God smiles upon us and enjoys us though we are yet spiritually immature. Too many of us judge ourselves prematurely. Most believers only expect to love themselves when they get to heaven, when they are fully free from struggles and fully mature in love. They imagine the resurrection as the day they will finally be free, the day God will be fully happy with them, the day they will achieve full acceptance by the Godhead. They long for that day because they haven't allowed themselves to experience God's enjoyment in them now. Beloved, we don't have to wait! We have His enjoyment at this very moment. Sincere love always starts out weak. You don't become a believer on Tuesday, and by Wednesday your love for Jesus is fully established. Love is sincere and genuine many years before it becomes mature and strong.
In Luke 15, Jesus addressed angry Pharisees who were miffed at Him for eating with and fellowshipping with sinners. In reply, Jesus said His Father rejoiced and the angels that did His bidding were glad; therefore, we ought to be glad. Over and over in this chapter Jesus revealed the joyous atmosphere around the throne. In verse 10, He said, "I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." He was speaking of the repenting sinner who is still very immature. If the sinner repents at 3:00 in the afternoon, the angels are singing and rejoicing by 3:01. That sinner is still profoundly immature in his faith, but the angels are abundantly glad. His repentance is absolutely sincere though his maturity is nonexistent. The "yes" in his spirit is imperfect, but it is eternally significant.
God does not say to the sinner, "You have sincerely repented, but look at all these unsettled issues in your life. We will see how you do. Come on in, I guess, but we will be keeping a close eye on you." We think God is this way because we ourselves are this way. People clap with excitement the day a man gets saved and testifies of his desire to leave his old ways and follow the Lord. They cheer and shout, "Praise the Lord! It's real! It counts!" But within a few months, the same crowd is ready to censure him for issues of immaturity they see in his life. Within days their theology changes, and they no longer delight over his growing faith. They turn into grumpy Pharisees, saying, "Bah humbug! Get it right. We're keeping our eye on you now."
The Lord says the opposite: "I delight in you when you have zero maturity." Remember, God can enjoy you even while disapproving of an area of sin in your life. He surely disapproves of any number of things you and I do, but that doesn't interrupt His enjoyment. If His gladness were based on our performance, He would be a sad God indeed! But the Scripture proclaims that "whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:12).
Our own patience is so insufficient. We spot one thing we disapprove of in another believer's life, and then we struggle to enjoy him. He may have a good history with us, but we push him away because of one or two things that bother us. That is the limit of our patience. We feel justified in kicking people out of our hearts and lives when they bother us. Why? Because we secretly believe that God does that to us. This is not the heart of God. When the Lord finds something about our character that bothers Him, He doesn't cut us out of His heart. Rather, He is filled with patience and slow to anger. He does not reject us when something awful in our character comes to light.
When Jesus told the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, He revealed to the religious leaders what God's emotions are like. The leaders of Jesus' day were very much like the leaders of the body of Christ today. They had totally wrong ideas about the way God feels. Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'" (Luke 15:11-32, NIV).
When He told this parable, the Pharisees were extremely nervous. They knew Jesus was talking about the personality of His heavenly Father, but that picture did not work within their religious system. Their whole careers were based on a God who was mostly mad and mostly sad, but never glad.
The father told his servants, "Let us be glad." This is God's command to all His servants about this returning son. We can't imagine being glad when the son's motives are so obviously off. We lean toward putting him on probation and watching him carefully for a year, then throwing a party after it all goes well. In the meantime, it seems best to us to take notes on his behavior and scrutinize him to discern if he is sincere. The Father takes the opposite approach. He celebrates immediately.
In verse 28, the older, religious brother refused to join he celebration, so his father approached him and pleaded with him to join the party. This elder brother would have made a good leader in most churches today. He kept all the rules. He tried very hard, yet he never knew what it meant to enjoy his father at the heart level. He was angry and would not go to the party. The father begged his religious son to understand his heart.
Again, the Lord speaks to us in this verse, saying, "Please, My leaders, understand My gladness for the recovery of broken people." The leaders of the church say, "They are selfish. They just want free forgiveness." The Father says, "I know. I will conquer them with My love! I will transform them by My kindness!" In this parable, the Father is pleading with His church to celebrate the homecoming of broken people. In verse 32, the father looks at his religious son and says one of the most powerful statements in the kingdom of God: "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."
This is often called the parable of the prodigal son, but it's primarily about a father who lost his son and what he did when his son returned. It's describing the proper dynamics of a functioning family. We apply this to unbelievers, but the primary point is God's strategy in recovering His own lost children. Jesus was talking about a son, someone inside the family of God, who wasted an anointing and an inheritance. The prodigal was a believer living foolishly before God, and Jesus was teaching His church how to respond to those brothers or sisters who stumble. We all know what to do when a new convert comes into the kingdom. We rejoice and throw a party. Yet we don't easily enter into God's gladness when one of our brothers stumbles or, far worse, when we ourselves stumble. And yet our ability to enter into God's patience and lovingkindness when we stumble is determined by how much patience and lovingkindness we have toward a brother or sister who stumbles.
Some would ask if I have gone too far, portraying God as too lenient. When believers blow it, are we right to "reward" them as the father did the prodigal son? What about holiness? I am deeply committed to holiness, and yet I believe there is only one kind: happy holiness. Religious, cranky holiness doesn't work. "I'm-in-a-bad-mood" holiness has no sustaining power. Happy holiness has all the power in the world. Though we experience times of true repenting and weeping over sin when we stumble and fail, our Father runs to us with a heart to restore us.
This was the case when Jesus, blazing holiness Himself, walked the Earth. He drew sinners to Himself and fellowshipped with them. He was the exact representation of the heart of the Father (Heb. 1:3). He walked in perfected holiness that could not be improved upon, and He still enjoyed the company of people with imperfect holiness. That means that the more we are separated to Him in holiness, the more our hearts will enjoy the weakest believer's journey into mature love. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's the example Jesus set. In Psalm 60:6, David said, "God has spoken in His holiness: 'I will rejoice.'" The gladness and holiness in God's heart are not opposed to each other; David said they are one and the same thing. God's gladness is an expression of His holiness, and vice versa. This is called holy gladness, and it leads to happy holiness.
Happy holiness speaks of a transformed heart of obedience that is the overflow of encountering the gladness of God's heart. We become glad with His gladness and this energizes our life of holiness. Some of the traditional approaches to holiness lead to what I call "cranky holiness," which is an outward form of holiness without an invigorated heart. Cranky holiness is usually the result of living with a wounded and rejected spirit while seeking to live right in your own strength.
It's time to throw away our religious negotiations to earn our way back into His embrace. We must shatter false paradigms of what He is like. We will never earn His favor through our religious lists or our attainment of maturity. We have His enjoyment right now, and it is that very enjoyment that will carry us through our stumbling.
It's difficult for us to imagine what the Father's gladness looks like in people. That's why He gave us a perfect representation of His gladness as a Man: the Man Jesus, the happiest Man ever to walk the earth (Ps. 45:7).
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