One day he realizes that as a hired hand on his father’s estate he would be in much better shape, so he decides to return home, confess his unworthiness as a son and beg for a job. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (v.20). The father orders that clean clothes and shoes be brought, along with the family signet ring, and throws a feast to celebrate the return of the son he thought was dead.
I just love that, don’t you? Many of us have wept in joy and gratitude that the Father forgave us and welcomed us into His family when we were so unworthy, when we had been so far away, when we had deliberately taken the good gifts He had given us and walked away from Him. We are overwhelmed to remember that He ran to us when we took one step toward Him. I can still hear my friend Scott sing “When God Ran”:
Almighty God, the great I am
Immovable Rock, omnipotent, powerful, Awesome Lord
Victorious Warrior, commanding King of kings, mighty Conqueror
And the only time, the only time I ever saw him run
Was when He ran to me. He took me in his arms
Held my head to his chest, said “my son's come home again”
He Lifted my face, Wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in his voice He said,
“Son, do you know I still love you?”
Just remind yourself of that day if you haven’t thought of it in a while.
But actually, though I do identify with the younger brother, I also relate to the older brother. We find him, as the story continues, coming home from work, tired. He hears the party going on, finds out his brother has come home and refuses to join the welcome celebration. He sulks because he doesn’t feel he’s been treated right. Oh, I can relate. I have sulked many times in my life instead of graciously, lovingly reaching out. And the really sad thing is that this brother saw his life with his father as drudgery – “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (v.29).
I saw the father’s response with new eyes this week: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (v. 31). In other words: I didn’t just give you a party, I gave you everything I have. The fields you “slaved” in were your fields. And you were not alone, penniless, in a foreign country. We were here together. Family. But the older brother did not realize how much he was loved and was therefore unable to lovingly welcome his brother back home. He probably felt pretty good about himself – the brother who stayed, worked hard, proved that he was the better son. The reason he didn’t love his brother was not that he didn’t love himself enough; it was because he didn’t know how much he was loved by his father and he didn’t value his relationship with his father.
When we don’t know how much we are loved, it is very difficult to love others. And trying to learn to love ourselves first always puts the focus on us – our needs, our desires, our wants, our way. True love places the focus on others – their needs and desires. Perhaps the truth behind the saying “You can’t love others until you love yourself” is really “You can’t give others what you don’t have.” We can’t love others when we ourselves don’t know that we are loved and that all of our needs have already been met; but the love that meets the deep needs and desires of our hearts is not self-love, but God’s love. When we truly know we are loved by Him we also know that He has met all of our needs and fills all of our desires. That’s when we are able to love those we might not have chosen: strangers, people different from us, opponents, enemies.
If you doubt God’s love for you, just ask Him to show you how much He loves you. You’ll find signs of His love everywhere in your life, if you’ll look. And the Scriptures are filled with assurances of His love for us; read them too, and ask Him to help you understand. This year I’m marking every verse that talks about God’s love with a heart. It’s amazing how many places throughout both the Old and New Testaments that God speaks His love. And remember this: God loved you so much He gave Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay the price for your sins.
There is no greater love than this.
When God Ran, Hester Benny Ray / Parenti John William, © Word Music
Beth Marie Bearden gave her heart to Christ when she was a young teenager and soon after felt God calling her to ministry.