Coming Back To God Before Anyone Knows You Are Away
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, Luke 15:13
“I just heard something horrible. Pastor _______________ just resigned his church. I heard it had something to do with a moral failure in his life. In fact, I heard some of the most awful things I have ever heard in my life. I feel like I was just hit by a truck. How could this have happened to him?”
Do you remember the day you heard the awful news about that person you respected so deeply? Maybe it was me. Maybe it was somebody else; your pastor, a youth director, a close friend, a relative,or some preacher for whom you held great respect. You were deeply hurt, and extremely confused. You had such a high regard for that individual and it was difficult for you to accept that they had failed the Lord.
You just never thought it could happen to them.
How Did It Happen?
May I ask you a question? Why are you reading this book? Curious? Searching? Concerned?
Perhaps, you are reading it because you are hurt by the failures of someone like me, who failed the Lord, and you are hoping to find the answer as to why it happened to them. Maybe, you are reading it merely out of curiosity; or you are reading it because you were one of those who failed the Lord and hurt many others in the process.
When something like this happens, many things begin to go through our minds. We wonder if they deceived us into believing they were genuine when in reality maybe they were phony. Sometimes, we even begin to doubt our own faith. Our hurt often becomes more of a personal matter than a spiritual matter. In other words, it is less about the affect it had on the Lord and more about the personal effect it had on us.
Do yourself a favor, and approach this chapter in a different manner than you have any of the chapters before it? Would you search your own heart as you read these words, and ask the Lord to convict you of any sin that may be in your own life? I hope you will. I am going to attempt to explain in this chapter why what happened to me and to others like me could already be happening in some measure to you.
In our story there is something very interesting that took place.The son came to his father one day and asked for the father to give him what was rightfully his. Yet, we see that there were several days that passed between that time and the time that he actually left. Oh,do not be mistaken. He was already gone, but no one yet knew except of course, the father. The father knew He felt something change in his son and he sensed it even if the rest of those in the household did not.
There were three signs that the son was already away from the father before anyone else even knew it.
First, he obviously had become self willed. It became about him, rather than about his relationship with his father. Suddenly, he wanted to have what would one day be his, BUT did not care about the blessing of the father. He got the ‘’Stuff,’’ but he forfeited the blessings.
Secondly, he was willing to settle for less than all that could have been his. He wanted the sex without the marriage. He wanted the fruit without the tree. He wanted the blessings without the responsibility. Sin always leads to settling.
Thirdly, he had developed a sense of entitlement; “I deserve these blessings,” became his philosophy. Later, we would see that same sense of entitlement in the elder brother, but now we see it in the son. He has not left home yet, but his heart is far from his father.
I really did not realize how far away from the Lord I had fallen until my life had been overtaken by sin. By then, it felt like it was almost too late to salvage me. Oh,I knew that there were sins in my life that should not have been there, but I never saw how serious a threat they were to me and to those I loved.
Sin was not exceeding sinful to me any more. Do you know why? It was because there were too many other things that were more important to me than being pure in the sight of God. I was addicted to some things that in and of themselves do not seem sinful, but when they are allowed to take center stage, become poisonous to the spiritual welfare of a Christian. Let me tell you about a few of these. You may recognize them.
These became the things for which I lived.They became the things that dominated my life and many of my actions. Yes,I know some of the sins you probably heard I had committed, but these are some of the ones you did not hear about. These are the sins that set the stage for the others. These were the appetizers that set the course of things to come. They were the introduction to my book of failures.
Does this sound strange to you?
Allow me to explain.
Sin is anything that replaces the purest motive of pleasing the Lord!!!
In other words, it is no longer about the father. It is about you just like the prodigal. No one knows it yet but you are always already.
What motivates you? I do not mean, what motivated you when you began to serve the Lord. I am referring to what motivates you at this stage of your Christian life. What is it that you are striving to attain or obtain?The answer to that question will reveal everything about where you are headed. Be honest with yourself. Perhaps you have memorized your patented answers to that question for so long that you believe it is still true. But, is it? Dig deep and be honest.
If the honest answer to that question is anything other than to please the Lord, you are already away from the Lord. How far you wander away from Him will be determined by how strong those wrong motives become.
