I am the prodigal son. But what stage of his growth am I in?
STAGE ONE – A Son of God
A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood. Luke 15:11-12
In stage one you are defined as a “son.” This means that you are saved by grace. Your name is written in the Book of Life. You have asked Jesus to be your savior, and His blood covers your sins. You are a Christian. You have an inheritance that God will fully give you upon asking. You belong to Him and you are His child.
But you still have free will. You are God’s child – but you may not act like it. And no one acts like God’s child all the time, except Jesus. You make mistakes. You make bad choices. You have wrong thoughts, and judge situations based on your short-sightedness. You are human.
So often we decide to try to run our own lives without God’s regulations. We say “thanks for the inheritance, can I have it now and go on with my life the way that I want?” We want our independence, and it makes us move on to the next stage.
STAGE TWO – Prodigal living
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. Luke 15:13
Some synonyms for the word prodigal: wasteful, reckless, extravagant, and uncontrolled.
When we behave like a prodigal, we waste the grace that God has given us. We proceed recklessly through our lives without caring about God’s law. We are extravagant in our self-indulgence, usually spending as much as we can on our comfort in an effort to make ourselves happy. We are uncontrolled by God, and lose all self-control (which is a fruit of the spirit, by the way) because of it.
Remember, this is the picture of a SON of God. This is a Christian who has chosen independence over living as his Father’s son. And I have been guilty of this, personally.
Independence is counterfeit freedom. We think if we can make all our own choices and do our own thing, we will be free. But the opposite is true. By trying to be independent, we are attempting to take God’s place as the ruler of our lives. We can never succeed at creating happiness because we are the created, not the creator.
All our attempts at trying to create happiness fail miserably. We end up becoming slaves of this world. When we are trying to create comfort, we spend more money. When we are trying to create satisfaction, we eat more. When we are trying to create joy, we get lost in pleasure seeking. Because we are not controlled by God, this leads to adultery, alcohol, drug abuse, or any other sort of happiness the world promises.
Each of these things (over-spending, over-eating, adultery, alcohol, drug abuse) promise happiness, comfort and joy. But instead they give us debt, an unhealthy heart, a broken heart, a weak liver, and an unstable mind. Worse yet, they give us shackles of addiction that keep us from being able to quit doing these things.
STAGE THREE – Reaping
But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in the land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16
Satan is shrewd. He makes independence look like freedom, though it is really slavery. And he makes promises that he never keeps, but we fall for them anyway.
No matter how many times those new shoes fail to keep you happy, you buy a new pair anyway. No matter how many times that chocolate cake fails to satisfy me, I eat it any way. No matter how many times that shot of vodka fails to bring us out of sadness, we drink it anyway. No matter how many times that random sexual partner fails to make us feel loved, we sleep with them anyway.
We fall for it every time, hoping that this time it will bring us the happiness that we crave. But when the money is gone, when the scale tips past 250 lbs, when you lose your family because of your alcohol or drug addiction, and when your heart is broken because of your adultery, you find yourself empty and at rock bottom.
Often we look to a “citizen of that country,” a person in this world who seems to have it together. This could be a counselor, a dietician, a close friend, or anyone who might help us get out of this mess. But whenever we turn to another person instead of God, this ends in failure. All humans are flawed, not one of us truly has it together without God.
Sooner or later we start to desire what the pigs eat. Even the pigs seem happier than we are. Hopefully we don’t get stuck in the pig pen, but find our way to the next step.
STAGE FOUR – REALIZATION
But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger!” Luke 15:17
We remember who it is that really has it together. We remember that in our Father’s house, people don’t settle for pig slop, but have more than enough happiness and joy! In our Father’s care there is the happiness, joy, and yes, FREEDOM. We find all that we’ve been searching on our own for, but have been failing to find.
Our minds begin to open to the fact that there is no better, happier place in the world to be in than in our Father’s care. We realize that His ways really were best all along. We come to find that the only thing the world has is an empty promise. Freedom is where we find happiness, joy, and our Father.
STAGE FIVE – Becoming a servant
I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Luke 15:18-19
When we finally come to the awareness that we want our Father back, we often forget about His grace. We are stuck in the rut of independent living and think that we can earn our way back into our Father’s house. We can serve Him, and He’ll let us back in.
This is where we try to battle our addictions before coming back to His house. We don’t want to bring our food, alcohol, sex, and drug addictions with us to our Father’s house, so we try to kick these habits on our own. Because our motivation is pure, we might find success for a little while, but soon we slip back into the pigpen again.
We try and fail. Try and fail. Try again, and fail again. We think we’re getting God’s help to get us out of the rut because we are trying in the name of God. The reality is we are trying to pull ourselves up by our own strength. We are moving forward asking God to bless it instead of asking God and waiting until He tells us to move forward.
We have slipped into the shoes of the servant instead of the sandals of the son.
STAGE SIX – Coming Home
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, “father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.
But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” And they began to be merry. Luke 15:20-24
When we repent, God runs to us. He loves us and refuses to allow us to be His servant. We are His child, and He would never have us be anything less. The pig mess of our past can be made clean if we let GOD clean it instead of trying to clean it up ourselves.
Lean on God. It’s when we realize that we are weak and can’t battle the addictions on our own that we allow God to battle for us. He will fight for us. Like a true Father, He wants to rescue us and do everything for us. He loves to spoil us.
When we stop trying to be a servant and start acting like a son – we finally have the freedom to love Him back.
God has enough servants. They are called angels. When He created us, He wanted sons and daughters. If we come home to Him, and let Him love us as His children, we will find the freedom we desired all along.