I love books. The atmosphere in rooms that are filled with books, especially libraries, have always done something to me. (A footnote prayer: “Lord, if construction is underway on a residence for me in the next world, keep in mind that oil-finished library panelling is exceptionally attractive.”) Excuse me. I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.
I am actually thinking, at the moment, of those many other things which Jesus did, which if they were all written down, each of them, one by one, (in detail), the world itself would not be big enough to house such a library. (Jn 21:25). Do you think at least some of these things might be the myriad works that He did in the hearts and lives of His children?
Our passage today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (which could as easily be called The Parable of The Elder Brother or The Parable of The Father’s Heart), coupled with my own story, is what has provoked my thinking about books. We talked recently about the books of Life that will be opened on that great Day of the White Throne Judgement. I projected that we definitely want
some books on heaven’s shelves (or, at the very least a few chapters) so that when the recording angel is sent looking, he can find our stories, giving evidence of His Life in us and our compatibility with heaven. Using your imagination, what are the names of the chapters that have already been published in your book in heaven? What do you think the title should
be of the particular chapter that is currently being written?
I picture a section in this library where our stories are catalogued. There will be an area devoted to Prodigal Sons. It will no doubt cover square miles of space. There will be another area for Elder Brothers. I also envision an area given to house the stories of those Jesus rescued as both Prodigal Sons and Elder Brothers. If things are organized in this fashion, I might get to be in
three different sections.
As far as being a prodigal, I certainly left home and squandered my father’s estate. I was also in a far off country (at least a strange city – Tulsa), living loosely, experiencing loneliness and a famine of spirit that ultimately led to my return home. This was the essence of my story as a prodigal. After having the Father run out to meet me, embrace and kiss me; after receiving
a ring, a robe and a feast, it would be natural to ask how I could have ever become an elder brother and need rescued.
That would take a while. The short-battlefield report is that Satan’s strategies involve deceiving and misleading even the elect wherever that is possible (Matt 24:24). My story reveals a place where the enemy can and does easily crawl over the fence and get in the sheepfold. That place is where a believer, (even the well-fed, beloved ones, bedecked with rings and robes) has not had a revelation of belonging sufficient to solidify their identity in-Christ.
I believe all humans (beings in-Adam) leave Eden with a cosmic-sized rejection complex and identity vacuum. I believe our hearts in this condition provide juicy and tantalizing fair for demonic spirits whose mission it is to mislead. They don’t want to immediately damn and destroy all men. They want to keep them around to snack on. This way, they can nourish and entertain themselves as well as recruit to a growing flock of misled ones. Eventually, (they have likely reasoned); if the flock grows large enough – becoming a majority, the flock itself will help redefine what is called normal Christianity. Given the propensity of sheep to compare, the strategy and task of redefining normal is not rocket science for demons. A master in counter spiritual warfare; Paul taught;
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.2 Cor 10:12
I believe all humans (with few exceptions) leave their earthly families with that cosmic rejection complex customized and amplified. This really sets us up to sell ourselves to whatever will ease the pain of our compounding rejection. For me, the church was the first group of people who told me that I had worth or potential. What do you think that might be worth to an insecure soul? What was my soul willing to pay to belong? I tell you the truth – just about anything.
Even though, as a returning prodigal, I had had a powerful encounter with the love of God and knew for certain (at some level) that I belonged to Him and was a son, I still absolutely craved the approval of men. I wanted to hear someone (on earth with skin on) saying my name and telling me, “Well done”. Without my identity really rooted and established in-Christ, I traded
my activity as a disciple (really good works) for the approval available to me from within the church. It would be fair to ask, “OK. But how would this make you and elder brother?
I don’t have exhaustive understanding of how elder brothers develop but I believe we elder brother and sister types may begin going astray (getting misled) when the heart somehow learns (very early in life) to find some solace for the soul-pain of rejection in-activity which can establish reputation (which is just a false identity) instead of a personality that is rooted and grounded in-Christ. For clarity’s sake here, I am not talking about working to to earn salvation. I’m talking about the (mostly unconscious) working the heart does to compensate where it is uncertain in who it is. The tragic thing (in this state) is that we can be doing all the right things (like the elder brother had) for all the wrong reasons.
Why do you think this might be tragic? Why do you think the elder brother stayed home, never neglecting any commands from his father? What were the possible motives of his heart?
He may have been jockeying for inheritance or (like myself) he may have just been working on an image, uncertain of his own worth to his father or others outside of a steady performance or production. Eventually the Father had to come and speak to me about my attitude toward others to whom the Christian life appeared easy (to whom I had compared myself and judged). Along with those judgements, He exposed my heart’s list of others who had welched on their end of the bargain I had set up long ago to trade performance for acceptance. All those who had not delivered approval to my standards had been written off and condemned in one form or another. At the very least, I can say (from experience) that elder brothers and sisters have lists of people that have not truly been forgiven from the heart. (Surprisingly, God Himself may be on our lists.)
I had all the elder brother symptoms. I was perceived as a leader (albeit a pretty stiff one). I got my chores done, carrying out my duties as an elder, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, preacher (or whatever the occasion required). I was depressed for reasons that neither I nor others could relate to and I was angry for reasons neither I nor others could understand. I was put out with others and prepared to help them get it together as a disciple because I had the form of following Jesus down pat.
“Oh well”, I reasoned, “in regards to my depression; I may not exactly be filled with the joy of the Lord, but at least I can fall back on my activity as evidence that God is in my life. And, in regards to my anger, it was justified because of the circumstances I found myself in. In regards to bitterness and resentment, what are those anyway but attitudes that can be better managed. And regarding the judgements against people, they were all deserving of whatever God would dish out to them as discipline to straighten them out. At least I don’t have to deal with them.” Hint; rationale of this toxic nature does not find its origins in heaven. Are you suffering with any of these symptoms? I have thought back about what a tasty religious morsel I was becoming for the opportunistic spirits that prey on those like myself, whose identities are not established.
The brothers in this parable probably did not recognize what they shared in common, which was a complete misunderstanding of their father’s heart toward them. Regardless of the directions their misled hearts took, their acceptance with Dad was never cut off by debauchery or enhanced by performance. They were his boys. Their lives could not alter their belonging to him. Oh how blessed is the man and woman who come to rest in the reality of their secure place in the Father’s heart.
Father, by all means, lead a host of prodigals out of sensual and indulgent sin. And also, by any or all means, rescue a host of elder brothers and sisters and lead them out of captivity into the light of your love. Populate the shelves in heaven with an unprecedented number of stories of those awakened from within the Church who have discovered their new identities in-Christ as well as their kingdom destinies. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Note; You may blame or thank C.S. Lewis for the imagery of demons and human personality which I borrowed from his book The Screwtape Letters