As we said earlier, the last night that Jesus spent with His disciples on this earth, He made a promise that He would never leave them alone. He promised that He would return to live inside of them in spiritual form and that the evidence of this would be His peace—a calm “surrenderedness” (John 14:1-27).
We discovered in the last chapter that if we are to experience that peace, we must learn to accept the truth about ourselves. But there is more. We must accept the truth about God.
We talk much about God and His attributes. We try to understand His nature intellectually, but we need to understand with our hearts. In three stories in Luke 15, Jesus revealed two important truths about God that no one had felt on the “heart level” before that time. We need to remember the context of Luke 15. Jesus is teaching and most of the people flocking to Him are considered outcasts—the blind, the maimed, the demon possessed, publicans, and sinners. The religious leaders take note of this and don’t like it one bit. They start accusing Jesus of associating with a bad crowd. He responds to His critics with three stories.
The Three Stories
The first is about a lost sheep:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbors together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:2-7)
The second story is about a lost coin:
“Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them—what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, and says to them, ‘I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!’ In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)
The third story has come to be known as the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
A man had two sons, the younger of which one day told him, “Father, I want to go and make my mark now. It is dull around here. Give me my inheritance and let me go.” He takes his inheritance, in a short time loses everything, and he ends up feeding swine for a farmer. He is so hungry and destitute that he actually desires the pig’s food!
He realizes that his father’s slaves eat better than that. He comes to himself and he starts back home to his father. While he is still a long way off from the house, his father sees him, runs to him, falls upon his neck, and showers him with kisses. The son says, “Father, I deserve to be a slave. Make me a slave.”
The father says, “No, no, no. You shall be a son.” Then he tells his servants, “Go get a robe, a ring, and sandals. Kill the fatted calf. We are going to have a party!”
While they are celebrating, the older son—who has stayed home all his life and done everything properly—comes in from the fields and asks, “What is going on in there?”
The servants answer, “Your brother came home and your father is throwing a party to celebrate.”
The older son remains outside sulking, and his father comes out to him and begs him to come inside to the party. The son says, “No way! You never even gave me and my friends a goat to celebrate, but now you have killed the fatted calf and you are having a party for this wastrel.”
The story ends with the father saying, “Don’t you understand? Your brother—who was dead—is now alive again. He was lost, but now he is found. We had to celebrate!”
Even today, in churches throughout our land, people do not understand what Jesus revealed about God in this passage. In order to experience true inner peace, we must accept these remarkable facts:
God Is A God of Compulsive Affection
The first truth Jesus reveals in these stories is that God has to love us. He doesn’t love us because He wants to; He loves us because it is His nature.
There is an old country song entitled, “I Cant’s Stop Loving You!” It may sound crude, but if God were going to write a song about His feelings toward us, that would be a good title. He can’t stop loving us. He doesn’t choose to love us. It is the essence of His nature. Look at these three stories.
- The shepherd leaves 99 sheep to look for the one lost lamb. He must have them all.
- Ninety-nine is not enough! He wants every one. He didn’t search until he lost interest; he searched until he found!
- The woman who lost the coin turned everything upside down and searched until she found.
- The father loved his wayward son, despite the fact he had left home and wasted his inheritance.
God is the kind of God who doesn’t stop. He is always after us. Francis Thompson called Him, “the hound of heaven,” and wrote a poem about God’s pursuit of him. Thompson was a drug addict who lived in the slums of London and was converted because God—the hound of heaven—would not stop chasing him. God can’t stop loving us. He is the God of compulsive affection. St. Augustine said, “God, thou hast created us for thyself, and we are restless until we find our rest in thee.” There is no way to have peace and run from God. Peace means letting God find us.
I have discovered that one of the reasons I often lack peace is because I have been like that sheep who nibbled himself lost. The sheep wasn’t bad. He was just eating a dandelion here, a bit of grass over there, a bite here and there. He kept nibbling after good things until suddenly he realized he was lost. I do that. I’ve been doing it all my life—not chasing after bad things, but after good things—yet leaving the care of the Shepherd.
I can also identify with the lost coin. It was valuable, but it wasn’t in circulation. It was just lying there, useless, doing nothing.
