father walking in  fall leaves holding child's hand

We hear a lot of references to the prodigal son. How the Father longed for him to return, watching for him day after day with unrelenting love and devotion. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve literally rejected God and run away from home or not; we understand because there’s a myriad of ways we turn our backs on Father-God, and yearn for the allure of the world. It’s not until we find ourselves in a pig pen eating slop that we realize how much better things are at home with God.

Since I grew up going to church and never strayed too far from the faith, I’ve always identified more with the brother who stayed at home. Over the years I’ve heard so many sermons and illustrations from Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter fifteen that I thought I had gleaned about all I could from the story of the Prodigal Son. Then, as God so often does, He surprised me with a new truth.

As you know the prodigal returns and begs his father’s forgiveness; the father welcomes him wholeheartedly then sends him off with the servants to get cleaned up. When the older brother returns from working in the fields he hears music. When he finds out the party is in his brother’s honor—the brother who couldn’t wait for Dad to die before he got his half of the inheritance; the brother who wasted it, bringing shame and scandal on his family —he is righteously angry. Now he’s come home and there’s a party?

When his father urges him to enter into the celebration, the elder brother complains about how unfair it is. This profligate gets a party with the fatted calf while he—the faithful one who has slaved in the fields day after day—has never even had a goat to share with his friends. Even though the elder son had stayed with him physically, he didn’t understand his father’s heart.

What he said next grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into the scene: “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’” (Luke 15:31). How could I have missed that before? The Father says, “You have my presence, and all that is mine is at your disposal. Now your brother’s back and we can be a family again. Rejoice!”

How could I forget what an incredible blessing it is to be God’s child? Even though the father welcomed the prodigal back into the family, he would still experience the consequences of his choices. Like the consequences of our sins, we can’t recover what we have frittered away—lost years of relationship, health, the chance to make memories. The elder brother didn’t understand the value of what he had enjoyed all along—an unbroken relationship with the father.

That’s what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ—constant communion with God the Father, enjoying His unlimited resources.

When I complain about what I don’t have or how the Father chooses to bless someone I see as less deserving than me, it’s like slapping Him in the face. As a believer I get to live in His love, participate in His work, hear His voice, share the incredible abundance of His table, and enjoy a close daily relationship with Him. I don’t have to have regrets. I can share freely with others without worry. The Father’s greatest desire is for those in His house to revel in these blessings, love like He loves, and embrace our brothers and sisters with enthusiasm when they come home to Dad.

Candle burning with a warm glow with the word "blessed" on the container.

This “better than” attitude can settle on long-time church goers. It fights against the very heart of the message of Christ. What if the prodigals come and the elder brothers won’t let them in? What if they won’t come to the party or talk to them when they pass in the hallway? What if the elder brothers don’t want the prodigals to work with them in the fields for the Father’s harvest? Will they stay?

May it never be that the “other children” who haven’t outwardly strayed (for we have all sinned and are in need of God’s forgiveness) would make any prodigal feel so unwelcome that they would rather go back to the pig pen!

Lord, give us a spirit of gratitude for all you provide; let us daily delight in your presence. Grant us loving hearts to embrace all who will come to you and gladly join the party in their honor.

#prodigalson #Luke15 #notwelcomeinchurch #father’sheart #cometoJesus