Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Prodigal Worship (Part One)

This blog post was originally published last month on my friend Brandon Bradley's blog: Prodigal Preacher. As you might can tell from the title, the blog is built around Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son and the idea that we are all prodigals. Some of us have returned to the Father. Some of us may still be in the pig stye. Some of us may still be on the road in between the two. 

Brandon asked to contemplate what worship might look like within this well-known parable. After delving into the story again, I believe there is so much we can see about worship and praising God in this rich parable that Jesus told that I am breaking it up into two parts.

The story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15 is not really considered a "go-to" passage for studying worship, but it's in there. At first glance, we might grab onto verse 25 where the older son "heard music and dancing." They are singing and celebrating the return of the younger son. That's where the worship is taking place, right? I think it could be part of it, but the better picture of worship in this story is back in verses 17-20.

So we can clearly see an example of worship in this story, I want to start by giving you a working definition of worship. It can be defined as “an appropriate response to a revelation from God.” If that is true, how do we respond to God? How should we respond to God? James tells us if we are happy, we should “sing songs of praise” (James 5:13b). That is certainly an appropriate response to God. However, before we can sing songs of praise, the true worshipper responds to God in a very different way.

Let's look at the beautiful picture of worship that is presented in Isaiah chapter 6. The prophet Isaiah sees the Lord “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” surrounded by seraphim who are constantly declaring the holiness and majesty of the Lord (vs 1-3). When Isaiah witnesses this scene, what is his response? He does not immediately join in with the seraphim or burst out into joyful songs of praise. He falls to his knees in sorrowful repentance as a broken man. He cries out, “Woe to me...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips...” (vs 5).

I believe the picture of worship in the story of the prodigal son and the picture of our own worship when we embrace our “prodigal-ness” begins in verses 17-20 of Luke 15. In this scene, the son who has wandered from them father “comes to his senses” and returns to the father. He repents of his sin.

He is not a stranger to the father. He is his son. He lived in the same house for a number of years, so he is aware of the father’s character. He knows his father is gracious and loving. Perhaps this is why he thought his request to receive his inheritance early would be granted. However, the son is not fully aware of the depth of his father’s love or his tremendous willingness to lavish the son with love and forgiveness. In the depth of his sin and rebellion, he begins to reflect on his father’s character. He decides to repent, and to turn from his sinful lifestyle in order to return to his father.

Perhaps in his heart he heard his father saying, “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5). The younger son's act of worship in this story is his act of repentance and his humble return to his father. The father then responds to his son’s act of repentance and returning home by lavishing his son with love, forgiveness, and blessings.

What the son received from his father is what we receive when we turn from our own sin, rebellion, and self-absorption and return to God: “the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1:7-8). The father welcomed his son with open arms just as God welcomes us. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

This is such a beautiful picture of worship. But the younger son is not the only player in this story. What about the older brother? What does worship look like for him? We will look at the older brother in the next post.