My message today is on Prodigal Living – Trying to Tell God What To Do. This is the third message in this series on the Prodigal Life. My scripture reference is again taken from Luke 15: 11-32. Today’s message will focus on helping us recognize when we try to tell God what to do.
Starting with Luke 15:30, scripture tells us, “But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him!” These are the words of the older son speaking to his father about celebrating the return of the younger son—his brother. The older brother was angry, and here he is letting his father know as much. Remember, prodigal living is a way of living and here the older son is saying, “Father your way is not the right way.” He had it all wrong. In fact, the older brother’s way was not the right way. Let’s see why.
Many of us can find good reasons to agree with the older brother. The younger brother squandered away his father’s livelihood. That much is true; there are facts to support that. But where this brother goes prodigal is the belief that his father should have done something different than what he did by celebrating. He is judging his brother’s action and his father’s response against his own standard of right and wrong. He is judging his father’s response for what he thinks it should be. Judging is when we decide what should happen without an objective standard against which to base our belief; instead, we use our feelings. But just the same, the father is free to use his own feelings and or his own standards for how he responds to the younger brother.
Sadly, I must admit I have been guilty of this type living myself. It’s an easy thing for us to do, and it’s a difficult thing for us to see. We become offended when someone may appear to be let off the hook for something they do to us or to someone else. We become angry when it appears someone escapes consequences for some behaviors that to us are offensive and warrant discipline, punishment, or some type of corrective action. We become bitter because we believe everyone should pay a price for the things they do wrong, even when those wrongs may not directly impact us personally.
In many ways we have become a society of sideline judges, people who are angry, easily offended, and bitter, who try to police the wrong behaviors of others by whatever means we can. Social media has emboldened this type of thinking, pushing us to demand consequences for people around issues that we have no real knowledge of the facts or circumstances. Jesus warned us long ago against this type of social behavior when He said to a crowd that challenged Him about the law regarding adultery, “He who is without sin among you, throw the first stone at her.” Their judging nature foreshadowed our Facebook-like culture in which we feel compelled to comment on the comments of people we don’t know about issues we don’t know.
Jesus was saying don’t put yourself higher than the faults and failures you find or see in others. We are not made better or stronger by highlighting the faults of others. Tearing down others to their lowest only makes us look lower. Elevating ourselves above the faults of others only reveals different faults in us. In all this, we essentially are telling God what to do and how He should do things. When this is the way we live, we are saying we want our ways to be His ways.
If this resonates with you, there are three things you can do to make certain you do not come to live the prodigal life of telling God what to do. First, learn to be merciful toward others; one day you will certainly need mercy yourself. Learn to be forgiving towards others—not condoning but forgiving; one day you will need the forgiveness of someone else. And learn to give and live with grace; one day you will need God’s grace and perhaps the grace of someone else.
It was right that the father celebrated the return of his younger son. His son was dead, but then alive; he was lost, but now he was found. When we stop trying to tell God what He should do, we could learn to see that God does everything with Love, with Grace, with Mercy and with Forgiveness. We might get more of our prayers answered, we might hear more of God’s voice, and we might learn more of His ways.
Yes, I know you have probably heard someone say there is a consequence for everything we do. If people are not held accountable, if there is no punishment or corrective actions for the things they do, then they are likely to repeat those things. Or worse, we may hold that no one should get away with doing something wrong when another person—perhaps someone less privileged—pays a price for doing the same thing. But that type thinking sounds like it is something that could come from a bitter, unmerciful, unforgiving, and judging person.
There is a great example of this type of prodigal thought in the book of Jonah. You probably know the story of Jonah and how he was swallowed up by a great fish. This happened because Jonah refused to obey God’s command to go to the city of Nineveh to warn the people there of their sinful lifestyle. Jonah judged that God would not likely punish the people for their behaviors, but rather He would give them grace and mercy. Jonah thought that the people should be made to suffer consequences for their sinful ways. He was unmerciful, unforgiving, bitter, and judging. So instead of going to Nineveh, he went in the opposite direction. Jonah was trying to tell God what to do. The facts are that the people of Nineveh came to their senses. They stepped out of their sinful lifestyle and returned to be a Certain people in the heart of God. And God relented and refrained from bringing the disaster He had said He would bring upon the people. Why did He do this? Because the people were dead, but through their change of heart they became alive again; they were lost, but then they were found. God was loving, and He showed mercy and grace toward the people.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. We must learn to be careful that we don’t live by the default that everyone will have to pay something for the wrongs they do, especially when those people wrong us. Instead, try to live obediently before the Lord in all that you are and be very careful to keep yourself from being the instrument that brings judgement to anyone because you could easily get that judgment wrong. I think it is a good idea to leave judging to the Lord. It is easier for me to work on listening to Him and to focus on living before others in a way that shows how the Word of God has worked to transform me. Perhaps it would be better for us all that we didn’t propose to do God’s work, and that instead we try to show others that His work has been performed in our lives.
Let’s not be like Jonah. God knows how to be God better than we can tell Him to be. Let’s not be like that older son who became angry because his brother was given love and grace and mercy. The scripture says that the father told his oldest son that he was always with his father and that all that he had was his son’s. Do you know what that means? Even though the younger son had squandered away his father’s wealth, the dad was still saying to the older son, I still have enough for your needs and that is always yours because you are always with me. Listen, God has enough love to love you as if you are the only person to be loved; He has enough mercy to show toward you that you will never need more mercy from Him; He has enough grace that your cup of grace will always overflow; and He has enough forgiveness to take you from hell to heaven. All of this is yours when you stop telling Him how to be your God and you start learning how to be a better child of His. Live a Delivered Life. Love you.