Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Or at least made a significant difference?
I have. I remember the winter, the book, the revelation.
It was the winter of 2009. As an administrator of a school, I was a successful professional. I was accomplished, serving students well as a teacher, a consultant, and a principal. In recent years, I had organized a state conference, presented at national conferences, trained teachers, and earned recognition. I had also been a Christian for many years. That winter, I was a pastor’s wife. In previous years I had been a youth director, Sunday School teacher, VBS director, women’s ministry leader, in music ministry, and more.
I felt confident in who I was, in the work I was doing, and in my relationships in life.
Then I read and studied Luke 15 using The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. In fact, my husband and I were co-teaching the book, leading our church through that study. God met me on the pages of the book – disrupting my comfortable thoughts.
I thought I knew the story well –
The wayward son insulted his dad by asking for his share of the inheritance while his dad was still living. And then he left home to squander it. When he had nothing left, he came to his senses and realized the people who worked for his dad were living better than he was. So he determined to go home, apologize, and be a hired hand.
The father was heartbroken over his son’s decision. And you can imagine he worried about him, wondered when he might come home, and watched the horizon for signs of his return. One day he sees him. He picks up his clothing from around his ankles and runs to meet his son. There is no lecture, no question, only a loving welcome. More than that – the father ordered the preparations for a party to begin, and before long, there was a great celebration in the backyard.
The older brother was working a ways off and smelled the brisket smoking! He returned home to see the lights, laughter, and lively dancing. He asked a servant and learned that his younger brother had returned home. The older brother was fuming, and he confronted his dad. Why would his dad throw such a party for a son who insulted him, who slept with prostitutes and ate with pigs!?? And the older brother refused to join the party.
It’s this last part I had never noticed – the bit about the angry elder brother. Interestingly, Jesus stops right there. No explanation, no wrapping up the last details, no satisfying “and they all lived happily ever after.”
I was confronted with the question – which brother was I most like? And I was surprised when the Spirit of God shined His light in some of the dark corners of my life.
I had grown up in a sheltered life and was protected from the overt waywardness that the younger brother pursued. That’s not to say I was not sinful – I was. Some moments definitely worse than others, if sin can be rated that way. But I had not realized how much like the older brother I was. I was “in the father’s household,” living for Jesus and worshiping Him, but I had no idea how “elder brother-ish” I had become, self-righteous, rule-keeping. Maybe God would notice how good I was! The revelation was life-changing for me.
I was religious, checking off all the boxes. I was in church every time the doors were opened, serving and singing. All good things …
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;Psalm 51:16-17
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
The Spirit of God is faithful – He uses the scripture for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness to prepare us for the work He has for us to do. He reminded me once more that my salvation was all grace, all mercy – such a freeing realization!
Our church is getting ready to do a church-wide study of Luke 15. We’ll use Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, as a discussion tool. I’m praying now that this study will be someone’s life-changing moment!
Father, you who gathers up your cloak to run
Towards us, who demonstrates love when we are far off,
Who loves us with eternity in mind,
Confront us again through your word
Rebuke us, correct us, teach us
I pray now for all that will study with us
For ears to hear, softened hearts
A will ready to say yes to all that you want to accomplish
In the power of the Spirit, through your Son’s name,
I wrote about this book not too long ago as an influential book in my life. You can read that post here: The Prodigal God.