March 6 – Devotion Sharing (Luke 15)

Submitted by Caroline V. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Text: Luke 15:11-31

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Luke 15:13

  • What does the “distant country” symbolize?

o   The “distant country” symbolizes the worldly things that our hearts desire. It could be anything from wealth and ambition to having a cozy and comfortable home. Ultimately, it’s a place where you’re on your own; no one can bother you and you’re free to do whatever you’d like. There are no restraints. It’s where you can “squander away your wealth” for your selfish desires. The “distant country” are the worldly hopes and ambitions you have for yourself that you wished you had.

  • What is that “distant country” for me?

o   That “distant country” for me is being able to have just my nuclear family to take care of. There would be no visitors unless it’s for something special (like holidays) or an occasional visit from people who came into town. I would rarely venture outside to meet people because I would want to be on my own. Basically, it would be a life of utter isolation that revolves around my baby and husband.

o   This is my “distant country” because in it, I could do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. There would be no obligation to serve anyone else besides me and those closest to me: namely, my daughter and my husband. As long as I’m fulfilling these people’s needs, I would feel safe and secure. My schedule would be under my control, and no one would be able to impinge their thoughts, opinions, and way of life on me.

o   But the “distant country” is merely an illusion – a product of my delusional thoughts. It does not take into account my sinfulness and what would happen if I end up living a life that is only about my nuclear family and me. I would probably end up being a control freak with very few friends. And even if I did have friends, they would probably be very shallow relationships. My heart would be gripped with many fears and anxieties in terms of my finances and my child’s health and education. All of my energy and thoughts would go into raising my one child, and how I could be a better mom. I would stress over little things in life and think that my life is so hard because life would only be about me and my family’s concerns. I would be living a very narrow and selfish life, and would probably be very unhappy no matter what I did or tried for my little family.   And because no one is telling me to stop being selfish or that my thoughts are twisted, I would keep on going in a downward spiral – maybe eventually end up driving my own children and spouse up the wall with my paranoia.

  • When did the prodigal son come to his senses?

o   The prodigal son came to his senses when he was feeding the pigs in the pig sty and was starving. He recognized what he did when he wasn’t considered worthy enough to be even fed the pig’s food. He had lost his dignity. He finally compared what he was experiencing in the pig sty (“the distant country”) to what he used to have back at his father’s home. He found it ironic that he had so much at his disposal back at home, and here he was starving away.

  • What was the attitude of the prodigal son as he was returning home?        

o   The son was preparing what to say to his father so that he could (hopefully) come back to be in his own house . He was thinking, “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.”

o   His attitude was that of a servant. He knew he didn’t deserve to come back and reclaim his title as “son”, especially after he voluntarily severed ties with his father (and told him that he couldn’t wait for him to die so he could use up the inheritance). It was an attitude of admitting his brokenness and lowliness.

  • What does genuine repentance look like, as depicted in the prodigal son’s return home?  

o   Genuine repentance looks like a complete turn around and leaving the “distant country” for the place you rightfully belong to. It means to forsake all of the sinful habits, friends, situations, and places that caused you to sin and stray away from God. As the prodigal son “got up and went to his father”, so also repentance means that we make concrete steps to forsake whatever sins and idols that have caused us to stray away from and reject God. Repentance is about “coming back home” to where you belonged in the first place.