Long before I fell into the horrible sins you heard about, I fell into the sin of a motive that was not pure before the Lord. That is where it all begins. It is like a cancer that begins to grow and destroy your body. At first it cannot be seen by anyone, but secretly within it is doing terrible damage. If left untreated, it can destroy you.I am a testimony to that fact.
Everything in your life is determined by the motives of your heart. Unless your deepest heart’s desire is to please the Lord, you.are on downward slide into sin. It matters not, what you once wanted; it matters what you want now. The motives of your spiritual adolescence may have been pure, but what about the motives of the seasoned Christian you are today? Are those motives pure, or have others fought their way into preeminence? Maybe it is time for a spiritual check-up.
I was sixteen years old when God reached down and took hold of my heart. Oh, how I wanted to please Him. I was so tender to those things I did that were not pleasing to Him.The slightest moving of the Spirit within brought conviction and repentance.I ached in my soul when I disappointed the Master. Every act of service was a work of love and devotion. I had an overwhelming hunger for God.
I remember how I rejoiced whenever the Lord used me to reach a soul with the Gospel. I thrilled at knowing He was rejoicing over that one I had pointed to Him.My greatest desire was to please Him. I cared little of other people’s opinion of me. My life was His.
I loved to preach. After a great service with the power of the Holy Spirit in evidence, I would go alone and rejoice with the Lord that He had used me in a way that was glorifying to Him. He was the motivation for everything I did. I so wanted to please Him.
One day I tasted the artificial flavor of praise. It was good. I liked it. Slowly but surely I began to taste all of these other things that were meant to be only superficial rewards of my devotion to Him. They were tasty and there was nothing wrong with them as long as I did not seek them. Tragically they became a greater and greater part of my diet until I finally developed an appetite for them.
Tragically, I began wanting the portion of my goods but not the full measure of the blessings of God. That is a sure sign that you are away from the Father already.
As I allowed that appetite to increase I became so full of myself that I had little appetite left for the Lord. Oh,I still talked like I did, but it was only talk. The hunger to please Him had diminished without my realizing what had happened obtain filled with what pleased me rather than with what pleased Him.
It’s interesting! I did the same things out of habit that I had once done out of love. The delights of His pleasure had become the duties of my pleasure.The rewards of obedience were replaced with the need for evidences of success. What once were acts of faith were replaced by actions demanding predetermined results.
What others thought of those results became more important than what the Lord thought of the obedience.God’s pleasure at my devotion became a competition for man’s attention. The prices of sacrifice for God’s glory became the price of measurable evidences of success. I gauged my actions by what the response of men would be rather than what the response of God would be. I outwardly gave Him the credit even as I was basking in the glory for myself.
I did not talk different. I just thought different.I still rejoiced over the successes for the work of the Lord, but not because it was for the glory of the Lord. I was away from the Lord even though no one yet knew it. I did not move away from Him into terrible sin as men see it, but I had failed Him desperately. I no longer was living my life to please Him. Everything else deteriorated from there.
That is where it began. That is where it always begins.You see,when you no longer live to please Him,you no longer see sin for what it does to Him. You judge it for what it does to you.
Let me explain.
Most people commit only the sins that they think will not hurt them. We do not commit adultery because that would hurt us, so we just watch others commit it on television, even though that hurts Him.
We would go to jail if we killed someone, so we just destroy other people’s reputations by slandering or spreading juicy gossip about them. That may not appear to hurt us but it hurts our Lord.
We live our lives by a standard of consequences. Sin to us becomes what causes serious or adverse consequences, not what violates the Holiness of God. We avoid it to protect ourselves not to honor and bring pleasure to Him. Can you not see that all of this is the beginning of seeking our own pleasure rather than His? That is what leads to all those sins we think we could never commit. We are well on our way towards them long before we ever realize it.The flesh has already gained a stronghold.
Oh, don’t be deceived.We do not really know what we are capable of doing because we do not know how wicked we really are. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9) Desperately? It is like the drug addict whose addiction creates desperation to get the next fix. What would they do to get it? They would do whatever it takes. I was no different. Are you? I sought my “fix” in ways I never thought I would.
There comes a time, when even our obedience is based on the effect it has on us, rather than the pleasure it brings to God. Our modesty and even our service to God is limited by the openness of the situation we are in. When we are in secret, we are much less concerned with those very same things. Obedience is not a way of life, but rather, it is a way of maintaining our position or status among others.
