Most of us know the story of the prodigal son. A young man, probably full of late adolescent angst or early twenty know-it-all syndrome, tells his daddy. “I can’t wait until your dead to get my money. Give it to me now.” Forgive me for the tremendous paraphrasing but you get the idea. Dad gives him the money. The young man then heads out on his own. He squanders his money and finds himself yearning to go home. He realizes that even life as a servant at home would be better than the life he has made for himself. When he comes home his dad is exuberantly overjoyed. Dad kills the fatted calf and has a big ol’ party much to his other son’s dismay. The other son feels very slighted. He has stayed at home and been a good obedient son. He feels passed over to say the least. Dad and the good son have a talk and the dad tries to explain his extreme joy.
THE PRODIGAL FATHER
We almost always refer to this as the prodigal son. The word prodigal according to one online dictionary is defined as:
1. Rashly or wastefully extravagant: prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life.
2. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.
The word is rightfully applied to the son, but it is also rightly applied to the father. The father’s grace is unreasonably over the top. It is wastefully extravagant. It is abundant, lavish and profuse. Our heavenly father’s grace toward us is the same.
BEING A PRODIGAL SON (PRODIGAL IN GRACE)
Every once in a while I try to be prodigal in my grace. I had one of those moments today. We are a downtown church and frequently get people coming in for assistance. More often than not we direct them to one of a couple of agencies. We never give out cash. Periodically, we assist someone with some gas or bus vouchers, but usually after a heavy effort to screen them and with frankly a bit of health skepticism.
Today, a man named Michael came in to the office. He was looking for some toiletry articles, a large print Bible, and some food. He wasn’t homeless but he was trying to get by until his next SSI check arrived. He was dressed decently. Clean. Polite. I think Michael probably had a learning disability. We typically do not keep the items he was looking for handy for distribution. Something moved me to see what I could do. I pulled together a few sample size soaps, shampoos, a tooth brush and a wash cloth. After some poking around through various classrooms, I found an old large print New Testament and Psalms that probably hadn’t been touched in years. Michael was overjoyed.
I was going to send Michael to a neighboring church where a friend pastors and has a food pantry. He wondered if my friend might be able to give him a ride home to a neighboring town. I didn’t want to put my friend in that position. I remembered that someone moving away had brought in a couple of sacks of non-perishable items. I had stowed them in a kitchen pantry uncertain exactly how we would use them, but knew they would come in handy at some point. Michael was that point. I started to pick through the items and thought, “Why am I holding back? This stuff has been sitting here for weeks. Who knows when or if it will get used.” I double bagged it all. It was really perfect because the food items were individual sized cans and microwaveable servings. Michael has a microwave and stove. It would work.
I decided to give him a ride to a gas station on the edge of town where he frequented and he was confident he could hitch hike from there. As I was getting ready to go my wife asked what I was able to pull together. I told her and she asked if I had found him a razor. Oops, I had forgotten about that. Then I remember I had a sack of them in my desk drawer. Recently, I had shaved off my beard and stowed a bag of razors at the office in case I needed them. Perfect. I went in my office and started to deliberate over the razors the way I had with the food. How many should I give him. Then I thought, “What are you doing? Your beard is back. Who knows when you will ever use one of these things again?” I tossed the bag of razors in his sack. Michael was overjoyed again.
Michael and I loaded into the car for his ride to the gas station. Michael and I chatted. He asked for some advice about Bible study, a relationship and a couple of other concerns. As I was driving I started thinking again, “What are you doing? Why are you dumping him at the gas station? He lives in Ogden. That is seven miles more. What is twenty minutes more round trip in the grand scheme of things? That seven miles could take hours if he has to walk or hitch hike.” I drove Michael on home.
He had an old but serviceable trailer on the edge of his father’s property. He showed me his church in Ogden. Over and over again Michael kept thanking me. I noticed something about his gratitude. He never just thanked me. He would always say, “I am so thankful to you and God for this food.” “I am so thankful you and God found this Bible for me.” He wasn’t just thankful about the Bible, he was excited.
When I dropped Michael off he gave me his number and he directed me on turning around in his yard and voiced his appreciation yet again. Michael was prodigal in his gratitude.
Will I treat everyone like Michael? Probably not. I felt specifically led to do this today. I am glad I did.
Yesterday, I wrote a post on a Simple Exercise to Grow in Charity and Grace.
In that exercise, you grow in charity and grace by giving a little bit on a regular basis. What I realized today is that you can also grow by periodically being prodigal in charity. Every once in awhile it is a very good thing and it grows your heart to be a prodigal giver. Truth be told my giving wasn’t all that prodigal. The canned goods, toiletry articles, Bible and ride cost me little or nothing. The prodigal aspect on my part was mostly in grace. Nevertheless, I hope tomorrow Michael’s day feels more extravagant and more lavish. I hope he has a great shower, a clean shave, a full belly and that God speaks an encouraging word to him from his large print Bible. When all is said and done tomorrow I hope Michael goes to bed feeling blessed and praising God. You know why? Because ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s not about Michael. It’s about love being shared so that God receives more praise. If we can remember that then being prodigal just isn’t all that big of a deal. In fact, being prodigal seems so inadequate.
Blessing to you on becoming as prodigal in your love as your heavenly Father is to you.