  • What does the father’s surprising response reveal about the essence of our relationship with God?

o   Even though the son insulted him and cut off ties with him to pursue his own fleshly desires, the father saw him from very far away and ran to his son. He must’ve been waiting and looking for him along the horizon from his home. So when he finally saw his own son coming back, he was very excited and quickly invited him back into his family as his son – not as his servant. No matter how much his son had hurt him, the father welcomed him back into the family as his own. The father asked no questions, had no words of rebuke, nor words of lament. He was simply overjoyed and happy that his precious son was alive!

o   The father’s response shows how permanent our relationship with God. Even though we might not be faithful, God keeps his side of the promise and reclaims our relationship with Him over and over again. Each time I realize what I did, repent, and turn away from my sins and towards God, He welcomes me back. His love towards me never expires nor runs out – my relationship with God doesn’t and will not change despite who I am.

o   I’m reminded of the verse in Ezekiel 33:11 that also shares this sentiment – “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’”

o   When I sin, I so much want to run away and never reveal my sins or confess them out of fear of judgment and facing punishments for what I had done. I think God is on the other side with folded arms, fuming with anger. The fear of condemnation causes me to want to hide my sins, be quiet about them, and to ultimately show people and God that I’m “doing OK”. But, God responds contrary to how I expect Him to react. God gently brings me His word of truth through the Bible and in prayer. He finds me in the misery of my sins, and assures me of His forgiveness as I read through His Word. When I trust and acknowledge that God is there with outstretched arms and welcomes me back as His daughter, it gives me great assurance that even though my sins might be numerous, nothing could ever separate me from God’s love. This brings me greater courage and desire to confess more honestly before God, to take my chances and trust in God more to carry my sins, and ultimately have my relationship restored with God even after I had sinned against Him.

PERSONAL PRAYER                                                         

Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for giving me a permanent place in Your Kingdom as Your own daughter. Thank you for bringing me back from the “distant country” where I often “squandered” my life away through my selfish desires and ambitions. You rescued me from that pit of darkness – even though I returned to it many times. You still called me Your own – undeservedly so. As life gets busier and more demands are made onto me, that “distant country” seems so enticing to me. I thank You, Father, that You give me Your kingdom work to do so that I’m not stuck building my own little sinful kingdom where I am at the center and, hence, walking towards my own destruction. Your boundary lines have fallen into pleasant places! Thank You Father for being compassionate and merciful, even though my sins are countless and often times I stumble and fall because of the same sins multiple times. Father, I confess, that I have often hidden from people and from You because I was afraid of condemnation. I wouldn’t want to be fully honest because I was afraid of being judged and “cast out” of your realm. Yet, I cling onto this promise that You call me Your own daughter, no matter what my sins are and no matter how far my sins run. I pray that You would please keep softening my heart towards You so that I would embrace my identity as Your daughter and be freed from my fears of condemnation and also the desire to go to that “distant country”. Please give me the courage every day to confess honestly before You and receive Your forgiveness to its fullest. May I not take what I have with You for granted. Thank you once again for this restored relationship with You. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

 —

Submitted by John L. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Luke 15:11-31

·       The lostness of the younger son

This moving story of redemption, forgiveness, and love starts with the sad description of the younger son who thinks he knows what’s best for his life and demands his inheritance from his living father and embarks on a life wild living with the money he had no right to in the first place. His actions are so outlandish that it’s not very difficult to see that this young man is lost on many levels. He has lost his moral bearing such that he can actually demand his inheritance from his father who is still living. He has lost his sense of what is right and wrong, what is appropriate and not, and he crosses some very clear boundaries that he ought not have crossed when he approaches his father. And when he leaves for the distant country, he makes that final break from his father and all that his father represents for him. Through that act, he is then lost to his family and to himself as he disconnects himself from his identity as a son and becomes the anonymous newcomer with no inhibitions in that distant country. He is lost to the standards, values, and morals that he grew up with and loses the hedges of protection that kept him from harm and self-destruction throughout his life.

When I read and imagine this scene of the younger son approaching his dad to make his demand, I want to cry out “don’t do it, you don’t know what you’re doing, your dad loves you, stay home, don’t go to that  distant county.” But the young man must have been convinced that what he was doing was the best thing for his life – to be rid of his father and his father’s authority from his life. The young man’s immaturity makes him blind to the love and protection that he received from his father, and he is able to ignore the shocking nature of his request for his inheritance and the wild living he embarks on in the distant country. It’s clear that he was taking the final step in his downward spiral of losing himself as he succumbs to his desires.