We now seek our own satisfaction for the things we once did, purely out of a desire to satisfy Him. That is the danger of living in the midst of a Christian community like the church. Without even knowing it, we begin to live for the status of that community rather than for the pleasure of the Lord.
When your holiness before your God, no longer causes you discomfort, you are dangerously close to losing the purity of your motives. When you judge your life by what is acceptable to the Christians you are around, you are losing sight of living your life for His pleasure. If a great majority of your service to God does not go unnoticed, you are precariously close to serving for your satisfaction rather than the Lords.
Let me share with you a few telltale signs that you are in this condition.
You praise the Lord in public more than you do in private.
You talk more about spiritual things with people than you think about them when you are all alone.
Your prayers in public are more intense than your prayers in private.
You work harder in your Christian service to win a prize in a contest than you do to please the Lord.
You seek compliments for your preaching, and they become your gauge for how well you did.
You prepare sermons for response more than for their truth.
The style of your performance becomes more consuming than the substance.
You work harder on your sermon outline than you do on the purity of your heart.
You are jealous of the success of others.
You are competitive with others for their status, when you feel they are getting more recognition or credit than you.
You want everyone to know the sacrifices you made in the work you performed.
You think more about what others think of you than you do about what the Lord thinks of you.
You go to the altar to make something right with the Lord when there are many others moving, but never when you would seem noticed because others are not responding.
Most of your ministry become the things which are done in the sight of others rather than out of the sight of men.
You are impressed with yourself for the things you are doing, “for the Lord.”
You have begun to see the inadequacies in others much clearer than you see the ones in yourself.
You hunger to be in the security of the Christian crowds more than you hunger to be alone with the Lord.
I could go on and on with these things, but by now I hope you are getting the idea.Your life simply has become dominated by motives other than pleasing the Lord. The Flesh has already begun to overpower you and you do not even know it. You are not involved in any gross sins, so you think that you are fine. However, the stage is set for a fall. Certain sins become comfortable. Things that offend the holiness of God become fodder for your humor. Conviction Over sin becomes an occasional fear of falling. The thought of His pleasure seldom crosses your mind as you go about “living for Him.” You are living in the convenience of a Christian life that is seldom brought to an agonizing need for prevailing prayer for victory over the flesh.
Need I go further? Can I? Oh, yes.
Do you break out in tears of conviction when you read His Word, and see how Holy He is, and how unworthy you are?
Do you weep over sins that others regard as trite, or do you now accept them in yourself?
Do you rejoice more over the contest prize than you do over the thought of having a crown to cast at His precious feet?
Do you weep with His burden over souls or do you go out soul winning to fulfill your duty?
Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness?
Do you agonize in sorrow and Godly repentance when you know you have done something to disappoint the Lord?
Is your Salvation sweeter today than it was yesterday, or have you even thought about it lately?
Do you understand now what happened to me, or that one who so disappointed.you? They wandered away from the Lord, and then they fell into the sin or sins that so disappointed you. It all began when that which had once been done for His pleasure, was now being done for other reasons. The appetite of pleasing Him was replaced with the appetite of pleasing self. They were the same actions, but with a different motive.
David fell into terrible sin, but before he fell, the purity of his motives had already begun to deteriorate. Listen to his prayer of confession and repentance.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Psalm 51:6-12
Maybe no one knows that you have wandered away. There is no scandal. All seems well with you, but in your heart of hearts, you know you are away from God. You no longer have that burning desire to please the Lord. You do not know Him like you once did. Come home.
Come home, before you lose the fear of sin that prevents you from falling.
Come home, before you quit serving the Lord out of the emptiness and frustration that comes from serving self.
Come home, before you wake up in the arms of sinful vices.
Come home, before your testimony has been ruined by desperate wickedness.
Come home, before you forfeit the opportunities that still are before you.
Come home, before your family is in shambles and disgraced by your actions.
Come home, before the people who once admired you, look at you with disappointment and even contempt.
Come home, before your name evokes snickers rather than respect.
Come home, before you face the moment where you wonder if taking your life would be better, even easier, than facing the consequences of your sins.
Dear friend, PLEASE, come home, before anyone knows you are away.