Joe and I lead the youth Sunday School class at our church. When we began a few months ago, there wasn't any curriculum available, so we decided the best place to start would be with Jesus's parables, and I must tell you that God knew exactly what he was doing when He lead us to teach this. I am constantly telling the youth, "I have read these parables all my life, and yet God is still opening my eyes to so many truths." The number one lesson that we seem to talk about each week is that having a relationship with the Lord is not about coming to church, looking nice, etc, etc, but it's about the condition of your heart.
THIS WEEK'S LESSON (and last week's too) was about the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). Joe and I felt that there was so much to cover in this parable (my favorite, by the way), that we would take two weeks to cover. Through research (Matthew Henry and John Calvin, just to name a few), we really found so much truth for our lives in these 21 verses that I'm still floored with what God has shown me. The basic outline we were covering went as follows:
- Begging for and Receiving Inheritance (shirking responsibilities we have been given)
- Wasting money and Falling into a pit
- REPENTANCE (and developing a true desire for it)
- Father's Grace and Forgiveness (the coolest part of the story, in my opinion)
- Older Son's Lesson (the part that was always hardest for me to read and understand)
I'm not going to share with you all of the Sunday School lesson, but one of the things that really, really got me was the section about repentance. After we, like the younger son, completely reject our responsibilities, become selfish and wasteful, and exhaust all our resources, we tend to be at the bottom of the barrel. The job you are working is making you completely miserable, your kids are driving you crazy, you just can't get along with family members, you have no money to buy the things you want, etc, etc. If you have ever been in the pit (as I have been), you know how deep and dark that pit can be. You know how miserable life really is when you think you just can't get any lower. The younger son was seriously in the bottom of the pit...and so many of us would say he deserved it. He was living the fine life. He chose to leave it to squander his money. He deserves what he gets (how many times have we thought that about someone else?...Bin Laden, anyone?) But the greatest gift is that God does not believe that. He does not smile at the "lesson we learned". But He is not always going to just snatch us out of that pit. He, like the Father in the parable, waits, watching, hoping we will have a desire to return (v. 20b...the greatest line in the entire parable). In order for us to never return to that pit of despair, we must recognize that we put ourselves there and have a true desire to never return. Calvin described repentance in the best way I have ever seen it. TRUE REPENTANCE means:
- We have a grief of conscience. We must grieve the decisions we have made that lead us to be so far from God and the joy he gives us.
- We must be dissatisfied with ourselves. At this point, we should be totally disgusted with ourselves as sinners. Just like the son in the parable, he realizes that he no longer deserves to be even called "son".
- Find displeasure with our sin. I truly believe this is the hardest part. There are have been so many times that I was grieving and was completely disgusted with myself, but I did not truly find displeasure in the sin. It's kind of like when your mom asks you "are you sorry you did something wrong or are you sorry you got caught?" Sin is so tempting: being selfish, finding joy in things instead of God, sins of the flesh, pride, hating that person who just is so hateful to you. All of those, and so many more, are so easy to just say, "Yeah, I shouldn't have thought (said/did) that" and then two weeks/months/hours later we do it again. This displeasure is when you are so disgusted in it, you commit to fully put it away from you. The son, instead of hoping to come back to his father's good graces as a son again, expects to come back begging to be just a servant for his father.
- We must repent and confess to those we have offended. Calvin says "humility is absolutely necessary in order to obtain forgiveness". Keeping a sin secret, I believe, is Satan's way of putting a crack in your steps of repentance. If you don't get it out there that you sinned, are sorry, and have a desire to be restored, then it will be easy to fall into that sin again.
These steps, so clear in the parable, make it clear to me that I have done it wrong so many times, hence the familiarity I have with that pit. And that is the way Satan wants it. He wants us to forget one little step so that we are, again, far from our Father. The coolest part of the story, though, is that God doesn't say, "Well, forget her! She obviously does not want to find herself in my good graces again. He's waiting and watching for the moment we do steps 1-3 so he can RUN to us (how cool is that?!) ready to embrace us once again.
As we near the end of one year and make resolutions for the next, examine your heart. Do you have a sin you are constantly falling back into? Do you enjoy a particular sin that you know is actually keeping you from Him? I know I have a lot of examining to do of myself. Here's to a new year and a new spirit for the Lord!