The challenge is the difficulty in moving from a mindset where scarcity is the norm to one where abundance is possible. And the truth is that many people have much more than they realize yet continue to live with the mindset of an orphan. Amazingly, this idea is quite true for many Christians as well. For an orphan, this mindset is usually the result of a harsh reality. But for the Christian, such a mindset is a lack of faith, a lack of trust, and a lack of understanding the reality of the grace that the Father has for us.
As we will see today, this mindset is nothing new, but it is one that must be changed. And changed it can be when we truly realize how benevolent our Father in heaven truly is.
The story this week is likely familiar to many reading this post. Basically, a father has two sons. The youngest one comes to ask for this share of the inheritance. He leaves and squanders it by living lavishly (the basic meaning of the word prodigal), and eventually returns home where His father greets him, and orders a celebration because of his return, much to the chagrin of the older brother. The story is known as the prodigal son and is found in Luke 15.
That is the basic story. The story, however, is a parable that Jesus told and thus has some important principles for us to understand. Today, I want to view this story through the lens of adoption, and specifically the nature of how we choose to live as orphans instead of choosing to fully embrace the goodness of our Father.
An Orphan Mentality Always Wants More (Luke 15.11-16)
I summarized the story above ago, but now let’s break down a few important points from the beginning of the story.
- The youngest son asks for his portion of an inheritance.
- A few days later he leaves with all he had and goes to another country.
- He lives it up for a while, then finds himself broke.
- He has to get a job which would have been unthinkable to a Jew.
Why? Because he has an orphan mentality. Please understand, I am not criticizing those who are orphans. Orphans do not choose to be an orphan. In the movie, Annie, Mrs. Finnegan facetiously make this very point: “Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me.” But whether, or not, someone is an orphan, any of us can have the attitude of one. The attitude represents those who focus so much on their own desires (and sometimes needs) now that they abandon all other thoughts.
The idea is to “get while the gettin’ is good.” When an opportunity exists, you take it – even against bad odds – because you do not know when you may have another opportunity. Consider Oliver Twist. In the movie, Oliver, Oliver is eating and asks Mr. Bumble for some more gruel (porridge). Bumble thinks he must have misunderstood because no one would dare ask for more. When Oliver asks again, “Please sir, I want some more” he is chased around the room in order to punish him.
The truth is that orphans generally have very little and thus guard it. You might remember Annie being asked for her sweater. Her reply: “Will I get it back?” However, as we see from the story in Luke 15, those with an orphan mindset may receive a great deal, but will soon squander it. We must consider that this son had plenty. We find out later in the story that the father has servants so this family is not destitute. But what the son had was not enough – at least not for him. Living with his father day by day and receiving whatever benefits that may have had was not enough. Instead, he went to his dad and said “give me everything I am due. And give it to me now.” The father did so, and the boy left. But he squandered all he had. Then when the crisis came – the famine in verse 14, he had nothing left, not even a father to help him. So he got a job, yet was still so hungry that he was willing to eat with the pigs.
Are we any different? Doesn’t God give us blessings upon blessings? We may not have all we want, but most everyone here has all they need. Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6.33). What were these things? Food, clothing, and shelter – the basic needs of life (vv. 25-32). But we desire more because we stop looking at the kingdom and start focusing on what we don’t have – just like an orphan. For instance, this week, many will spend time with family and/or friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. But some will not give thanks and a few will even get mad because someone else ate the last piece of pie (although the angry person already had two pieces).
Certainly, some have more than others. But we have all been given much. Many around the world have yearly incomes of less than $1000. Most everyone in the US earns more than that in a month. Indeed, in the US, we have been given muchm, but many still have a mentality that we must have more.
An Orphan Mentality Can Give Way With Hope (Luke 15.17-24)
This second part of the parable is really about hope. We cannot miss the fact that the son “came to himself” – that is, he got his head screwed on straight. This son realized that the servants who worked for his father were in far better position than he was. So, he decides to go home, repent of his sin, and ask to become a servant.
But the reality is that he had no way of knowing how his father would react. Or did he? As I have mentioned countless times before hope in the Bible is not a wish or dream, it is a certainty. Let me explain it this way for this passage. The point here is that the orphan mentality can shift with hope, not by hoping. Hoping is to say something like, “I hope my dad will listen to me” or “I hope my dad will hire me as a servant.” However, true hope is different.
True hope is to have some sense of assurance of what will happen. This boy may have been the younger son, but he was old enough to be given a sum of money, and allowed to travel to another country. Therefore, he knew something about his dad. He saw how his father treated the servants. He saw how his father cared for him and his older brother. Thus, he could have some sense of hope that his return was not in vain.
And, of course, it wasn’t. Upon his return, the father saw him, had compassion (love in action) and even ran to him to embrace and kiss him. He gave him a robe, a ring, shoes, and prepared a feast. Remember last week’s post was about grace upon grace. That is what this is. The son had some hope that his father would at least be willing to listen to him or he would never have returned. But it was more than listening, it was loving. It was a true reconciliation. The son was challenged to change his mindset from being fearful of not having enough to being treated in an extravagant way.
