I put my trust in Your mercy; my heart is joyful because of Your saving help. Psalm 13:5
Meanwhile the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ Matthew 28:16-20
For three days I have been meditating on the story of the prodigal son. It is a story about returning. I realize the importance of returning over and over again. My life drifts away from God. I have to return. My heart moves away from my first love. I have to return. My mind wanders to doubt and fear. I have to return. Returning is a lifelong struggle.
It strikes me that the wayward son had rather selfish motivations. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger? I will leave this place and go to my father.” I am moved by the fact that the father didn’t require any further motivation. His love was so total and unconditional that he simply welcomed his son home.
God does not require a pure heart before embracing us. God’s love does not require any explanations about why we are returning. God is glad to see us home and wants to give us all we desire, just for being home. Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak
“…and some hesitated.” After all that.
But Jesus did not. Rather he welcomed the strugglers into His call to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to love the LORD God with all of their heart, soul, spirit and body, and likewise to love their neighbor as themselves.
Yes He is merciful. And full of compassion. unconditionally.
And yesterday afternoon my brother Tom fed me crackers and cheese while we sat in his kitchen and talked about life. And death. He told me this story about J. B. Phillips the Bible translator, who was in his living room watching television, when suddenly the recently dead C. S. Lewis appeared sitting in a chair within a few feet of him, “ruddier in complexion than ever, grinning all over his face and positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. And I was neither alarmed nor surprised. He was just there.” But what Tom found most thought-provoking was Lewis’ message of comfort, “It’s not as hard as you think, you know.”
And the other night, while Alan and Jon went to band practice, Pamela and I and the kids watched a BBC television show that has been tracking a small group selected to represent a cross-section of Londoners. Starting when they were seven, and every seven years since, they have been interviewed about life questions such as dreams and plans and opinions on family, love and purpose. We watched Year 56, which included snippets from over the years as life happened. And at the end of the show, Charly, the stunningly beautiful eighteen-year-old headed off to Barnard in the fall declared, “Well, that was depressing.” And Pamela and I looked at each other in surprise. Because really, when it was all said and done, these folks were basically pretty happy with their lot in life, a job of sorts, food in the belly and the kids were doing pretty well with grandchildren on the way.
“It’s not as hard as you think, you know.”
And Tom and I, on separate ends of the continent have both come to the conclusion that when it is all said and done, and this world is rolled up like a carpet and He returns in full glory, it’s going to be a lot different that we have been brought up to believe. We see but through a glass dimly. I don’t think those Dallas Theological Seminary color-coded charts with arrows pointing up and down capture the Father’s heart. And I suspect that much of the heartbreak will be the realization that I spent far too much time and effort and sweat and anxiety on stuff that is going to be tossed into the fire and burned. And speaking of tossing, anything that I did invest in wisely and in His footsteps is going to be tossed joyously at His feet.
And this is a great release, as I prepare to celebrate my fifty-seventh year of life. Freedom. Joy. Love. Day after day returning again to He is the center, I am not. And He knows my heart. And mind. And soul. And my faulty motivations. And my dustiness.
And still He rejoices over me, His child returning. He waits out at the end of the road to welcome me. And runs to embrace me. And calls for a great celebration.
Grant me the grace of your Holy Spirit that I may be devoted to you with my whole heart.
O God, you have taught me to keep all your commandments by loving you and my neighbor: Grant me the grace of your Holy Spirit, that I may be devoted to you with my whole heart, and united to others with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.