. The turning point for the prodigal is that phrase, he came to his senses.
Here’s the lesson: notice that one does not have to have the best nor even the right motives before heading home. This boy doesn’t say, I need to go home, but before I do, I need to clean up my act first. That is a mistake too many make. We think that before we can come to God we have to first cleanse ourselves from the stink of sin. Two things on that. First, you can’t do it yourself. Like the prodigal in our story, how are you going to get fresh clothes and clean yourself up when you have nothing left to do it with? It is an impossible proposition. Unfortunately it is this false proposition (springing from personal pride) that keeps many from seeking and finding the very help they need. Second, notice that the clean up starts with the father, not the son. The son goes home with nothing but stink to offer yet the father accepts him gladly. That’s where will pick up next week
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016 or firstname.lastname@example.org