May seem strange that a pastor would say that there are times when God may not listen to us. Doesn’t the Bible say that God hears our cries? Doesn’t Scripture tell us that wherever we go God is there – and wouldn’t that mean God can always hear us? If so, why would God not listen?
This past weekend I was on a retreat sponsored by Servant’s Feast ministries (http://servantsfeast.org/ It’s a young ministry led by Rev. Elizabeth Moreau. She is formulating and publishing a discipleship process that has long been absent from the church). For me, the retreat was renewing and enlightening and engaged me with God in new and fresh ways. One of the things I learned was that God doesn’t always listen.
The insight came as we spent time alone with God in some guided devotion time. One of the stops along the journey dealt with the story of the Prodigal Son. You probably know that story. I thought I knew that story. The youngest of two sons demands that his father give him his share of the inheritance – yes, while dear old dad is still alive. The young man leaves home, has a big time spending his money, and then the bottom drops out as the money runs out. He ends up taking care of pigs who eat better than he does. So, he comes to his senses and decides to head home – not as a son, but to try and get a job at his father’s place. He knows those workers at least get decent food. He thinks long and hard about what he’s going to say when he gets there. He is very sincere and truly repentant for his actions it seems. Here’s what happens when he gets home:
So he got up and went to his father.
“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.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24)
Did you catch that? The son starts to give his spiel, his well-rehearsed, heartfelt, sincere confession, and his father doesn’t even listen. As the son gives his speech the father is busy talking to the servants – “get a robe, get a ring, bring some sandals, kill the calf!”
The issue for the father was not that the son was willing to confess and was willing to say the right things, the issue for dear old dad was that his son was home. The robe and the ring and the sandals and the party were not given because he had made ammends or promised to pay back the money – everything the father did that day was because this was his son and all that mattered was that he had come home.
It’s funny, when I get off track I get the idea in my head that I have to really show God how sorry I am. I talk to God about how I know what I did was wrong and how sorry I am that I disappointed Him or rejected Him or ignored Him. And as I reflected on this story I realized, God isn’t even listening. God is too busy celebrating the fact that I have turned back to Him, too excited that we are reconnected. I was floored to realize God doesn’t want my guilt or my shame or even my sincere words of apology. God wants me. God rejoices not because I understand my wrong decisions, but because I am his and I’m back with him.
We talked about this story in a small group at the retreat and someone asked if I thought the son went in and enjoyed the party. Did he put his hand out to get the ring, or did they have to grab his hand and put it on? Did he reach for the robe or did they have to make him put his arms in? Did he stand off on the side of the room and watch the party because he was too dumbfounded by his father’s grace, or did he dance and eat and enjoy the day?
It was then that I realized that for too long I have stood on the side of the room not sure how to respond to my Father’s grace. Today, I have decided to join the party. I mean, if God isn’t wasting his time listening to all my ramblings, why am I?
What about you – are you ready to party?
Holy high five to you, Mike.