Prodigal God by Tim Keller

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My husband kept telling me I would love Prodigal God (2008) and I finally picked it up as a study for my small group.  It’s a short book, and extremely powerful.

You are probably familiar with the story in Luke 15 often known as “the parable of the prodigal son”.  Keller argues that we’ve missed 80 percent of the meaning behind this story because we focus on the Younger Brother.  It is rather a story of two sons – both lost, both seeking fulfillment and happiness in ways that are empty and sinful.  Keller says the parable redefines sin and lostness, and helps us understand how the Older Brother is just as lost as the Younger Brother.  Keller explores Jesus Christ as the true Elder Brother, how we long for home and find it so difficult to return, and how our Heavenly Father welcomes us into a feast that is salvation.

Keller writes, “I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other Biblical text.”  Read it.  Prodigal God book

And don’t miss the 30 minute teaching video Keller did to accompany the book:

Disciplined for Running Away?

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A few of my favorite quotes from “Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted”, homework from week 2, with Priscilla Shirer:

A simple choice:

“There’s no gray area in obeying God either, you know.  When God speaks or allows you to see His hand, giving you the opportunity to participate in His purposes, you don’t have an array of options to choose from… It’s clear-cut, plain and simple.  You can either choose to obey or choose to disobey.  No neutral ground.  Choosing to do “nothing” is really a decision to delay obedience – and the word for delayed obedience? Disobedience.” (p.35)

On running away:

Sometimes we literally run from God, like Jonah did.  But more often we are “running away on the inside”.  We are more like Israel than we care to admit:  “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Isaiah 29:13  “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to Him, but repudiated Him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” Acts 7:39

On the Sin Cycle:Wrong-Way-Sign-K-6172

“It wasn’t this bad in the beginning… If only I’d known where those first bad decisions would have led me, maybe I would have chosen differently.” (p.43)

Then suddenly we stand with Jonah, with David after his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, with the prodigal son and we ask – How did I get to here?!  What happened that brought me to this ugly place?!

That’s our wake-up call!  God is so gracious that He reaches down and shakes us sometimes – WAKE UP!  You’re going the wrong way!

How did you get there?  The answer lies in our very first decision to disobey, to ignore, to allow something that should never have been…

“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

The decisions you are making today will impact your tomorrows.  How you choose to respond to God’s leading right now will determine how your future unfolds. (p.46)  “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive His approval.” Romans 6:16

On the Lord’s discipline:

The Lord’s discipline in your life is a sign of His relationship with you.  Those whom He loves, He disciplines. “I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” Psalm 89:32-33

The conviction of the Lord is never to condemn us, but always seeks to restore us to a right relationship with Him.  Indeed, He waits for us to return like the father of the prodigal son… “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18

“Do you think a season of your life held wasted years with no redeeming qualities?  God can use anything.  He’s the Master of taking the bits and pieces of our leftovers and making something amazing out of it… for His glory.” (p.53)

Amen.

As a side note, I keep thinking of Les Miserables.  Jean Valjean’s choice to steal a loaf of bread sent him to prison and into a downward spiral he certainly never imagined.  The graciousness of the priest who gave him the silver was a chance for personal redemption.  Valjean grasps this opportunity and makes the choice (and keeps making choices) to live differently, righteously, correctly, for others.  It’s a beautiful picture of the horrors and unknowns of the sin cycle and the challenges and joys of redemption – don’t miss it.