THANKFULNESS (LESSON 3)
"You never miss what you've got until it's gone." "You never miss the water until the well runs dry." We have all heard those expressions before. What do they mean?
Oftentimes we take things for granted. And sometimes it is only when we no longer have access to something (or someone) that we truly begin to appreciate it and be thankful for it. Well, in this lesson on thankfulness, we are going to see that sometimes we have to lose everything before we can see how good we really have it. The Bible verses that we are going to read are probably ones that you've come across before. But we wanted to focus on these particular young men in the Bible because here you will find an excellent example of the unthankfulness of men and, in comparison, the patient goodness of God.
Now, we are going to read about two unthankful sons. We will start with the younger brother. Here is some background on this fellow: He was young, maybe still in his teens. He was unthankful to his parents, and he took them for granted. Instead of appreciating the things his father provided for him, this son demanded more, more, more.
Let's read how this young man spoke to his father. Luke 15:11-12, "And he (Jesus speaking) said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living."
* This young man's father was probably wealthy. We can imagine that he was very prominent in the land and had servants and a nice home. And when the young man reached a certain age, his father would have divided his property and money between his two sons. But the young man wasn't happy just to live in his father's house. This guy wasn't satisfied with the allowance his father gave him. No, he wanted to control some of his father's money, and he wanted to get out and be on his own. The first words out of this young man's mouth were "Give me." Not "Thanks, dad, for all you've done," or "Dad, you are the best." This kid was an ungrateful brat! And as we just read, the father did what the son asked. He divided his assets and money between his two sons. I'm sure it hurt the dad's feelings that his son would approach him this way, but nonetheless he granted him his wish.
Let's stop for a second. How many of us have treated God the way this son treated his dad? God promises to be with us and to provide for our needs and to show us the way. But instead of listening to Him, we say, "God, it is taking you too long. I want my stuff right now. I believe I'm entitled to it today! And I'm going to get it one way or another." Sure, you probably don't say those words out loud, but do you say it by your actions? Do you make certain situations happen NOW instead of waiting on God's timing? Even when you knew that God's plans called for you to be patient.
* Well, let's see what this young man did when he got what he asked for from his father: Luke 15:13, "And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living."
This guy got what he wanted from his father and left. He moved out. He probably barely said good-bye. He went far away to a big city and started partying. He squandered every penny that his father had given him on immoral women and fast living. He probably didn't even write his dad a letter letting him know he was okay. Talk about being ungrateful!
Sadly, we sometimes treat our Heavenly Father the same way. We know how to call on God when we need or want something. But then when God answers our prayer, we could care less about having a relationship with Him. We pray every night, hoping to be blessed. The blessing comes, and the prayers cease. No more going to church. No more Bible study. We move far from God and back into the world. All we want is the "stuff."
We behave just like the young man in the Bible account. He had his father at home who loved him and wanted the best for him, but he chose to spend his time wasting his father's fortune on riotous living.
Maybe you have people at home who love you and only want the best for you, but instead you spend all of your time in the streets seeking out other things and other people to fulfill you: parties and crowds, drugs and alcohol, women and sex. And although you know that Jesus died on the cross to save you, instead of living your life in a way that tells God thank you for salvation and life and health, you are busy doing things that might get you in trouble or destroy your health or make you backslide. The Bible once asked the question, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26) Friend, where are you right now? Are you perhaps out there running from your Heavenly Father, hiding in the world looking for fulfillment like this young man was doing?
* Well, let's get back to Mr. Party. Now we are going to get to the point where the young man probably understood, "You never miss what you got until it's gone." Luke 15:14-16, "And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him."
This guy thought that being on his own away from his father would make him happy and that money would make him happy and that women would make him happy, but ultimately he was left with no friends, no money, and all alone. I'm sure he was the most popular guy when he first hit town, but now he has hit rock bottom. Can't you just see him on the corner holding a sign, "Will work for food." Yes, he went from having everything in his father's house to wishing he just had something to eat. Even the slop that the pigs ate made his mouth water. This guy was now basically a skid row bum.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is not until we hit our lowest point before we realize that the things we took for granted were pretty good after all. And then you realize that you were running away from the only person who really cared about you. All of us eventually experience "a famine in the land" because we are all hungry, but the things of this world cannot and will not offer more than temporary satisfaction and fulfillment to that hunger. Only a relationship with the Lord can do that.
And one day you will realize that no one on this earth loves you more than God. Jesus loved you so much that he died on the cross for your sins and gave His life, even as you were turning your back on Him and telling Him that you were not ready to give your life to Him. I wonder what is going to have to happen to finally make you come to your senses.
* Now let's read about when this guy finally came to his senses. Luke 15:17-19, "And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."
This young man finally realized how he had taken his father for granted. He realized how good things were at his father's house. And he was going to go back and humble himself before his father and apologize to him. He was so sorry, that he was even ready to be treated like one of his father's servants.
When we first met this young man, he was demanding of his father "Give me." Now he is ready to humbly ask, "Father, make me." What a difference! If you are truly thankful to God, you will stop trying to break God's rules and run your own life. You will stop demanding things from God and instead ask God to make you into the person that He wants you to be. And then you will obediently follow His directions for you.
* Let's see what happened when this young man went back home. Luke 15:20-24, "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry."
We can tell that it was not just a hungry stomach that this young man had. He was not just trying to use his dad now that he was facing hard times. This young man was truly repentant. He truly saw himself for the sinner that he was. And I'm sure it was only when he saw himself with all of his flaws that he could truly marvel and appreciate his father's love.
And what did his father do upon his arrival? The same father who this young man couldn't wait to get away from welcomed him back with open arms. His dad threw a big welcome home party for his son and never once made the young man feel bad for what he had done.
In this ancient culture, what the young man had done would have brought shame to his father's house. When the boy was back in town, the neighbors would have wanted to harm him. (Refer to Deuteronomy 21:18-21). But the father ran out to get to his son before the angry mob. Sometimes the very people we try to distance ourselves from are the only ones who would truly be there when we really need someone, but because of our selfishness we don't see it.
And do you know what else is amazing? Everything this young man was out in the world searching for was right there in his father's house. There was love, attention, recognition, satisfaction, and a joyous family, but the young man at first was too foolish and ungrateful to even see it. And everything that you can imagine, God has prepared for you, but you may not see it either because of your impatience and ingratitude.
Fortunately for us, just like the young man's father forgave him and welcomed him back with open arms, God is waiting and willing to welcome you back even when you have strayed and been unthankful. He wants you to come just as you are so that he can welcome you into the family and show you the way. We should thank God for his forgiveness.
* But the longer you stay gone from God, the more danger you are of doing harm to yourself. For example, the young man we read about was out partying with prostitutes and hanging out with pigs. Sure, his father forgave him and accepted him when he came home, but while he was away from his father's protective home, who is to say he didn't pick up AIDS or trichinosis? Or maybe he became addicted to those substances he was using when he was doing all of that wild living. He finally came to his senses, but what did it cost him? And what is the price you will have to pay because of your time away from God?
God gives you rules and commandments because he loves you. You should be thankful to have a father who cares about His children in such a manner.
Now, let's finish the Bible account. It doesn't end with the party. Remember, there were two unthankful sons in this story: The one who left, and the one who stayed (Continued in Lesson 4).