The Older Brother | Perspectives
Monday— “The older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.” Luke 15:25
2022 parallel: You’ve been staying late at work to help the company. You’re exhausted as you drag yourself out the door but feel good that you’ve done your best. Down the hall, a noise. You move closer until you’re standing at the manager’s closed door. From behind it, you hear voices, music, and laughter. You can smell Rib Crib takeout. Curious, you press your ear to the door and recognize a voice. A coworker. Then another. A peal of laughter. You draw back, stunned. Seriously? They were having a party while you were working your tail off? Why? The boss said…you thought…but… Fury fills your heart.
That’s how the older brother felt when he neared his house and heard party noises for his no-good brother. We feel a little sorry for big brother because we’ve all been in his shoes a time or two. We’ve felt slighted. Unappreciated. Taken for granted while someone undeserving was celebrated. We can become bitter and jealous, but we’re only hurting ourselves. The father knew how his son felt, but instead of scolding him, he reminded him that there was another option. “If you’re not happy about the situation, then enjoy my happiness,” Dad said. “My son is home. Rejoice with me!” Big Bro couldn’t change the situation, but he could reclaim happiness by changing perspectives. Seeing a situation from God’s perspective frees us from bitterness.
Challenge: Bitter jealousy robs us of seeing a situation from our Father’s perspective. Is bitter jealousy robbing you?
Prayer: Father, show me where I have become bitter or jealous. I judge you for blessing people I don’t like. But you’re God. You can do anything you want. Forgive me for refusing to see painful situations from your perspective. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Tuesday— 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.” Luke 15:29
Do you think that was true? Big Bro’s rant sounds a little fishy. Had he NEVER disobeyed? Was he required to “slave” for his father? Had he received NO kindness or generosity? As far as we can tell, he’d been fine with his lifestyle until five minutes ago. As the eldest son, he was heir to 2/3 of his father’s property. He could have thrown a party anytime he wanted. But Dad throwing a party for that rebel was just too much. Hurt and outrage prompted him to exaggerate his circumstances.
We do the same thing in our prayers. “Father, I’ve been so good (except for…well, you know….). I’ve done everything you asked me to do (except for the times I didn’t). I was nice to those people (actually, I enabled them). I’ve tried to be a good person (according to my own standards of “good”) and THIS is how you repay me? You bless them but not me (except for my health, job, family, oxygen, sight, freedom, house, car, Jesus…) As long as we’re the judges of our own worthiness, we’ll get it wrong every time. We either grovel in self-hatred or feel superior. A healthy self-worth sees ourselves exactly as God does: no better, no worse. We can’t lie to God and also have a right relationship with Him. Honesty before God lets us see our lives correctly and gives us reason to celebrate.
Challenge: Self-worth is seeing yourself as God sees you, neither better nor worse. How honest are you about yourself?
Prayer: Father, I’ve gone both directions when I evaluate my worth. I want to see myself exactly as you do: created in your image, designed for purpose, able to glorify you. Forgive my wrong thinking and lack of gratitude. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Wednesday— You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1
Three kids stared wide-eyed at their father’s angry face. “Didn’t I tell you not to do that?” he cried. “Now look what’s happened. The window is shattered and her head is bleeding! You’re all going to be punished.” Layla raised a shaking hand. “Daddy, um, it was Gigi’s head that went through the window, not mine. They were doing it and I told them not to do it, I did! I told them what you said so I shouldn’t be punished.” The father’s lips tightened. “Did you or did you not join in with them, Layla?” he asked. She gulped. “Well, yes sir… but I told them to stop and they wouldn’t stop so…so I just did it too. But I told them!”
“I told them they’re wrong!” we cry about a sin we’re not tempted to commit. “I’m better than them because I told them!”
