Opportunities to ‘get real’ with God are rarely taken up. I suspect that many first world Christians are simply content to live out a tacit acknowledgement of Christ’s lordship, never wondering if there is more to discover, never desiring a closer walk with God, and never stopping to to ask ‘what if…’ But, what would happen if such as these, grew tired of wading in the spiritual ‘shallows’? What would happen if they were prepared to drop their guard and become vulnerable? What if impossibilities blocked by fear and doubt, became realities? And, what would happen if they honestly came before God and asked him to show them–themselves?
Recently, I was given such an opportunity to move out beyond the limits. That is, an event in my life pushed me into a place of humble self-reflection. And in that place, I was prompted to ask the Lord this simple, yet profound question, ‘Lord, what do you ‘really’ think about me?
So I prayed, ‘Give me a vision of what I am really like in your eyes?’
As you can imagine, this is quite a dangerous prayer. Yes, I was fearful that I might just get what I asked for! But, knowing that the shallow contentment of of staying where I was, was being overpowered by a desire be free, I took the plunge and prayed the prayer anyway.
And what do you think God said?
Now, when I say ‘God said’, I don’t mean that he audibly spoke to me. What I do mean, however; is that the Holy Spirit laid a very clear impression on my mind, such that it could only be from God. Why? Because it was the exact opposite of what I was anticipating.
You see, having asked such an honest question, I was bracing for the worst. The Calvinist in me was expecting: “You are a miserable sinner, proud, disobedient, idolatrous, you are someone more concerned with his own self-interested endeavours and carnal desires, instead of my kingdom. In fact, I don’t know how much longer I can put up with you.” In fact, I was expecting a Jonathon Edwards style vision: A vision representing me as a hideous creature, only worthy of wrath, precariously dangling over the precipice of Hell’s inferno, only tenuously hanging on by the slenderest thread of God’s grace. But, what I received was an unexpected surprise.
God said, ‘ You are my son, whom I love very much’.
Wait a minute’ I thought, ‘ this prayer must have crossed wires with that of another nobler saint’. And, then I thought again, ‘ It’s just my deluded wishful thinking.’ But when the Berean in me sought validation from Holy Scripture, I saw it staring at me in all its naked wonder: The parable of the prodigal son.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:17-24 (NIV)
My revelation from God was no self-justifying fantasy, but a soul altering epiphany; directly in line with the teaching of Jesus. Sinner though I am, unworthy as I am, wayward as I am, I am a beloved son of God. Yes, that is how he really sees me–as dearly beloved!
Of course, such a vision was no validation for my waywardness, but it instilled in me a recognition of God’s indefatigable love for me–despite it.
It was now crystal clear, God is not a vindictive school master, standing over me, waiting to punish the slightest moral indiscretion, one who creates in my soul a permanent disposition of fear. Rather, God is a loving father whom, although grieved by my sin, patiently endures with me, and eagerly longs for me to come to the end of myself, and come willingly home to him. This heavenly father does not glance sideways at his wayward sons and daughters with a scowl, but longingly strains His eyes toward the horizon of the land of their waywardness, eagerly desiring their penitent homecoming before sunset.
Being surprised by God in this matter, what did I glean from this serendipitous experience?
Firstly, it gave me a sober appreciation of what I am really like. It is very easy for religious people to compare themselves with heinous sinners and conclude, ‘I’m really not too bad’. But when I compared myself with God’s high standard of holiness, when I considered the grace he has bestowed on me, and how that grace should invoke unfettered obedience, I realized I was, indeed, a prodigal son. I had taken the inheritance, the gifts, and the blessings of God and squandered them on self-indulgence, self-interest, carnal desire and worldly ambition–albeit with a religious gloss. In short, I had acted as if God purely existed as a resource provider for my happiness, and had ignored him as a loving father!
Secondly, God is far more gracious than any of us appreciate. I realized afresh that God knows me far better than I know myself and despite this, does not condemn me (as he rightfully could). Rather, being fully mindful of my waywardness, the father perpetually longs for my penitent return to intimacy with him. That is to say, his grace and love are limitless and are constantly and liberally bestowed; although, when in a state of rebellion, I seldom see or recognize them for what they truly are. Only when ‘me’ the sinner comes to an end of myself, does the grace and love of the father break through the static of carnal desire and worldly distraction to broadcast, with clarity, their liberating truth into my heart.
Thirdly, I came to appreciate afresh, that God’s love is far more compelling than his judgment. Coming home to a loving father is far more compelling that cowering before the throne of a righteous judge. Of course, I know that there will come a day when every person who ever lived will bow before the judgment seat of God, to give an account of their lives. But until that great and fateful day arrives ( a day when no repentance will be sought or forgiveness granted), our loving heavenly father graciously extends open arms of reconciliation. For he is, indeed, the God of the perennial ‘second chance’. So I concluded this: Knowing sin breaks a loving father’s heart, administers a far more effective tonic for curing the wayward heart, than swallowing the bitter pill of laying bare one’s heart before a righteous God’s law!
Finally, the parable of the prodigal son represents more than a story illustrating the boundless grace of God. It is also a powerful metaphor for understanding divine intimacy. That is to say, this story not only shows us what God ‘really’ values, and how he ‘really’ sees us, but gives us the key to enter into the full blessing of true intimacy with the heavenly father. And, what is that key? Plain and simple, humility! Pride is rife among Christians, and the more prominence a Christian person attains, the greater the potential for pride to rule their heart. Few are those who truly understand what God really requires– a broken spirit and contrite heart. Only when a person comes to an end of themselves, when they reach the limits of all human possibility, do they have opportunity to enter into true intimacy with the heavenly father.
Wading out of the ‘spiritual shallows’ can only be predicated on letting go of ‘all’ our carnal satisfactions, our social significances, and our worldly securities. The endeavour demands a naked heart and empty spirit. Indeed, only a humble disposition can begin to free us from the mire of human wantonness, freeing us from its bonds, empowering and encouraging our humble homecoming to the heavenly father–a place where true intimacy, true satisfaction, authentic significance and real security are found. To find true life, a person has to leave the land of selfish desire–empty handed. For, as Jesus said, ‘No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ Luke 16:13 (KJV)
Tired of living a life controlled by shallow human desires? Tired of trying to fill that bottomless hole in your heart with material comforts? Then, perhaps, it is time to look toward your father’s home and be finally free. I now have absolutely no doubt, he is there waiting for you, ready to heal your your sick heart and fill it with to the brim with his new life-giving desires.