Because prayer is the chief occupation of the Father’s house, tearing down our expectations of God’s response is the enemy’s full-time job. When we do not have faith in God’s desire to respond to our prayers, we rob those prayers of their power.
Sound negative? I thought so too, so I want to turn it around and describe how Jesus saw it. We serve the God of the fat calf. When the prodigal repented and started for home, the father spotted him far off in the distance. Reason: He was watching, hoping with everything in him the boy would return. And scarcely did the old father recognize the form of his son on the horizon before he took off running. Toward him. Be sure to catch the drama of that moment. It was highly irregular in that culture for an old man to run. But Jesus had that very point to make in telling the story as He did.
The dad had gone to sleep most of the nights his son was gone, with tears running down his beard. From dawn to dusk the hired help knew where they could find him – out in the road. Watching. Hoping. Squinting into the sun. Jesus wanted us to know how the Father feels about us – even when we’ve broken His heart. Even when our renegade hearts – and His – have been crushed by our rebellion.
All the way home the son is rehearsing his repentance speech; he knows the pain he has caused. But almost before he can mouth the words the father has granted his request. The son begins to present his cause, but the father ignores his plea and directs his response to the hired help. “Quick,” he barks, “bring clean clothes, the family ring, and new shoes. And fetch that fat calf from the pen by the barn; we’re gonna have a party!” (Loose translation of Luke 15:18-24.)
I am told this is one of the most widely-recognized stories in all of literature. Anywhere. Even among religions other than Christianity. There is just something absolutely astonishing about the discovery that there is a God who chases rebels, not to scold or punish, but to embrace, to applaud. It’s amazing to be welcomed home from the far country, not with a stick or a lecture but with a party.
That gives us hope. When folks come to your church and get hold of that message, they’ll be back because they fall in love with the God they met there.
By Don Jacobsen