Through this young son’s life, Jesus paints a clear picture of sin and its consequences. I’m reminded of how this young man’s actions so perfectly describes the consequences of sin in my life. No matter how it started, over time, it’ll cause me to lose perspective and cause me to lose sense of what is truly good for my life. I’m reminded of how my actions can seem so right and so correct in my own eyes, no matter how ludicrous and far from the truth that it may be. Sin causes me to lose my bearing and even when truth is spoken to me, it’s sometimes difficult to accept the truth or even see how ugly or ludicrous my actions are. The story of this lost son always takes me back to my own spiritual journey when entering college. I was set in my mind and heart that true happiness could found when I took away the authority of God. Yet, those years of wandering in my own distant country only proved how much grief and failure I had walked into. In my mind, I thought I knew what was best for myself yet I got to see how alone and broken I had become. That’s the truth about sin and rebellion. It causes me to think I’m so right and that I know what’s best, even though I may be so far from it, and how it causes me to cross boundaries and become numb and lost.

·       The lostness of the older son

The lostness of the older son isn’t so obvious since he has always been with his father. Yet his actions and words after the return of his younger brother reveals that his heart is just as lost as that of the younger son. Instead of seeing his faithfulness in his father’s house as something done out of love, his perspective was that he had been ‘slaving away’ for his father and the bitter actions and words that pour forth is a sad revelation of how lost his heart was.  A son doesn’t slave away for his father! All that he did, all his toil and labor, was done for the family. It was working together as they experienced life together as father and son, grounded in love. It’s so extremely sad to see the older son refer to himself as a laborer slaving away for his father. Through his inability to share in his father’s joy and his harsh words about reward for his ‘slaving away,’ the old son reveals how lost he was even though he was physically in the presence of his father. If he was one in heart with his father, he would have been able to rejoice together at the return of his little brother, who had practically returned from death. The sad truth is that he had lost sight of his identity as a son of his father and he could no longer relate to his father in any way except as a laborer who was slaving away for his reward.

The older son is a character who speaks volumes to me, because I can relate to this man so well. I know for many years when I was younger, I allowed the standards and values of the world regarding reward and compensation for my life to creep into my spiritual life and walk with God. Instead of sharing God’s heart and joy through a life of laboring together with him through ministry and growing closer to Him through my spiritual disciplines, I had reduced my spiritual life to a checklist that I needed to take care of. Even though I may not have expressed nor voiced such feelings, I lived with the expectation that I was due some sort of reward, recognition, and concrete results for all that I was doing. And when life didn’t always go as planned, it only exposed my heart that was far from God. Likewise, becoming like the older son is something I need to guard against each day as I can allow the older son mentality to creep into my expectations in life. I need to guard my heart from reducing my relationship with God to such base perspective because my walk with God isn’t so that I can reap some sort of benefits from him, but rather, so that I can grow in my identity as a loving son.

·       The Father’s insistence

The father’s insistence to both his sons shows the depth of his love that overlooks his own rights and the heart that enables him to humble himself so that his sons could be brought back and restored to their rightful places. His insistence to welcome back his younger son and even to celebrate his return in spite of how he was treated is an amazing picture that paints a picture of the father who is willing to die to himself for the sake of his sons. In the case of the older son, he is insistent to get him to share in his joy and to celebrate together with him. When the older son refers to his brother as “this son of yours,” the father insists on calling him “this brother of yours” and inviting him to come to his senses and realize his identity as his son. It is an incredible picture of the heart of my heavenly father, who is not waiting to punish the rebellious son nor to let the wayward son stay outside, but is eager to welcome them back into his house and to pour out his love on them.

