Don’t get me wrong – I love life. And I love my life. Maybe two or three times over the course of the last week, Jan and I offered up praise and glory to God for the forty two plus years we’ve had together. So what if Jan’s ability to remember is fading and my bouts with arthritis are making it more difficult to maneuver. God has blessed us in ways we couldn’t have imagined forty two years ago.
And even though my childhood wasn’t perfect, even then I was blessed. I had two loving parents, we had plenty to eat, and I always had a nice roof over my head. In fact, by world standards, I’ve always been a wealthy man.
But I have to be honest with you – I’ve always felt like there was something missing. Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about, but most people, when I corner them on this subject, will admit that they’ve always felt the void too.
There have been times in my life where I supposed that the emptiness could be filled if I just had more (fill in the blank here). When the Florida Lottery first emerged in the Eighties, I dreamed of a million dollar scratch off ticket.
“If I could just win a million dollars….” And I would finish the sentence with a host of honorable tasks I could accomplish. Of course, I never failed to add the obligatory, “Just think of all the good I could do for the Kingdom of God.” As if I could con God into letting me win the lottery. As if God even needed for me to win the lottery.
But as I’ve grown in my faith (in response to my petitions for my Father to give purpose and meaning to my life), he has allowed me to witness the reality that no material gain or human accomplishment can fill the hole in my heart.
In fact, God created me with a deep longing for something more.
I think that is what Paul meant when he said, “Meanwhile we groan…”. We were created to live eternally in community with God, but since The Fall, our divided natures have waged war with one another. And it is a bloody war. It is a void – a hole. And our desire to see this emptiness filled with something good and permanent drives all of humanity even to the point of embracing counterfeits.
Logically, I know the ultimate and final outcome – I always have, really. I know that I will die and my lifeless body will be lowered into a hole in the ground where it will stay until a power far greater than my own will raise it to life. But I always wanted here and now to matter. I also knew that it doesn’t…not the part of it that is measured by me and all of humanity as being meaningful and purposeful.
I also love my church. It is an honor to serve the kingdom with godly and focused men and women who have a longing for community with God stamped on their hearts.
But when it comes to church, I find myself wanting more – more and more.
For years, I’ve hidden this desire for church to be more deep in a very secret place in my heat. But it has occasionally crept out and manifested itself as discontent and self righteousness.
It’s time to come clean about it.
I love the story of the Prodigal Son. In it we are able to see the heart of God. That he longs for and anticipates my return to his family. He is a God who, rather than being dictatorial, liberates me completely from any obligation to join him. It’s what he wants, but he never compels. He anticipates and works on my behalf, but the call appears to be mine.
Why would he risk that? I don’t know. And I envy the theologians who think they have it figured out. I don’t think I ever will. It’s a mystery to me.
There’s another part of this story though that gives me a deeper glimpse into the nature of God and his desire for his church. It’s the part where the Father throws a party so big, the din was heard by the “faithful” son as he worked in the fields.
This isn’t like the church I grew up in. There’s dancing and maybe a little wine flowing (non alcoholic, of course). The music is loud. The celebration is unrestrained. Redemption and return are the cause. Grace is the centerpiece.
In this story, the protocol and dignity of worship don’t seem to be of any concern to a father whose dead son has been brought back to life. But resurrection is! Life is! Restored community is!
There are no rules here, only a father’s joy that his son has returned.
You can’t choreograph this kind of party
This is the church I’ve been longing for. And I do get glimpses of it in my own church. It’s just that I want more of it.
And from what I can see in the scriptures, it is what God had in mind when Christ died for the church. That we individually and in community join the celebration that God is putting on – the celebration of redemption and mercy…the celebration that happens when we bear witness to God’s grace washing over us first and then the tentacles of his mercy reaching out and drawing other prodigals into his party.
There’s a void alright. I do want something more. But I think I find it right here – in celebrating what God celebrates. In basking in the joy of knowing that my father loves me when I’m at my worst as much as he does when I’m at my best.
Father, I am a wicked man. Maybe not compared to other men, but when I juxtapose myself with you, I realize that I am depraved and evil. And this is what makes your grace so amazing – so unthinkable. Surely your mercy is a scandal to your enemies – that you would love and provide for the very ones who committed acts of treason against the kingdom of love. But you did. You did the unthinkable – you loved the unloveable. You love me. Burn this reality on my heart. Make it the centerpiece of my mind – give me the grace, O Father, to be completely driven by my Father’s love. Make it enough for me – that your grace would be sufficient. And Father, give me the strength and grace to take this celebration into your church – into my church. Strip me any desire for protocol and restraint. Set me free to celebrate. Remove any sense of self consciousness.