Claim Your Prize

I hit rock bottom one day while starving in my dead end job. Once I had it all. I had liquidated my trust fund and plunged into the life I had dreamed of, not worrying who I hurt in the process. But my friends weren’t friends, my money didn’t go that far, and soon I had nothing. And that’s when I thought – what am I doing? I should go home! My dad is reasonable, and he treats his employees better than this! So I left my job, went home – and my dad was thrilled to see me. He exceeded any hope I had, welcoming me home, throwing a party. The only one who wasn’t thrilled to see me with my older brother, the responsible one and I can understand why: I certainly didn’t deserve the warm welcome. 
The Prodigal Son is such a familiar story to Christians. For a long time, as an oldest child and a good girl, I identified with the older brother. Why should God treat us equally? Why shouldn’t I get a party for being so good? I read a wonderful story by Patricia Wrede called “Roses by Moonlight” in her Book of Enchantments that captures this feeling (from a modern day, female, magical perspective). It opens with older sister smoking a cigarette (her only vice) outside by the car as her sister and friends have a rocking party inside. 
Then after going through my rebellious stage in early college, I certainly understood the Prodigal’s emotions: gratitude, joy, and the relief that comes with returning home, where we are known and loved no matter what we have done.  

But it is only recently that I have understood the father’s perspective. Parenthood has transformed my understand of faith. First of all, the capacity to love! I love my child so much, I would do anything for her. She is the most precious thing. And I believe God loves us the same way. He delights in us, He wants all good things for us.

My daughter is a strong willed toddler who is figuring out her boundaries. She is in a hitting phase. I discipline her for hitting, not because her little attempts to hit hurt me – because they  don’t – but because that’s not what I want for her. I don’t want her to grow up communicating through violence and driving playmates away by hitting them. I don’t discipline her because I’m mad, I discipline her because I want something better. It’s the same, I believe, for God – He can handle our sin, we can’t do anything that would surprise or offend him. But he wants something better and so he presses us relentlessly towards perfection. 

Sometimes my daughter does hit a playmate, and when that happens I have to do something dramatic to protect the playmate. I will take my daughter away to time out. I will take the toy away that she used to hit. I don’t do this out of rage, but to protect. So in my mind, that is why Biblical discipline sometimes appears dramatic.  Because God was protecting others. 

I forgive my daughter, but she doesn’t get it yet. She won’t until her little brain begins to process that what she is doing is wrong. Our pastor on Sunday noted that forgiveness begins, not with the celebration party, but when the Prodigal’s heart turns homeward. His father had already forgiven him. His father lived by forgiveness. The son had to make the first step to go home, to accept the forgiveness, to start over and rebuild the relationship. He had to claim his prize, just as lottery winners have to claim what is already theirs. 

The Prodigal Son is a parable and it does not tell the whole story. The good father wouldn’t wait for his son to come back from the far country. He is the good shepherd, after all. He would be texting, sending letters, trying to keep tabs on his son even when his son ignored him.  When his son went off the grid, the good father would set out to track him down. He would find him in the pig pen, ready to come back, ready to accept his father’s forgiveness. The father would give him a ride home on his own Aston Martin donkey. 

God sends the Hound of Heaven for us. Once he has become involved in our lives, He will give us opportunity after opportunity. I don’t just mean about accepting Christ and giving our lives to him; I also mean doing what He is calling us to do. It is never too late for Him. His forgiveness is never out of date. Our prize never expires.  

Do you have a prize to claim? Is it Eternal Life or trusting God with your future? 

What are you waiting for?