And our Father tightens His lips. “You may not be living as a homosexual, but you’re sleeping with your boyfriend…you haven’t murdered anyone, but you hate people in your heart…you’re not stealing, but you’re coveting what I haven’t given you. You’re judging people while doing the same things.” The big brother judged the prodigal for greed but was greedy himself. He judged his brother as unworthy of love while assuming that his own actions should earn his father’s love. But like this father, our heavenly Father sees the real problem. We’re ALL unworthy of His love, but He offers mercy and expects us to do the same.
Challenge: Consider the sins that most offend you in other people. How might you be doing the same while judging them?
Prayer: Father, I pretend I’m merciful, but you see the truth. I’ve even judged people for being judgmental. How hypocritical of me! I see it now and ask your forgiveness. Thank you for being merciful to me. Help me pass that on. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thursday— For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
You’re standing at the foot of Mt. Everest along with every person in the world. Whoever leaps to the top in a single bound will be saved. On your left is an old lady in a wheelchair. On your right is an Olympic sprinter. When the shot is fired, who will jump highest? You’ll certainly outleap the old lady, but the sprinter will beat you—maybe ten feet out of 29,032. From the judge’s seat at the top of the mountain, does it matter? Is he impressed? Of course not. Our highest leaps amount to nothing, so there are no bragging rights. That’s how our goodness appears to God on top of Mt. Everest. No winners. No contenders. All losers.
The older brother’s problem was that he thought his own goodness should count for something. And as long as he compared himself to his prodigal brother, he was swimming in awesome sauce. But God doesn’t compare us to each other, only to His Son. And none of us comes close. We overcome a few sins and develop a sense of moral superiority. Ol’ Joe’s flaws are not our flaws, so we silently congratulate ourselves. But with our eyes on Sloppy Joe, we forget that Mt. Everest is the standard. On our best day, with our highest leap, we don’t even come close. The older brother could have enjoyed the welcome-home party if he’d remembered how he’d also failed: the sheep he lost, the bad girlfriend, the poor investment—but he didn’t. It was much easier to judge little bro by a standard that ignored his own sin. So while Little Bro enjoyed grace, Big Bro couldn’t.
Challenge: Could you leap up Mt. Everest? Can your goodness impress God? The humble enjoy grace but the proud don’t.
Prayer: Lord, I’ve considered myself a good person but have based it on my own standard. Your standard is Jesus and I don’t come close. Any good in me is because of Him. Thank you for continuing to mold me into His image. In His name I pray, amen.
Friday—When this son of yours returns from squandering your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf. Luke 15:30
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? A lifelong missionary will be in heaven with a Jeffry Dahmer. A grandma who’s served Jesus for 80 years is welcomed into God’s presence alongside a rapist who got saved on his deathbed. Ideas like that mess with our sense of justice. That’s how Big Brother felt. “I’ve served our father faithfully, but a renegade shows up and we treat him like a returning war hero!” He even referred to his brother as “this son of yours.” He wanted nothing to do with the prodigal, just like we sometimes want nothing to do with the drunk, the smelly homeless guy, the hooker, or the scary goth kid next door.
It’s all about perspective. As long as we view people from our own frame of reference, we can’t rejoice when a stinky beggar sits next to us at church. When the multi-pierced gang-banger wants our kid to play with his. When the obviously trans guy joins our lifegroup. We become the big brother. We may accept all kinds of people, but most of us have “that one group” we’re not happy to see. Whether it’s a Muslim woman in a burka or an ex-con with a skull tattooed on his face, some people create exclusionary caution in us. Caution is good; exclusion is not. In Big Brother’s mind, the prodigal had burned too many bridges. But in the father’s mind, repentance rebuilds bridges. In our heavenly Father’s mind, repentance gives us access to His grace.
Challenge: What type of person creates instant caution in you? Is it exclusionary caution? Are you willing to rebuild bridges?
Prayer: Father, I’ve been guilty of exclusionary thinking. I want you for my Father, but I don’t want you to adopt certain kinds of people. Please forgive me and change my attitude. I want to see them like you do and rejoice at their repentance. Amen.