I can also identify with the young son. I don’t think he was a bad guy. I think he was young, idealistic, and wanted to conquer the world. It was hard to live in his dad’s shadow and he wanted to go out, actualize himself, and fulfill his potential. So the father let him go. Upon his return, the father doesn’t even wait for him to arrive home. He runs to meet him. The boy wants to be a slave, but the father says, “No, you are going to be a son.”
The most remarkable words Jesus ever said about the Father were the two verbs He used to describe the Father’s reaction to his two sons—ran and begged. He ran to meet the younger one. He begged the older one to join the party.
Do you understand how revolutionary that was? In the time when Jesus told this story, a son who rebelled against his father could be stoned to death. It was a capital offense. It was unthinkable that a father would go in search of a rebellious son or beg a pouting child to come to a party. These were images beyond anything people had ever heard. Nevertheless, that is who God is, and the only way to peace is to realize that God loves you too much to let you be separated from Him and remain comfortable about it.
I came to realize that one of the reasons I am often troubled is not because God is absent from my life, but because He is present. God loves me too much to let me be separated from His will and remain comfortable. The reason so many people are unhappy in this world is because they are not at home with the Father. “If you only knew today what is needed for peace,” you would know that God loves you too much to let you be both comfortable and out of His will.
God Is A God Of Compulsive Celebration
The second revolutionary truth revealed in this passage is that God is a God of compulsive celebration. Look at each of the three stories in Luke 15.
- When the shepherd finds the lost lamb, he hosts a party.
- When the woman finds the coin, she invites her friends to celebrate.
- When the father finds his son, he throws a feast.
God is a God who must celebrate. He is a God of joy. He doesn’t go around with a stern look waiting for you to commit some sin so He can zap you. He is a God of joy and wants to share it with us.
I’ve never been able to figure out why church members often have the notion that anything that is fun must be sinful, but it seemed that way when I was growing up. Where did we ever get such a notion?
God is a God of compulsive celebration. The thought was revolutionary! He throws parties! What does this have to do with peace? Look at the elder son in the story of the prodigal son. The elder son is the only one in the group who doesn’t understand that the Father is a person of celebration. He reminds me of people I’ve seen in the church over the years—people who are good, keep all the rules, yet they seem angry about it! They are like the elder son who thought the only way to experience peace is to remain stern and earn God’s approval. They miss the whole concept of joy.
Two things happened recently that drove home this point about God being a God of joy. The first was when my wife, Lois, and I were in California and we went to dinner at a Beverly Hills home with people from the Hollywood scene. Several of these people had been through terrible tragedies in their lives, and they began to tell us their stories and those of others they knew. Our hostess finally made the comment, “Beverly Hills is where people think they want to be. There is so much pleasure here, but so little joy.”
It made me think—there are so many people in the world who want to be someone else or live someplace else. They want to “make it to Beverly Hills where everything seems wonderful.” They don’t find joy in being who and where they are. That was the elder son. He didn’t find joy in being who he was.
The second thing that drove home this point is in Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Yancey says it is difficult to define grace, because grace is something that can only be experienced. But he does attempt one definition: “Grace means there is nothing you can ever do to make God love you more than He already does and there is nothing you can ever do to make Him love you less.”
A major step to peace is to find joy in who you are and where you are. Who you really are is not only okay with God, it pleases Him. It is not only okay, it is wonderful. You only need to come to feel about yourself the way God feels about you.
Jesus said, “If you only knew today what is needed for peace.” Peace comes when we accept these two major revelations about God:
- He is a God of compulsive affection.
- He is a God of compulsive joy.
God not only loves you as you are, He rejoices every time you come home to Him.
- This series of Posts is based upon Dr. Gerald Mann’s book The Search for Inner Peace. The author and the MakeTrix have received the permission of Gerald Mann’s wife, Sandy Mann, to use the contents of his wonderful masterpiece in this series of articles. We are honored and humbled and wish to thank her for her generosity. This series is of course, and as always, provided free at no cost to the reader.
- Dr. Gerald Mann, The Search for Inner Peace (Austin, TX: Gerald Mann Ministries, 1999), pp. 23-34. ISBN: 0-9678502-0-7, Out-of-Print.
- For more information, read our previous posts:
Introduction: The Search for Inner Peace
Chapter 1: Challenging Our Illusions