A couple years ago now I read a book called Prodigal God by Tim Keller and it changed my thinking profoundly. The premise of the book is that it is God who is the prodigal (recklessly spendthrift) in the story we called The Prodigal Son. He wants relationship with each of his sons and they both follow their own agendas instead.
He spends much less time on the one we typically focus on - the one who wandered away. He spends most of his time talking about the elder brother and how he tries to do what the father wants - but only as far as following the rules not having a relationship. As I read, I realized this is exactly the trap I lived in all my life.
In this journey, though, I’ve come to understand a few things about this phenomenon in my life. While talking to my friend, the social worker attached to the Oncology unit in Salem, I found myself talking in terms of “if I do X, Y must surely follow.” So, for instance, “If I do what my nurses and doctors tell me to do, I will surely recover more quickly.” Or “If I swish my mouth out with saline every 2 hours, I won’t get mouth sores.” It was present through all my conversation and I finally heard it clearly.
I had entered into a transactional thinking mentality.
You may have heard it in yourself:
“If I obey the speed limit within 5 mph most of the time, I shouldn’t get pulled over when I’m really in a hurry.”
“If I’m kind to this stranger, others will in turn be kind to me.”
“I’ll do this for you, but I expect something in return.”
“If I read my Bible and pray regularly, God will bless me.”
It is the belief that if I am “good” I am also “owed.” If I follow the rules better than everyone else, then I will be rewarded above everyone else. And I must pursue that at all costs because I want to be blessed.
Even when I am wrong, I have to be wrong in the right way. If I repent appropriately, apologize sincerely, and change my ways, I am owed good things because I did it right.
But this does not get me to relationship, it gets me to servanthood. I am trapped by my own ability to be good to get what I want. I am not fee to be blessed just because I am. Rules and relationship can both start in the same place, but they end up in very different places because of their focus. Rules focus on my actions. Relationship focuses on, well, relationship which takes at least two.
If I focus on the rules and following them, I miss the beauty and possibility of God’s blessing just because I’m His kid and He likes to show up and show off. And the truth of that swept me off my feet. When I depend on me, I’m limited by me. When I depend on God, I’m “limited” by Him and He has no limits.
So today, I’ll let go of the rules for a bit and see what God can do. Want to join me and see what happens?