By Brock Bondurant
Luke 15:20 – And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
My alma mater, the University of Missouri, is the birthplace of the homecoming tradition, now celebrated at schools all across the nation. In 1911, Athletic Director Chester Brewer invited all alumni to “come home” to watch the Tigers play against their arch rival Kansas. Ten thousand alumni accepted the invitation to come home and watch the game. Now, as much as I LOVE Ol’ Mizzou, my favorite homecoming is found in the book of Luke.
In the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, a wayward son who squandered away all his inheritance in a life of debauchery is welcomed home by his father with open arms. The whole story is compelling and worth a thousand words, but I just want to focus on one phrase: “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion.”
Much like Mr. Brewer’s calling home of Mizzou alumni, there is an invitation to respond to here. If you’ve been following along with us on vufaith.com the past couple of months you’d know this invitation to be the same one that Jesus offered in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me”, he says, “and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites those who are “weary and burdened.” This invitation is for you! Your weariness or burden is the qualifier. We see this in the story. The prodigal son – grown weary from waywardness – is me; he’s you; he’s all who have lost their way and walked out of relationship with the Father.
I’ve posted lately on a way of life called practicing the way of Jesus. I touched on spiritual formation last week and the importance of living intentionally because the things we do, do something to us. Maybe it’s the former athlete in me, but I can get overly focused on my performance of the way of Jesus rather than my relationship with Jesus. I can easily get caught up in the practices rather than in my Savior. Even in my pursuit of intentional spiritual formation, at my best I’m “still a long way off.”
Did I pray well today? How good did I Sabbath? Was my silence & solitude productive?
These are all wrong questions to be asking, focused on performance or religion (doing things in order to obtain salvation). But God in his grace asks us only for relationship. The only thing that the prodigal son did was turn and start to come home to his father. Before he can even make it all the way back, before he can utter his recited excuse, before his heart was really even changed his father runs to meet him! The Father made the way. The son had yet to do anything – anything other than turning, changing direction, and beginning to come home. His performance, his religion was meaningless to a Father who loves him and simply delighted in his homecoming.
The practices of Jesus are not meant to earn your salvation. They are rather to keep you near to the one who gave you your salvation. We want our practices to stir our affections for Jesus. It’s not about how well we perform spiritual disciplines. If it was, Jesus would have gotten along much better with the Pharisees! The way is simply how we be with him, become like him, and do the things that he did. The point is to stay near to the Father, not just in proximity, but in heart.
Reading the rest of the story, we meet an older son that was with the father the whole time, doing all that was expected of him. Only he became jealous of the father’s love towards the younger son revealing that, although he was near in proximity, his heart was bent more towards earning his inheritance than it was towards loving the father.
The things we do should turn our hearts back to the Father. Prayer and Scripture study do turn our hearts. God isn’t concerned about the quality of your prayers, but simply that you’re praying. As you do, He sees you coming from a long way off and feels compassion. He runs to meet you with open arms.
So, if you’re ready to practice the way of Jesus, make sure not to miss the forest for the trees; don’t miss grace and love for performance; don’t lose Jesus for the way. The way is simply our path home. Happy homecoming brother, sister.