Do you want to be close to God, or far away from Him? That’s an amazing question to ask, as some would wonder who could possibly want to be far from God? After all, God is good and why would we not want to be as close as possible to the Creator of the universe? Yet God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, told a parable that tells of a man deliberately walking away from his father. The parable is to help us understand ourselves, the nature of God and His relationship with us.
It is one of the most popular stories in the New Testament – the story of “The Prodigal Son”. You can find it in your Bible in the gospel of Luke, starting at Luke 15:11. The words are written in red, as these were the words of Jesus Christ. Let me paraphrase the story for the sake of brevity.
The younger of two sons comes to his father, asking for his share of his father’s estate and his father gives it to him. The young man proceeds on a journey to a distant country in which he squanders all the money. Then a famine hits the land and he becomes destitute. So he finds a job feeding swine. His hunger makes him realize the swine are eating better than he is, and his thoughts wander to home.
He decides to swallow his pride and go home, planning to apologize and ask his father if he can work for him. One of the key verses notes that “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” His father had not given up on him and was ever watching the horizon for his son’s return.
Instead of chastising his son for squandering his inheritance, the father puts his best robe on him and declares a celebration is in order. When the older, faithful brother is outraged at this treatment, the father said to him “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
Remembering that Jesus is telling this parable to explain the nature of God, aren’t you glad that God has compassion and rejoices when we come back to Him? We are given all the good things in our life by God – every one of them. Yet, rather than be thankful and draw near to Him, seeking opportunities to repay Him for our gifts, we turn our backs and walk away.
I’ve walked away from God. It wasn’t a quick decision, but a drifting away over the years. It is fairly obvious that if you look at yourself, you aren’t looking at God. When things get really rough in this life, it is the very time that we should be drawing near to God. Yet we can start feeling sorry for ourselves and question the reality of God.
There is a saying that I like a lot: “You can give up on God, but He doesn’t give up on you.” As in the story of the prodigal son, God keeps watching the horizon. He is waiting for us to realize that this world is full of things that appeal to us, but they are things that will leave us empty and unfulfilled. We will come to a place where we hunger and thirst for His righteousness.
Another point on the story is that the father didn’t say “No!” to his son. Even though he knew his son was making a horrible mistake, he gave him the money and let him go. God treats us in the same manner. He has given us the free choice to rebel and to turn away from Him, knowing all the while that the lessons we will learn will be for our own good in the long run.
When I reached the place in my life where I wanted to return to God, it wasn’t because I was destitute. In fact, I was doing the very things I had dreamed of doing for many years. Kayaking, fishing, wildlife photography, the ocean. All the time. Every day. Sounds great to any man that loves the outdoors. It is just that those earthly things left me spiritually empty.
“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
~ Colossians 3:2
Venice, Florida, is on the gulf coast, south of Sarasota and north of Ft. Meyers. Beautiful beaches. Great fishing. Amazing wildlife photography areas, especially for birds. And a small Christian church, with a guest pastor whose sermon the day I walked in, was on James 4:8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” It became my prayer. “Lord, I draw near to You so that You will draw near to me.” The prodigal son had returned. He met me with open arms. And He will do that for you, should you drift away.