Francis Chan shares a personal story in his book Forgotten God about his spiritual journey. Francis shares that growing up in a Christian home he accepted Christ while in high school but fell away for a period of time, like so many young persons do at that age. Later, Francis adds, he would want to return to that relationship with Jesus that he felt as a youth but he felt guilty for falling away so he reckoned that he would first make things right by proving his faithfulness. Afterwards, he would actually talk to Jesus about their relationship, he rationalized.
Francis shares how the story of the prodigal son resonates with him on a deep level. Like the young man in this story told by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32), Francis squandered his inheritance and spent time working like a slave for a period of time out of his reluctance to return home to his Father. In the parable as told by Jesus, once the young man was able to humble himself enough to return home, to his surprise his Father did not ask for anything. Rather than allow his son to grovel – rather than humiliate his son in front of his loyal, older brother, the father exalted his fallen son and celebrated his return.
Perhaps one of the many reasons that I enjoy reading about Francis’ story is I can relate. I also received Christ at a young age, even before high school. For me, I it was during confirmation classes when I attended a Baptist church in Memphis with my class. I remember the sermon most of all. It was an African American congregation and pastor. As the pastor preached the entire congregation participated in response. The sermon came alive for me. Christ wanted me to see a glimpse of what he had in mind for me.
Later I would give into the world’s ideals and quench the Holy Spirit living within me so that I could pursue a life of prosperity. I took my inheritance and squandered it and like Francis Chan I would later feel like I needed to first earn my Father’s forgiveness before I could face Him. For me it would take years before I would finally give into the possibility that I could not earn forgiveness. I have since learned that Jesus was patiently waiting for my return. Not to humiliate me but to exalt me. Not to punish me but to celebrate my return.
I’m guessing that resonating with the story of the prodigal son is a common occurrence. The parables of Jesus offer powerful insights into our relationships with God and with each other. Are you harboring feelings of unworthiness to return home to Jesus because you feel that somehow you have to first make up for your absence? At Asbury we are working hard to create a safe space for anyone who is looking to discover how God’s grace can be realized and to build or rebuild broken relationships.
Relationships require effort to build and to maintain. So do the walls that keep relationships from flourishing. Most of us are better wall builders and maintainers than relationship builders and maintainers. We can handle a few relationships so we prioritize our relationships the way we prioritize our to-do list, giving time to those that we get the most out of and lip service to others. “I have enough friends” is a mantra for many of us. The corollary to this statement is “I’m not willing to invest more time in building and maintaining another relationship.” These are not unreasonable statements given the investment of time and emotion that relationships require, but we forget how much energy it takes to maintain the walls that keep us from enjoying new and existing relationships.
Whatever wall is left between you and Christ takes as much energy to maintain as replacing the wall with a solid relationship. Perhaps more energy. A relationship with Christ begins with surrender. It begins with refusing to continue maintaining whatever wall is keeping you away. It takes effort only in the sense that it is effortless and therefore not like other relationships. Once you arrive back home plan to spend quality time with God. If you have been gone for a while it will take a little time to reacquaint yourself with God’s nature. Allow time for prayer and reflection. Catch up on what God has to say in Scripture. Not all at once and not always by yourself. There are others who are where you are and would love to do this with you.