The night I gave my life to Jesus, I joined with hundreds of young people at a camp singing:
Take my life, Lead Me Lord,
Take my life, Lead me Lord,
Make my life useful to Thee*
I meant those selfless lyrics with all of my heart. I went home determined that my life would be focused on and useful to the Lord, so I dug into prayer and Bible study. One of the stories I read was Jesus’ story of the Lost Son in Luke 15. In the story, the younger of two sons was totally self-centered. He had the audacity to go to his father and ask him for his inheritance early. He basically said, “I’m tired of waiting for you to die so I can get my shot at what’s coming to me.”
As I read about how self-centered the young man was, I vowed, “That will never happen to me! I’m going to do great things for God no matter who I have to run over. I’m going to make the best of my life for the Lord. I’m going to go to a Christian college, I’m going to major in some kind of ministry degree, I’m going to achieve great things, I, I, I, I….
The story of the Lost Son continues with his father miraculously giving his younger son his inheritance early. The young man is filled with a spirit of self reliance and is determined that he can manage his inheritance better than his father or older brother. He leaves his father’s house and goes to a far off land where he squanders his inheritance in riotous living.
As a young man, I read that part of the story and said to myself, “That will never happen to me! I will never be as self reliant as that young man. I’m going into the ministry. I’m going to take the gifts the Lord has given me and make something of them. He’s going to be amazed when He sees what I have done!
Jesus’ story continues with the Lost Son, a young Jewish boy, having to take a job feeding pigs, an animal detestable to Jewish people, for a farmer in the distant land. He had lost his fortune and with it all of his friends. He was hungry and no one gave him anything. As he looked down at the slop in his bucket that was meant for the pigs, even that looked good to him.
As I read that part of the story, I vowed, “That will never happen to me!” I will never be so selfish that I find myself without anything. I’m going to live a holy life! I’m going to seminary and to the mission field and I’ll use the brain God gave me to get out of tough situations.
In the story, the young man came to his senses, and remembered that even his father’s servants had food enough to spare. He made a plan to go to his father, fall at his feet, confess his sin, and ask to become a servant in his household. And the young man began his journey. As he neared his father’s house, his father sees him, runs to him and embraces him. The young man tries to get his speech out, but his father commands his servants to kill the fattened calf and prepare a feast, for his son was lost and now is found. So the party began.
The older brother, who had remained faithful to his father, came home while the party for his younger brother was taking place. He learns what has happened and becomes angry. His father tries to lure him inside to celebrate, but the older son, responds, “I don’t believe this. You give my brother his inheritance, he goes out and wastes it, doing God knows what with God knows who, and when he’s broke, he comes back here and we’re celebrating! I’ve served you faithfully for all of these years, working hard before the sun comes up and continuing after it goes down, and you’ve never even considered giving me anything for a party like this!”
For many years, I vowed that I would never become the older brother, but I’ve seen myself morph into him time and time again. I’ve seen that my life, which I thought was self denial, has often been self-centered, self reliant, and just plain selfish. And wow, as I read that story again after so many years, I’m not making any vows. Have I been the Lost Son or have I been the Older Brother?
The answer is yes. I’ve been both.
The way I feel can be summarized in the lyrics of the late Rich Mullins.
I’ve gone so far from my home,
I’ve seen the world and I have known so many secrets I wish now I did not know.
For they have crept into my heart, they have left it cold and dark, and bleeding,
bleeding and falling apart.
I’ve seen silver turn to dross.
I’ve seen the very best there ever was,
and I tell you, it ain’t worth what it cost.
And I remember my Father’s house,
what I wouldn’t give right now just to see Him
and hear Him tell me that He loves me so much.
And when I thought that I was all alone, it was Your voice I heard calling me back home,
and I wonder now, what was it that made me wait so long?
And what kept You waiting for me all that time?
Is Your love stronger than my foolish pride?
Will you take me back, take me back and let me be Your child?
Cause I’ve been broken now,
I’ve been saved.
I’ve learned how to cry and I’ve learned how to pray.
And I’m learning, I’m learning even I can be changed.
And everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry,
but I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie
that held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons.
We are children no more, we’ve sinned and grown old,
but our Father still waits, and He watches down the road,
to see the crying boys come running back to His arms.
And be growing young.**
Photo courtesy to Ant Rozetsky of Unsplash
*Take My Life, Lead Me Lord by P. Mains Rawls
**Growing Young by Rich Mullins