Living In and Extending Grace
One of Jesus’ unforgettable stories about grace is sometimes called the parable of the prodigal son. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son
, points out it is really the story of two prodigal sons... and one gracious father. One son’s lostness is obvious. A runaway who defiantly flees to a distant country looking for fulfillment he had not allowed himself to find at home, this son is the picture of obvious sinners--people who have deliberately pursued life and pleasure apart from God.
Although less obvious, the older son is just as lost. On the surface this son did all the things good sons are supposed to do. He stayed home, worked hard, kept the rules, stayed within the lines. But he was, in his own way, far from home. Judgmental and jealous, his words reveal the inner complaint of a heart that felt it never received what it was due. He did not know joy, for joy and resentment cannot live in the same heart. This son is a picture of the religious leaders of the day--people whose very pursuit of righteousness left their hearts prideful, cold, and far from the Father. And they didn’t even know they were lost.
One son wandered off. One stayed dutifully behind. Neither lived a life of abundance in the father’s house. And what about the older son? The one who worked hard, kept the rules, and fulfilled his obligations only to become increasingly resentful and joyless. Might there be a bit of him in you? It’s sad but true that many of us have an easier time being saved by grace than we do living in grace. Over time, ours becomes a life of inner complaint. In our own way, we end up equally far from home.
The gracious Father desires only to bring his children home. He longs for each of us—older and younger sons alike--to walk back into his welcoming arms. He invites us to relax in his love, to feel his esteem, to be the recipient of a lifetime of lavish feasts at his table. He longs for us to live in grace.
The good news is that you really can grow to experience grace more and more. Grace starts with repentance and forgiveness and grows as we train our eyes to see the many aspects of the Father’s everyday generosity often taken for granted--a warm home, a satisfying meal, the kind words of a good friend, the sight of a garden blooming in a riot of color, the body of Christ gathered in rich worship. Grace surrounds us every moment, but we must develop eyes to see.
We grow in grace when we give ourselves permission to celebrate and enjoy life. For the grace-impaired among us, this actually takes some discipline and a new understanding. God has saturated the world with wholesome pleasures. Wholeheartedly enjoying them is not sinful. It’s not frivolous. It is an irreplaceable part of spiritual life, an irreplaceable part of what it means to live in grace.
The father in the parable said it best: “Everything I have is yours.” Linger on those words. Live with them. Your Father is saying them to you. How would your life be different today if you really believed God meant those words for you?