God Isn’t Santa Claus

The Parable of the Prodigal Son. If you’ve gone to church for any amount of time, you’ve heard a message preached on this parable. If you grew up in the church like me, you’ve heard it at least 435 times.

Basic plot line: Dad has two sons. Younger son tells his dad, “Give me my inheritance now.” The father gives it to him. The younger son exits stage left and proceeds to blow all his money. He ends up broke and taking care of pigs. He’s so poor that even the pigs’ food starts to look tasty. He’s like, “Yo bump this. Even my dad’s servants have better food than this. I’m gonna go back and beg my father to take me on as a servant.” He heads back and his father welcomes him back with open arms.

Most discussions of the parable end here. But there’s a little epilogue to the story. So the father welcomes the son back and throws him a party. Whilst the party is going on, the older son comes in from working in the fields. He finds out his little brother has returned home and that his dad has welcomed him back and is throwing this party. And the older son is pissed. He won’t go in and join the party. His dad comes out and asks him what’s wrong. The older son explodes. He’s been a good son for so long. He’s done everything that his father ever asked him to do. And his dad has never even given him a goat so he can go have a little barbecue with his friends. But his screw-up younger brother comes back and there’s this big blowout.

A lot of the time, we are the older brother. I know I am. I try so hard to do all the right things. I read my Bible, I pray, I tithe. I do all the things a good Christian should. And what happens? Things don’t go the way I want them to. My grades are miserable at best. My relationships go through some choppy waters. For no apparent reason, life gets hard. And then I look at other people’s lives. They aren’t following God like I am. They aren’t seeking the Lord like me. And yet their lives seem to be going just fine. They get the internship I wanted. Their grades are looking great. Their lives are smooth sailing. It’s not fair.

But here’s the thing. Like the older brother in the parable, we’ve missed the point. The older brother thought that since he obeyed his dad, he deserved a reward. If anyone should get the big party, it should be him; not his juvenile delinquent of a younger brother. But check out the father’s response. He says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

Everything that is the father’s is the son’s. The older brother was obeying his father in hopes to get something from him. But what he didn’t understand that his father had already given him everything. Applying that to our lives, sometimes we obey God so he’ll give us stuff. But he’s already given us the best gift of all, his son, without us doing anything to deserve it. God isn’t Santa Claus. He’s not required to give us stuff because we’ve been good boys and girls. He’s given us the greatest gift of all in his son. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

So let’s love and obey God out of a place of thankfulness. Let’s not treat God like a vending machine in which we put in good works and get out blessings. You may be following the Lord the best you know how and your life may not be going 100% how you want it. When this happens, stay the course and rest in the fact that the Lord has given you himself and he’s worth infinitely more than earthly things. It’s not easy but when you really understand that, it puts your life into perspective.

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