A friend gave me The Prodigal God to read recently. When I started I kept thinking, “yada yada yada, I’ve heard this before” and I have to admit I had a crummy attitude about the whole thing. As I got to the last third of the book, little by little I began to hear God talking to me. It’s one of those books that keeps illuminating my understanding and pricking my conscience even weeks after having finished it.
I have to say, I hate legalism. I think it is a complete insult to the finished work of Christ. Of course, everyone says they hate “legalism,” because “legalism” is in the eyes of the beholder. So let me clarify. I am a fierce defender of the believer’s freedom to glorify God with their freedoms as long as it’s done in faith. If you listen to secular music, great, if you drink beer, great, if you smoke, who really cares. To me these things are petty, insignificant habits that Christians like to get caught up on to make themselves feel far holier that they truly are. So, this is not the type of legalism that runs through my mind or I found convicting. Actually, refreshingly, The author, Tim Keller, never even acknowledges these types of freedoms.
The legalism he attempts to tackle goes much deeper. We all know the parable of the Prodigal Son and many of us have heard that it is actually about two prodigal sons, brothers. Keller wants to cut the crap and focus on the heart of the eldest, apparently obedient son. The Goody Goody. While he stays home the serves his father, it’s his reason for “obedience” that Keller tackles. Upon his brother’s return, he complains to his father about him having never been given a party even though he has “slaved” for him all these years. He completely missed the point of service, it wasn’t joyful service, but compelled slavery fueled by fear and a sense of both the debt he owed his father, and in turn, reward he thought would be his due.
There are a hundred other points, but this started gnawing away at my heart. Why do I serve God? While I love ministry, at times I have to admit that there is an unspoken Astrix next to my service. A little deeper in my heart is the explanation; “because I do this faithfully, You owe me a certain amount of blessings, whether now or in the future.” I never even realized this was there, but it was my attitude towards my husband that revealed it. While I love being in San Bernardino and love the people we’re ministering to, this was never my idea. Armando has wanted to come home for years and be a light in his community. Lately, I’ve sat back and in my heart wrestled with bitterness and anger towards him, and more sadly, towards God. “God, I have served (slaved for?) you faithfully all these years, just as much as he has, when do I get my dreams fulfilled?” Ugly, but true. When I signed up for marriage, Armando and I were foreign missionaries and it was the most fulfilling and wonderful life I could have imagined; it was the life I believed I was created for since I was 5. Eight years ago, we left the mission field and have been serving in SoCal (the one place, besides Siberia, I swore I’d never go). I have loved what God has called us to, but it’s never where I would chose to be.
So my present spiritual conundrum finds me at odds with my husband in my attitude, but ultimately with God in my heart. Now that I’m aware of what the struggle really is, I can pray and confess and pray and confess some more. I don’t want to “slave for Him all these years,” only hoping I’m going to finally get what I “deserve.” I have always been at peace in God’s will, it’s just the idea of His will that I have a hard time with at this point.