I don’t usually stand on any kind of ceremony for ‘special’ days, especially Father’s Day, which is simply a commercial copy of Mother’s Day. I won’t go into any further details on that.
But today – which, I am told is ‘Father’s Day’ – I saw a superb piece by Lee O’Hare, whose work I have shared before but which I have not posted a lot of recently. And it’s relevant to ‘Father’s Day’. Over to Lee:
“But his father said . . .” (Luke 15:22)
There is probably no passage in scripture that reveals the true heart of God as powerfully as the story told by Jesus of the incredible father who came running to his repentant wayward son after having wasted his father’s inheritance and brought incredible shame to the name of his father. The story known as “The Prodigal Son” really is not about the son at all; it is about the amazing love of a Father who refuses to treat us as anything other than deeply loved, cherished and totally forgiven children.
I realize that everybody reading this is all too familiar with this parable, but I would ask you, do not let that familiarity keep you from receiving the glorious truth which this reveals about the love of Abba God. In seems every time I read this story something new and fresh is revealed to me about the heart of my Heavenly Father. I would like to simply share a few thoughts that have recently come from my meditations on this wonderful story.
The most obvious thing that I see is how completely wrong both sons were in their perception of who their father really is. This makes me remember Jesus’ words in the “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17:25, “O righteous Father the world DOES NOT KNOW YOU.” That is the problem. Without the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit we really have no idea who God is or what He is really like. We carry around in our hearts distorted images of Him which have been forged on the anvils of our personal past experiences of rejection, shame and disappointment. This is only exacerbated by the wrong images we receive from well meaning parents, teachers, preachers as well as our own innate sense of guilt and unworthiness. We then try to relate to God out of those distorted perceptions and find ourselves feeling hopeless, confused, weary and often times utterly burned out and even resentful towards God. I don’t know how many times I have heard frustrated Christians say in one way or another, “It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to be a good enough Christian.” We can know all about grace in our heads, but what we need is a true Holy Spirit revelation of who our Abba really is in the deepest recesses of our hearts.
So what strikes me above all else in this story is how utterly and completely different the father really was. The “prodigal” son had to go to incredible extremes in order to be brought to a place where he was able to finally experience the truth of who His father really was and had always been – including the time that he had been living in the father’s house, as well as all that time he was living far away from home in rebellion and ultimately in complete and utter shame and filthy disgrace. I could easily inject some personal testimony right here, but suffice it to say, I can very much identify with this story today. I know what it is crawl around in the filth of a “pig pen” with distorted and perverted images of who I thought God was filling my heart and mind. I know what it is to finally “come to my senses” and say, “I don’t have to live like this any longer” and to begin the journey of returning to the father’s house. I also know what it is to feel I have to negotiate with God in order to be allowed back on the father’s property.
Pay close attention to the repentance speech the son had prepared and memorized as he was heading back to the father’s house:
“I have sinned against heaven and against you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Just treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18, 19)
I have actually read in some commentaries that this was a correct and proper understanding and attitude of repentance for this good for nothing, rebellious sinner to have in approaching his father. But, let’s look at how the father, representing Abba God, actually responded when his wayward son returns with repentance speech in hand to plead for acceptance back home “as one of your hired servants.”
Of course, everybody is familiar with this part of the story: “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). It is at this point that the story gets really interesting. It is while the father is “falling upon his neck” (KJV) with love and compassion and smothering his swine infested flesh with kisses of fatherly affection, that the son begins to recite his prepared speech of repentance. But he only gets so far. What so many miss here is the fact that THE FATHER DOES NOT ALLOW HIM TO FINISH HIS SPEECH. He has just confessed that he is no longer worthy to be called a son and is about to say, “Just treat me as one of your hired servants” that Jesus interjects, “BUT HIS FATHER SAID . . .” Feel the power of that. I call this the “Divine Interruption” Just as he is about to place himself in servitude as a slave in the father’s household he is interrupted by the father who then turns to the servants and says, “Quick bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet . . .” It is as if the father is saying, “I refuse to hear this nonsense about you being my servant. I will have nothing of it. I am not interested in servants. I do not want a servant. I only want a son whom I can shower with my love and affection.”
Can you feel the power in this? While we are trying to negotiate with God out of our feelings of shame and guilt, which inevitably drag us into legalism and promises to do better and try harder, He is wanting to embrace us with love and kisses of fatherly affection and to lavish upon us His own gifts of grace and mercy.
Through this story Jesus profoundly reveals the heart of His Father and shows us so clearly what it really is that Abba wants most from us, who are His beloved children. It obviously is not simply obedient and responsible behavior. He already had that from the elder son who, the story reveals, also had no idea who his father really was, nor what he was like. The returning son was prepared to sell himself into lifelong servitude to pay his father back for years of shameful rebellion and waste, but as we have seen, the father would absolutely have none of that. What the father wanted, and what Abba wants from us, more than anything else, is a loving relationship. That is what he did not have from either of his sons and he wanted it so desperately that he would spare nothing to have it.
The heart of this story, and what personally speaks powerfully to me at this time, is the fact that the father, out of his love and desire for true relationship, was willing to let his son completely go so he could come to the absolute end of his own self-sufficiency in order to find out who his father really was. Only by coming to the end of himself was the son able to finally recognize what had been important to the father all along.
– Lee O’Hare, shared with his kind permission.