I was once the worst kind of lost. I was lost, but I didn’t know I was lost. I was self-righteous. What I mean by that is, I thought I was good enough by myself, and I was pleased with myself. I wasn’t awful or arrogant by most standards, no I was a kind and loyal friend and lots of other nice things. But when I think about where I was with God, I feel I couldn’t have been further away. These words from Sovereign Grace, to me, sum up exactly what I was like:
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that you would own
A rebel to your will
And if you had not loved me first
I would refuse you still.
The longer I am a Christian, the more I see how lost and hopeless I was. And the more I am amazed, utterly astonished, that against all odds, the Lord dragged me out of the pit of my own making and made me his child. Such grace! ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for Oh my God it found out me!’ (Charles Wesley)
In the Gospels, when Jesus met people like me, such as the Pharisees, he told them over and over again that they were the worst kind of lost (I’m paraphrasing). If you think about the parable of the Lost Sons, the Pharisees are the older brother who stays in the Father’s house, ‘slaving away’, despising the Father and feeling he’s earning his place in the family. But of course, he is the real lost son at the end. He’s outside the party, having a hissy fit because he hates grace.
I know this. So why do I want my children to be older brother types? Well, because they’re easier to look after aren’t they? Imagine the community who knew that family in the parable. Which son would they side with? You can imagine the talk in the fields:
‘Eee, the poor Master. Big Billy is such a good lad, but that little Lennie has been no end of trouble. I bet he’s glad they’re not both like that.’
I want my children to be well-behaved and keep their heads down, because that will make my life easier. It will also be much less humiliating for me. If my children are the worst behaved in the nursery (if, e.g. they are biters), or the worst behaved in church (e.g. climbing on the stage and the organ in the middle of the prayers) then what kind of a parent am I being? Hardly a model Christian mum. (I wasn’t making those examples up, obv.)
My 5-year-old daughter is an older brother type. She HATES to break the rules, or (worse still) have anyone think she’s broken them. It will literally keep her awake at night. Phew, right?
Ezra, aged 4, on the other hand, doesn’t care an inch about the rules. He can be told off over and over again and keep doing the same thing, it’s no skin off his nose. He is funny though, and very handsome – so far this has got him through life unscathed. I adore him, of course, but he breaks my heart with his disobedience. Every day I have to get up and try again to teach him what I taught him yesterday: please obey mummy and daddy.
If I’m honest, deep down I really worry that Ezra is not behaving like a Christian, while I feel a bit like Miriam is probably fine because she’s a good girl.
But have I not been listening to God all these years? It’s the rebels who come back to the Father, covered in muck, asking for forgiveness. It was Zacchaeus the tax collector who surrendered everything to Jesus when he encountered grace. It was the “sinful woman” who poured out her life’s savings on Jesus’ feet out of gratitude. Yes, the Lord does save older brother types too, like Saul, and me, but I think the Bible does warn us that the Older Brothers are in grave danger.
Note to self: I need to keep relying on God’s grace to save my kids, not on their own abilities to follow orders and stick to the rules. Grace comes first, then obedience.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Titus 3: 3-5
Please read Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God. It’s simply brilliant.