“And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.”
Growing up in my house I was never the oldest. In fact I was actually the youngest. So, even though I have known the story of the prodigal son since I was a child, I have always seen myself as the younger son. I would be willing to bet that most people are the same way. We relate to the younger brother. We see ourselves in his wickedness and we find encouragement and joy in his redemption by the father. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but we often overlook the older brother. We don’t relate well to him. We may sympathize with his plight, but we still view him as harsh and unkind. Recently events in my life reminded me that all to often I am like the older brother.
It all started with social media (as often seems to be the case these days). You see, I am not overly active with Facebook, but I have one and I enjoy checking it. I enjoy the articles that are shared and I like to see what my “friends” are up to. Often people are more open about themselves and their lives on social media than makes many of us comfortable. I noticed one friend who was clearly struggling with the current state of affairs in his life. Much of the negative circumstances he found himself in were of his own doing. Despite this he openly expressed his desire for a better life and not just a modest improvement, but one that most people have to work for. In short he had big dreams and desires and little to get there. Most of this centered around a desire for employment. You know the kind of person I am speaking of, the one who wants a good job and one they enjoy, but has done nothing to work towards that end. The same type of people often fall into “get rich quick” schemes. They just believe some great opportunity will fall into their lap with minimal effort or experience. So as I saw this unfold in the window of Facebook……it burned me. It burned me bad. Even as I write this I am shaking off the lingering talons of my own pride. Creeping up into my mind were the thoughts of scorn. I laughed the scornful laugh of a proud man. The words “foolish” and “entitled” slithered off my tongue like a snake in the dessert. In my pride I am sure I must have stood as high as a skyscraper. I thought about how hard I had studied and worked to get where I am now. I thought of the debts I have paid, the ladders I have climbed, and the struggles I have faced. Then I had this thought, “He has wasted his time, done nothing, and now wants what I have worked so hard for.” In that moment I was the older brother filled with scorn, filled with pride, and wishing for another to reap the consequences of their actions.
When we stand in such a prideful way, we are asking for God to knock us down. I was bucked off my high horse while praying with a group of men during a mid-week prayer service. In the silence of the room, with my head bowed, one of the other men began to pray. As he prayed, he poured out his heart to God with concern for the very person whose Facebook posts had ignited such scorn in my own heart. My heart sank in dismay. I had been in my thoughts the opposite of all the things God had called me to be. For those moments I felt paralyzed in my own seat. I imagine that the older brother must have had similar feelings. He was outside sulking when his father came to speak to him about his brother. He gently rebuked him and said, “It was meet (right) that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) There were no cellphones or even landlines then. For all the father knew, he would never see his youngest son again. His return was to him as though he had risen from the grave. In essence he is asking the elder son, “Would you rather your brother was dead?”
We don’t get to see the older brother’s response to this rebuke, but we know what is implied. We know, because it cuts to our own hearts. As I sat there paralyzed with shame it cut to mine. What if that person receives a better job than I have? What if they get a better car, a nicer house, or some other blessing? Will I rejoice with them, or will I stamp my feet and loudly proclaim that they don’t deserve it? The truth is that I don’t deserve anything I have. I am a sinner saved by the grace of God. I have a relationship with a God who regularly bestows gifts on those who don’t deserve it. In those moments of conviction, God took my heart one steps further than what I have already written. I realized I don’t need to wait to see what happens. I need to pray now for that person. Imagine if I asked God to give them the very thing they were seeking. Imagine if I prayed for God to share the blessing he had bestowed on me with that individual. We need to pray, “give them what I have and more.” Don’t let pride harden your gentle heart, but rather ask God to soften it to the needs around you.