The picture of my God as an insistent father is the example that I am given to emulate in my own life and ministry. As a recipient of such grace and love, having trod both the path of the younger and older son, I am called to embody a heart that is willing to humble myself and to die to myself each day. Ultimately, it’s a call for me to become a man of love who is ready and eager to deny myself for the sake of being the conduit of God’s love. When I look back on my life, I have always had older brothers and sisters, my spiritual leaders, who showed me God’s love and mercy as they ministered to me and shaped me over the years. I can’t go wrong in being a man of love who is willing to sacrifice and let go of my pride as I pass on all that I’ve received over the year.

·       Joy, celebration

The celebration and joy of the father is such a wonderful picture of my God’s heart for each “son” who returns to him.  The celebration is by the joy of the father who cannot hold back the emotions in having his son return to him.  Even when ministry is difficult and some people don’t seem to respond to my efforts, this picture of the celebration in heaven gives me a lot of motivation to remember that I can be a part of this celebration when one person returns to God. I’m also reminded of the value of one person to God. As C.S. Lewis’ states, everyone is “no mere mortal” and the greatest work that I can possibly be a part of in life is the calling as a minister that all Christians have received.

·       Young goat, my friends

These are such sad words of deepest betrayal to the father because it reveals that this son who had been with the father all along had only viewed himself as a slave. The son’s words reveal his perspective that he had worked only for reward and compensation and his idea of celebration was one in which he could celebrate his achievements apart from the father.

These sad words of betrayal from the old son depict the very essence of what so many of us aspire to in this life – to work hard, to receive our reward, to celebrate the fruit of my labor. Not only in our secular lives, but I think this is also true in how we can approach our spiritual lives. It’s a sad picture of someone who has lost sight of his identity as a Son of God, and it’s a warning that is relevant for all Christians. In my own life, as I’m a part of a vibrant ministry, each day helping out at various church events, or some other work, I can allow my actions to replace the genuine relationship that God wants with me. I’m sure the older son didn’t start with this work-reward view of his relationship with his father and somewhere along the journey, he had lost sight of his identity as a son and his heart drifted farther and farther from his father. Likewise, I need to be vigilant with my own heart and not allow all that I do to replace a genuine connection with God.  I think one solution for me to keep my faith fresh is in this very passage, as I remember my salvation and the grace that I have received. I must remember the depths from which I have come from, to remember how lost I had been, and to go back to the first love I had when I recognized how beloved I had always been to the father. This parable had a profound effect on me on my spiritual journey as I saw myself in these sons and recognized that the love and humility of the father in the parable was exactly how my heavenly father viewed me and to let them bring me back to him each day.

·       “Everything I have is yours”

The father doesn’t respond to the hurtful words of the older son with these gentle words that plead for him to see the truth about his identity as a son. This reminder states the obvious fact that as the older son, everything of the father’s is his as well. It’s so odd that the old son lost sight of this obvious fact. But through these words, the father gives the older son a chance to claim his place as his son again.

This invitation by the father also calls me to remember that I am also a son of God who shares with the Father his work, burdens, joys, and everything that comes in this relationship. For example, I’ve been invited to share the work of the church with God. It’s not just the work of my pastor or my leaders. It’s God’s house, so it’s my house and I can give the best of my life for this work to be a part of God’s redemption plan. And I also get to share in the joys and celebrations that come with every person who receives salvation. It’s pretty amazing that this once rebellious and lost son could be shown such grace. I may not be the most winsome or capable man, but I carry this incredible message of God’s grace and I pray that my life can overflow with the joy of knowing that God has restored me as his son.

PERSONAL PRAYER

Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Father, thank you again for this reminder of your love for me. These verses first helped me to see the depth of your love for me when I was on my journey to find you, and even today, it fills me with clarity about the grace and salvation I have received from you. As I am reminded of what I have received from you, I pray that I may continue to grow in becoming like you, that I may continue to grow in my willingness and capacity to share your burden and grief for your lost children and to be able to celebrate together with you the return of one lost child after another. -Amen

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