Sometimes I strive so hard at living with the most excellent virtue, in absolute piety, in “Christian perfection” of sorts that I become more and more strained, confined and closed in. We can be so dependent upon upholding the rules and expectations we place on ourselves that we forget the relationship we were intended for.
I think of the comparison between the prodigal and his brother. I think of the difference in the levels of intimacy with the father they both resemble. I find that in his brokenness and humility, the prodigal experiences far greater intimacy with the father than does his sinless, pious and self-righteous brother.
The true site of the Christian disciple is one of a man or woman who is able to praise God for all things, including his own sin, he who is not obsessed with the perfect portrayal of self and spirituality. She who is not complacent and shackled by a practical life. He who strives more for the relationship than the rules and understands that he has, is and will fail but can realize that God expects more failure from him than he ever does from himself. She who realizes we do not have to come groveling to God with a clear presentation of our sins and failures IN ORDER TO BE forgiven, but realizes the prodigal’s father did not ask for an explanation, and Jesus did not ask the adulterous woman for an apology or confession. The disciple realizes that we will not be judged now or in the end for our sins because we have already been judged and found not guilty, but that God desires we show up in his embrace and accept his love.
I thought some more about the prodigal today. I have read and heard that story on countless occasions. As a child who longs for grace, unconditional Agape love, I cheer, with all Christians, for the prodigal and his father. We never grow tired of hearing this parable, and we cheer with delight in our hearts at the sight of the fathers unconditional embrace and the prodigal’s humility. We imagine the prodigal’s poverty and leap for joy at the prodigal’s humble return. We see the prodigal lag his way home and watch the Father run to his battered and poor son. We go on the Father’s joyful demand to get IPA and T-bone steaks with excellent joy for the prodigal’s return. We read with great joy. We cheer for the prodigal.
We live like the older brother. When the story is read and enjoyed, I walk past drunken homeless people on the streets. After the thrilling STORY is over, I get pissed off at the people around me. I weep for joy at the prodigal’s return home to loving arms, and then I write a scathing status update to someone. I get all caught up in the greatest PLOT of grace and unconditional love ever uttered or written, and I have the hardest time accepting continued mistakes and life patterns in my own family members.
I work hard to be the best Christian I can be for crying out loud, and here are all these people around me who aren’t even trying. Here are all those people who do not understand that I am a Christian who wants to be all I can be, and they just go on like it doesn’t make a difference. I believe in a God of unconditional love and grace and I loath the congregations who don’t get it right. I am the prodigal here…not them!
It is not just a parable. It is not just a fictional thriller to read and put back on the shelf until the next time. It is a story that serves as a humbling reflection of the reality we live every day. Like every parable, it is easy to associate myself with the good guy, the hero, but I can ALWAYS equally associate myself with the villian.
My heart breaks when I realize I cheer for the prodigal and live like the older brother.
What you read on these pages will not always reflect perfectly my life’s actions. Thus the struggle of living out the way we wish we could. Thus the fight to do what we want to do instead of doing what we do not want to do, and what we do not want to do…this we do.
I am a writer. This means I love to write. This means I express well through written (typed) word. But I am also a daily-broken human being with imperfect feelings, hurts, pains, angers and frustrations. I resound the words of Phillip Yancey, “I soon discover that I write about spiritual disciplines far better than I practice them.” The concepts I write about, valid as they may be, are nevertheless hard to live. Does this mean I do not WANT to live them? Of course not, but I suck at it. The reason righteousness is so hard is simply because I suck at it.
This challenges my comment toward pastors, teachers and Christians, “Practice what you preach.” Who am I to say they are not trying to practice what they preach, but like me, remain children of an Abba who understands they are humans who cannot wish themselves into perfect and righteous action. They who struggle to do what they wish they would, but it does not and should not take away from their exhausting desire to fight for righteousness and holiness and unconditional love received and given.
Have you ever spoken a word of the gospel to anyone at my workplace?
In my imagination, I see an interview about my evangelistic fame. I REALLY saw my past coworkers respond, “Huh? PC? Famous for WHAT? Well, I don’t know….PC was a great guy. I mean I knew he was a Christian, but he didn’t come in here preaching or anything. He was pretty cool about it. He knew I was an alcoholic, and he still laughed with me.” “You know,” says another, “now that I think about it; I can remember times when the store was crazy, and PC kept working hard to help where he didn’t really HAVE to. I don’t know how many times he helped us in a bind. I never noticed it then, but in retrospect, that guy really did work hard.” “Yeah,” chimes another. “He knew my husband was killed in a car accident last year, which left me to raise 2 teenagers alone, and PC listened to me every time I was stressed by kids, pained over my loss of companion, or just tired of work. You know what? I really think he cared about what I was going through, and I think he shared the joy somehow.” Similar stories go around in this hypothetical interview of my coworkers. Then the journalist goes to the coffee shop I ALWAYS go to. He talks to ALL my friends and family…Christian and NON-Christian.
After its over the imaginary article reads, “PC Walker was an evangelist. PC writes in his book, “Christians are so devoted to speaking the gospel (God’s love) to or at people instead of living the gospel toward people.” (pg. random #, see footnote). His living out of the gospel reached more people than all the sermons he ever preached, more than any book he has ever written.”
I hope that, in reality, I will be remembered by everyone I will have moved on and left in my past as a man who lived the gospel better than he preached or wrote it…..
How often I’ve asked and heard this question asked? In its various forms, the question is our heart’s scream to know what or what more God wants from us?
More and more, I believe the answer comes down to one thing.
Jesus replies, “Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
As I am daily ambushed by God’s outrageous love for me, I am more and more convinced that seeking God’s will for my life is the wrong search. But I should search for His will in my life, and His will is the same as it has always been.
He wants you to love Him with all that you are. Your experiencing God depends on you having a sincere and real relationship of love. I am more and more convinced that this is more important than any.thing.else in your life.
Every decision, big or small, everything in your Christian life, everything about knowing God and knowing His will is fully dependent on the intimacy of your love relationship with God.
If this lynchpin is not in place, nothing…nothing in your life will be right.
“I am your child. I quit trying to MAKE myself presentable to you and instead trust that I AM presentable to you despite all of the things that are just parts of a sinful nature around me. I move on in that passage and believe, ‘if I confess my sin, you are faithful and just and will purify me and forgive me’ because again, you only see your child here, and I need not be plagued by sin OR guilt. I mean is not guilt the actual issue here? Not sin. I mean sin is just inevitable, but what IS of choice by me is whether I will allow guilt to plague me and keep me from seeing myself as your child instead of seeing myself as this horrible person. You’re so much quicker to forgive me than I am to forgive myself.
Last night, my hero passed away. Brennan Manning has had the strongest impact on my bedraggled heart. Sitting with him twice over hot dogs will be moments my heart will not easily forget. But far more important than hot dogs and baseball are his reflections on the outrageous love of God in all His grace and mercy that have wrecked my heart for good since 1999.
My hero finally rests in Abba’s embrace for his Father was very fond of him.