The part that really got me, was his pointing out that the father ran to meet his son and forgave him before the son could even say anything. He didn't stand back and wait until his son said all of the right words, seemed repentant enough, cried enough tears. He ran and embraced his son before he could say a word. In Manning's words:
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I am moved that the [prodigal son's] father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was . . . We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up . . . we don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us . . . Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there . . . [He will say, like the prodigal's father,] “Hush, child. I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to.”
It is true that one can read the Bible over and over and still see something you never saw before. Such is the case with this story. Manning made me see the story in a whole new light, and it brought immense help and healing to my soul.
And it has happened again. I am reading the Revealing Jesus Devotional by Darlene Zschech in the morning. She has spent almost a whole week on the story of the prodigal son, and she brought out some new thoughts that encouraged and blessed me.
The one that stood out me the most was this, and goes a bit further than what Manning said: the son started into his spiel about not being worthy to be called a son and he could just be a servant. The Bible says "But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’"So the party began."
That doesn't fit the narrative I got most of my life. Granted, I was a vulnerable hurting teenager who thought no one liked me, and that I was deeply flawed. That bled over into my view of God, and I didn't believe that He liked or loved me. The preaching styles and some of the things said by ministers I heard in revival meetings, camp meetings, and even from my own pastors at times combined with other things in my life to give me a severely warped view of God and the process of becoming a Christian.
Whether they intended it or not, I heard:
God is reluctant to forgive you, and you must pray long and hard before He will forgive you.
You must pray out loud at the altar. Don't hang over it like a bag of feed and pray into your arm (A preacher actually used those exact words)
God is just waiting for you to mess up so He can get out His big white out bottle and blot your name out of the Book of Life.
The main reason to be a Christian is to avoid hell.
I totally missed the message that God loves me. I never heard the part that we have a God who throws a party when we come back to Him. My memory doesn't bring to mind any preacher saying God would run to meet us and forgive us without us saying all of the right words or groveling.
When we come to God, whether it be the first time or repenting after wandering or giving up for the umpteenth time; we don't have to grovel. He wants total surrender and repentance, not self hatred, self flagellation, promises, or long drawn out apologies. When there is an altar call, no one should have to be begged and threatened to go to the altar. A clear presentation of God and His love should be enough to draw us. And the battle should already be won when a person takes that step towards the altar.
I am not a fan of long altar calls, nor scary stories and 25 verses of Just As I Am. The message of the cross and the main message of Jesus is love. It isn't "serve me or you get hell", though that is a reality.... it is all about a God who became one of us, let Himself be crucified and killed for our sins; then rose again to give us life and hope.
Don't tell people scary stories to get them to the altar. Tell them to hurry up and come to pray, that God is waiting to throw a party in their honor. Tell them God is excited to forgive them, and He doesn't have to be begged for something He is willing to offer. This God wants to forgive us more than we want forgiven. He wants us to spend eternity in Heaven even more than we want it. He's waiting to throw us a party when we come back to Him.
I have wandered away many times. I have gotten discouraged and given up, tired of fighting battles I couldn't talk to anyone about or stand up in church and ask for prayer about. Any time that I came back to God, I felt I had to convince Him to take me back. I felt He forgave me grudgingly. I believed that I had to work my way back to a certain level of commitment and prove myself - similar to probation - before I was His child and He would answer my prayers or think much of me.
Yet that doesn't fit at all with this God who throws a party when one of His children come back to Him. It doesn't fit at all with a God who would go through everything He went through on this earth.
The message of the cross is that God loves us so much that He was willing to die in one of the worst ways possible to redeem us and give us an eternity with Him, that He runs to meet us more than halfway when we come to Him in repentance, and that He throws a party when one of His children returns.... and doesn't put us on probation, but welcomes us back as loved children.