Luke 15:17 msg ” That brought him to his senses”. The Prodigal son.

What awakening do I need to fully be brought to my senses ? What would that even look like? Fully conscience, fully alert and aware. I long for that kind of clarity. I am pretty convinced we all have ” blind spots” of rebellion that keep us from fully surrendering to God. His grace is ever present but His desire is for us to be fully transformed into the image of Jesus and free from all such bondage.

A recent teaching (from Tim Keller) on the prodigal son revealed to me a few realities about the older brother, the one who stayed home. I have heard the story often, and from several different perspectives over the years but the version I heard at the Leadership Summit this year was by far the newest and best for me. Most people focus on the younger brother who squanders half the family fortune on wild living. It’s not a hard thing to relate to. I, after all was a child of the 60’s. I had always assumed the older brother was “the good brother”. I have always had issues with ” the good brother”. My adopted father, a victim of abuse himself was abusive to me and my mother in numerous ways. Not the least of which was to continuously remind me of the fact that I was not “the good brother”. Actually I have no real brothers, only step brothers I have never met. But I was continually being compared to ” the good brother” types.

In my case it was the “all american athlete”, wonder boy version my dad was looking for and I was not it. So, when I heard the older “good” brother had a problem, I was all ears. The older brother stayed on the farm while the younger brother partied. What I had realized is the the older brother should have been off trying to rescue the younger wayward brother. That was the cultural norm as well as the loving response.  Instead the older brother stays put and has contempt for the younger brother. The story is so rich, I don’t want to hack it up in a shortened version but I recommend getting Tim Keller’s book.

The older brother is self righteous. He is doing the work and is sure he has “earned” his father’s stuff! He doesn’t love the Father anymore than the younger brother. They both just wanted the Father’s stuff. Not the Father himself.

My painful realization. I have been both brothers. When I came to Christ, way back in the early 70’s, I was in the “younger brother” camp. I “got saved!” I am convinced that was real. I got the authentic experience. But, as a “younger brother” type I was an egotistical “bad boy”. I had something to prove. I was pretty intent to compete for the extreme bad boy title. That characteristic came with me into my “saved” life. The competition for acceptance in the “older good brother” club was fierce. But I had trained for this my whole life. I had learned how. I learned the rules quickly. What you can do, can’t do. I was a master of jumping through the hoops. I had never heard of image management, and was not even aware it was going on, but it was the driving force of my life . The damage I did to myself and the people around me in this destructive state is immeasurable.

In the story, the “younger brother” came to his senses when he got hungry, serving corn cobs to swine. What a picture. Not too hard to be disgusted with that.

The “older brother”, in this story never actually comes to his senses. The Father clearly is pursuing both brothers. He even leaves the party for the younger brother to pursue the older, trying to reason with him, but in his self righteous contempt, he rejects his Father’s instruction and remains outside the celebration.

The younger brother is awakened by hunger and saved. The older brother remains in his deceived state. For me this is an emotional and heartbreaking awareness. Not only because I lived so much of my life in this deception but also because I know so many people who are still living that reality.  It’s like a club! The self righteous club! Many of these people are winning awards for their disguised self righteousness. They can justify their actions based on how much they are doing for God.

My Big Question:

What will bring the older brother to his senses? If hunger was the tool leading to salvation for the younger brother, what tool works for the overfed, self righteous do-gooder who thinks in his heart he is not only fine, he is “the good brother” and in no need of salvation ?

I am convinced that there is always a sign being given to everyone by The Holy Spirit that lets them know internally that all is not well. We just don’t listen. We blast through life in blind rebellion, choosing to lie to ourselves which leads to even deeper deception. But I think there are many clues that God is leaving everywhere for us.

For the “older brother” I believe it was “contempt” or maybe better said, anger.

Anger is the hunger pains of a hardened heart.

I am sure, in his daily life, the older brother carefully disguised his anger so as to not upset his perceived righteousness with those he was trying to impress. And surely having disgust for the younger wayward brother would appear acceptable because of the obvious sinfulness.

It’s this inner anger and disguised hatefulness that is the alarm going off. But we condition ourselves to ignore it.

It’s the same kind of inner anger and hatred possessed by the Pharisee’s that nailed Jesus to the cross. It was also present in the non-repentant thief next to him at the crucifixion.

This is very sobering to me. I hate the concept of deception. The mere fact that we can be deceived makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Self deceived or otherwise.

So what is left?  The Father is reaching out to both son’s. The self righteous in their sin and the wayward in his. The prodigal son chose wisely. He returned to the Father with a repentant heart, asking only to be a servant. No arrogance or expectation just a cry for mercy. Surrendered! He was accepted. The “older brother” remained lost. With booth fists clinched in self righteous indignation. How incredibly sad.

What kind of event would need to take place in the “older brothers” life to jar him from his self deception?

I have been on a path for years that was preparing me for what I believe was my defining moment. God had been working, as He does, behind the visible to prepare me for a choice. This I believe is what a loving Father does. What is the choice? Choosing Him and surrendering to Him, not His system or His promises or His stuff. Stuff and systems and promises won’t help you when the realities of eternity hit you at 70 miles per hour. You need a real Savior. Not an organization or an occupation.

As a parent, how hard would you be willing to push your child out of the path of an on coming car? Most answer hard enough to get them to safety. But what if that required injuring them to save their life. How much injury? Tough questions, not pleasant to ponder.

How hard is our heavenly Father willing to push us to get us to safety. It’s pretty well known that He was willing to sacrifice His own son that we might be saved, but we have still have to choose Him. I think the answer is: Pretty Hard

Just like a child who is injured being shoved out of harms way might protest, we often view each difficult circumstance that enters our life with the same kind of objection. That’s not fair, why me? etc. You can fill in the blank.

I don’t want to pretend for a second that I have any kind of full understanding of tragic events or grand orchestrations that may or may not be guided by our Sovereign, Father God with the intention of moving us toward himself. But for me, what is viewed by most to be a family tragedy became the shove that injured me and saved me at the same time. I will “limp” for the rest of my days at the point of injury and at the same time mark the moment as the beginning of my surrender to my Heavenly Father. This was a moment for me “to come to my senses”.