John Bishop, Senior Pastor of Living Hope Church (www.livinghopechurch.com) covered a particularily interesting subject this weekend. Pretty much everyone is familiar with the story of the Prodigal son. A son who selfishly asks his father for his share of his father’s estate and leaves the family home to venture on his own. After squandering the money he falls into a downhill spiral until he realizes that his father’s servants have a better life then what he was living with. In shame and guilt he makes his way home, asking his father to forgive him and to allow him to live like a day laborer to make up for the way he treated his father and family name.
The father is overwhelmed with joy that is son has returned and declares a feast for all to partake in to rejoice in the son’s return. The father does not hold anything against his son and instead forgives him instantly and calls for a great celebration.
Now this father had another son. This son was dutiful in his efforts of working his father’s property and displayed an obedient manner toward his father. By all accounts he was a very good son to his father. That is until….. his brother returned home. At that point the older obedient son became enraged that his father would so easily allow his brother to return and to add insult to injury — celebrate with a full blown party, fattened calf and all.
This brother refused to join in the celebration of his brother’s return. When begged by his father to join them in the celebration he flat out refused to have anything to do with the frivolity of the celebration. He, instead yelled at his father, and whined that his father had never even given him a goat to slaughter for he and his friends. He was angry! It didn’t matter that the father told him that all that he owned and possessed was his (the older son’s) to take and have. That he should show compassion toward his brother who was lost and now was back a wiser more contrite individual.
Now we come to the point of this story. How many of us are like the older obedient brother? Yes, we follow all the rules, but in doing so, we can become arrogant in our (internal) superior attitude toward others that aren’t quite living up to our standards. This was obviously the case with this brother. He had always done what was expected of him. But in doing so, he quietly was building up an internal resentment. One that exploded when the errant brother returned and was shown unconditional forgiveness and love by his father. The older brother had grown a harden heart. These were not the words and actions of a loving, compassionate individual. They were the words and actions of a selfish and self-centered soul. How was he any better then his younger brother?
These are the qualifiers provided by John Bishop to check to see if you might be an older brother. They are:
1. You hear the party but are never invited. How was it that no one ran out to the fields to find the older brother and let him know a party was being planned. The rest of the town was there — but no one called to the older brother. Could it be that everyone knew he how he would react when he heard that his younger brother was back. Could it be that everyone knew he was going to throw a rage when he found out that his father had compassionately forgave the brother of all his past transgressions and was actually celebrating his return? Do people know this about you? That you do not easily forgive but are easy to anger? Are you missing out on the fun of celebration because of this?
2. You struggle with anger and refuse to go in. Do people walk on eggshells around you? Are they uncomfortable about bringing up certain subjects because they know it will trigger off an argument or end up in yelling? Do you wonder why the invitations don’t come as easily to you as they do to others?
3. You are dutiful but not beautiful. Is your greatest asset that you always do the right thing but do it with a resentful heart? Do you do things because it is expected of you versus wanting to provide, wanting to serve, wanting to do because it delights you — not because You Have To?
4. You tend to judge other people. “But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” Luke 15:30 How was it that this older brother just KNEW that his brother squandered money on prostitutes? Or was this just a preceived idea that his brother was so evil that this was how he would blow all his money? Do we sometimes just know that the other person is a dirtbag not deserving of our time or sympathy? Do we see the negative in others vs looking for the good?
5. You have a hard heart toward God and all others. Is this your basic attitude in life? Nothing is ever right in the world. The world is going to hell in a hand basket so what’s the use of trying? If this is your basic way of thinking could it be that this attitude is what is withholding the good in your life?
John Bishop pointed out that we all may have had times in our lives when we displayed the Other Older Brother attitude and mentality. If we can see where our hearts may be hardened then it is a choice that only we can make to soften our hearts. To choose to be more compassionate and understanding of others. To question why we are so judgemental, and make a resolve to change. Awareness and choice are the keys to turning around a hardened heart.