Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. This passage from the story of a father and two brothers is very familiar; it is presented below from The Message to grab your attention. Read the passage at least twice and then chew on the comments and soul-training exercises below.*
THE ELDER BROTHER IN ALL OF US
“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
♥ Imagine that you are the elder brother. How would you have obeyed in this situation? Would you have accused the father and blamed the brother? Would you have made a mental list of all the times you have been mistreated? Would you have refused to go in and join the party. I know that in my past I would behave exactly like that.
♥ Now think of the father as God and yourself as one of God’s well-loved children. Do you have expectations of God? Do you get upset when the expectations aren’t fulfilled? Do you look at the lives of others and compare them to yours – and then become critical of them and angry with God for loving, forgiving, and including them at his table? Do you want to stay away from the party if it includes sinners like the younger brother? Do you want to keep people away from the table who don’t fit your perceptions of someone whom God should love?
♥How would your life change if you really believed that everything God has to offer is yours? Would you move beyond comparing what others have and just accept what God has for you?
♥ If you have answered “yes” to the above questions, confess and receive God’s forgiveness and God’s encouragement to change.
♥ “It’s not fair!” As soon as you hear yourself thinking or saying this phrase, you know you are in “elder brother” territory. Pay attention to your speech and thought processes this week. If you catch yourself using this phrase, stop and think about why you are feeling this way. What emotions stir up in you? What behavior might follow those thoughts?
♥ Abundant life is available to all Christ-followers, but we often think in terms of scarcity: there’s not enough of anything to go around. Every morning when you wake up remind yourself that you can have as much of God as you want.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“There are two kinds of lostness. That’s the reason Jesus put the elder brother in the parable. You can escape God as much through morality and religion as you can escape God through immorality and irreligion . . . . Elder brothers obey to get things from God and if those things aren’t forthcoming they get very angry.” (Tim Keller in The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.)
Father God, (Daddy), I know I think a lot about how unfair my life is. I know that I look at others and wish I had what they have or think about how much better my life would be if I were them. I know these thoughts make me judgmental, critical, and unloving. Please help me move past unfairness and welcome your loving love and attention.
*These devotionals will be posted every Sunday.
Image of the prodigal son story from pinterest.