This reaction is all the more remarkable because of the reason the father gives. “For this my son was dead, but is alive again.” Really the inverse is true. Remember, the son asked the father for his inheritance. Some individuals may give away a great deal of their estate while living, but for someone to ask for it is to say, “I wish you were dead. Father, you are dead to me” Effectively, that is what this young son said to his father when asking for his share of the property. But here, in verse 24, the father turns it around and says, “My son was as dead to me, but now he has returned. Let’s party!”
Again, the father’s reaction is an example grace upon grace. The father not only welcomes him back, but does so with the full rights as his son. The son had some bit of hope causing him to return. But with real hope we, like this son, can overcome having such a minimalist mindset. It is that type of hope that allows us to realize that the sun will come up tomorrow. No matter what you are going through today, the next tomorrow is only a day away.
An Orphan Mentality Prevents Us From Celebrating With Others (Luke 15.25-32)
The final portion of this story focuses on the other brother. This older brother remained home with dad while the younger one went off and squandered his inheritance. But make no mistake, the older brother has the mentality of an orphan as well.
Notice what these verses say about the older brother.
- He heard music and dancing, but he got angry and refused to go in.
- He questioned his father’s motives being jealous of how his brother was treated.
Did you catch that? His brother was home, and they were going to have steak, but he would not go in. This brother who lived at home and had all the benefits, but still had an orphan’s mentality. Specifically, I think we can hear him thinking three distinct thoughts.
- I have been here working hard and he comes back to a party. That’s not fair. What’s my reward?
- Dad already gave him his allotment, but now that he is back, I bet dad gives him even more which cuts into my share.
- If I can’t have it, no one can!
The older brother had the same mindset as the younger brother except the older brother didn’t run off with his inheritance. But he still complains to dad that he wants more. And like his younger brother who chose to live elsewhere instead of with dad, the older brother, by not going to the party, misses out on a part of the father’s generosity. Would the younger brother have welcomed his older brother to the party? Almost certainly, because he now had hope just like when Annie invited all of the orphans to a party at Daddy Warbucks’ house.
The truth is that both boys are sons who are deeply loved, yet lived like orphans. One left and the other didn’t, but both have a similar mindset. However, their father loves them both and both of them benefit from their relationship with their father. In fact, the father does not withhold anything they are due (v12, 31).
Consider our place in this story.
We are like the younger son in that God has so much for us, but we turn our back and go our own way until we find ourselves in such a bad position we have to return to Him. Many do not return, but thankfully so do – including some reading this post.
We are also like the older brother. We struggle when others seem to receive certain blessings from our Father. We ask, “Why me?” or perhaps, “Why not me?” instead of being grateful for all that we have already been given which should help us know more will come our way.
But aren’t we thankful that God is like the father in the story? We are not the biological children of God, but He loves us, and has compassion upon us. He did not kill the fattened calf; rather, He allowed the perfect lamb to be killed – for us. Having fulfilled that promise, will He not fulfill all of His other promises – such as Jesus coming again and our going being at home with Him for eternity? And in the meantime, will God, our Father, not provide for us and care for us until the end? Certainly, He will. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4.19: “And my God will supply every need of your according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
We may want more, but we can be satisfied knowing God will provide all that we need.
We may need hope, but we must realize only God’s promises are worth considering.
We may find life unfair, but we will celebrate with others when we see them as God’s child too.
Let me state again that I have no intention to denigrate orphans or children in need of care. That is not my goal at all. In fact, the Bible says we are to care for widows and orphans. Why? Because orphans do not choose to be orphans. Most every orphan becomes an orphan through the death of their parents or caregivers or because they are abandoned. That is not the fault of the person who becomes an orphan. And for those who become orphaned, the mindset that develops seems quite natural – always wanting more, trying to find hope, and persisting with a mindset even when in a home.
But the tragedy is for those who are not orphans who choose to have the same mindset. This is true of humanity in general, and worse, it is true for many Christians who have a loving Father who has already given so much and promised more to each of His children. We have a choice to live with a mindset which only expects little because our focus is on ourselves or we can choose mindset that expects God to be God.
JOURNEY: Y – YOU
The JOURNEY letter for today is Y because for you to receive all He wants to give you, you must first receive Him. Just as the younger son turned back to his father, when we seek our Father, we discover a love that insists on sharing with us all that is His. But the process begins with us realizing and making a claim as to who Jesus really is. Jesus asked His disciples, and He asks us here today, “Who do you say that I am?” Your response is the key to everything else to follow.
NEXT STEP(S): LEARN. Once again, our step this week is to memorize 1 John 3.1. The overall goal will be not only to memorize the verse, but to LEARN to understand it, so we might LIVE in light of its truth, LOVE others because of it, and ultimately LEAD others to embrace it as well.