How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
(written by Stuart Townend)
Every now and then there’s a story in the Bible that touches my heart in a way that leaves me speechless. Literally speechless – nothing at all to say. And that isn’t an easy task considering I’m someone who makes a living out of speaking about passages from the Bible.
But last week, I found myself at that exact point as I was preparing to give a sermon on the story of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32).
Like you, I’ve heard this story since I was a kid – a dad has two sons, the younger disrespects his dad, takes his inheritance early and leaves home. He then proceeds to lose everything with foolish living, but then comes home and the father forgives him and welcomes him with open arms.
Yeah yeah yeah. Been there, done that. A professional preacher like me could give 15 sermons on that easily. No problem, right?
Wrong. This past week I realized that even though I KNEW the story for years, I never knew its depth and magnitude. Yes it’s a story of God’s love, but it’s a lot more than I ever realized. Let me explain.
You see, once I became a dad, it taught me a lot about God. A LOT! I learned stuff that can never be taught in a sermon or explained in a book. For example, who can give a sermon and explain what unconditional love looks like? Or what it feels like or the extent to which it will go? Those things can’t be explained. They can be understood intellectually, but to be fully understood at a deeper level (at least for me), that requires a deeper experience. And for me, that only happened when I became a parent.
Well, now that my kids are getting older (8 and 6 right now), I find myself once again learning old lessons in a new way… a deeper understanding of a truth that I always knew, but never experienced.
When my kids were young, I experienced what it means to love someone who hasn’t done anything for you – someone who just kind of landed on your front door step (figuratively obviously) and made himself part of your life. Having a child isn’t like shopping for a new car; you don’t get to choose your favorite model. You just end up with whatever God gives you and love it… I mean him/her… because they’re yours. That’s it.
That was the first 7 years of parenthood. I learned what it means to love someone who doesn’t do anything to deserve it. They just get it because of who they are.
But now I am learning something deeper. Not just what it means to love someone who didn’t earn it, but rather what it means to love someone who did everything they could to throw it away.
Let me stop here and make sure that I don’t give the wrong impression. I have great kids. They are the best. Overall they are very well behaved and very obedient. And from a young age, I really feel like they know God and have a relationship with Him (clearly coming their father’s side :) ).
I got nothing but thanks to God for my kids.
BUT THEY’RE STILL KIDS. And that means that sometimes they are disobedient. Sometimes they are defiant. Sometimes they are so stubborn and difficult and hard-headed (obviously God had to give them some characteristics from each of their parents’ sides – see note above) that I am tempted to think to myself “if that’s how they’re going to act, then they deserve whatever comes to them.”
Sometimes – parents you will all agree with me – our kids do everything in their power to reject our love and push as far away as possible.
But what do we do? Do we reject them? Do we push them away the same way they push us away? Do we give them what they deserve?
Nope. None of those things. We struggle with their defiance, but in the end, when they repent we rejoice with joy inexpressible… even though they don’t deserve it… and even though they will probably do it again… and even though it isn’t logical or fair or any of those things.
We do it because we love them…
…and because we desire to have a relationship with them.
…and because that desire to have a relationship with them is stronger than any other desire in our hearts. We yearn for it and our hearts ache every second that the relationship isn’t right. We long to be close to them – not just for our sakes, but for the sake of our children.
The father in the story of the Prodigal Son didn’t need the son; it was clearly the child who needed the father. But that isn’t how a father thinks and that certainly isn't how a father feels.
All that a father can think is "My son needs me in his life. He needs me to look out for him and protect him and guide him. I know that he will really suffer without me."
All that a father can feel is "This hurts. It hurts so badly. It hurts so badly to think that my son might never come back. I'll do anything to have him back."
Same for God. That’s the lesson of the Prodigal Son story.
I once heard it said that “Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.”
At first I understood grace. Now I think I understand mercy.
For discussion: what experiences have you gone through that allowed you to understand God’s love more deeply?