Saturday morning was cold and wet, making our early morning dash to the farmer’s market less pleasant than usual. The last thing I was in the mood for, or expecting, was an incident on the wet pavement. Yet there we were, being yelled at by a very angry man. He was livid and we were speechless, for a few moments at least.
Now that I have your attention, I’ll go back to the beginning – our dash across the road, trying to get to the other side and under cover as fast as we could manage. We walked past a man with a sign, a man not unfamiliar to me, as we like to shop at the farmer’s market. Each time before I managed to give him a smile, a nod and make a quick getaway, trying to ignore the “please help, I have cancer” sign in his hands. But not this morning. I know the Voice and I know the consequence of ignoring the Voice. Sleepless nights, tortured prayers of repentance, wanting to kick myself, again…I have learned by experience that is it better to just stop and listen – much less painful to the flesh, I tell you.
So we go to the nearest cafe, buy the biggest latte and a filled roll and make our way back. By now some time have passed, we had to drop a mountain of veg off to the car, wait for the latte to be made, you know the drill. On our way to make our little delivery we pass another man, who wasn’t there before, huddled in a doorway, selling magazines. He comments on the latte, we give a friendly reply and kept walking, focused on what we were about to do, not noticing that we were being watched.
Our few short minutes spent with Brian was awesome. He gladly received our gift, told us about his cancer, the course of treatment and allowed us to pray with him. Looking into his friendly blue eyes as we talked made my day…connecting with another human like that is so precious.
Then, as we walked back past Mr Magazine, still on a high from spending a few unexpected moments on holy ground, he yelled at us. He was angry that we stopped to bless the one, he was hurling abuse and accusations. He told us in as many words that we were conned and that he too had cancer. I offered to pray for him too – no prizes for guessing how he responded to that idea!
Maybe we were lied to – that’s OK by me, it wouldn’t be the first time. Could be we were duped by a con-artist. No skin of my nose, we can spare the price of a coffee and a roll. What mattered was our obedience, but that’s a topic of another day.
As we walked away, trying to digest the events that unfolded, a story came to mind. Most of us would be familiar with the story in Luke 15. Younger, rebellious brother takes his inheritance and squanders it on wild living… older, responsible brother stays home and works his fingers to the bone… younger brother hits rock-bottom and comes back…father forgives him and throws a party…sums it up pretty much.
Then, a little show-down: “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” (Luke 15:25 – 32 MSG)
The sad thing is, the “older brother syndrome” is not just seen among broken and angry people as they trying to make their way in a very hostile and cold world.
Romans 12: 15 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” From my observations we are pretty good at mourning with those who mourn. It’s when something good happens to another that the ugly older brother in us rears his head. It’s when we pray with others for the salvation of our prodigals and theirs return, but ours are still wandering the desert places, that the smiles wear thin. What do we do with this stuff? When five people in the congregation lose their jobs, with no rescue in sight and another one gets a promotion with a huge pay rise, when three go forward for prayer for healing and one walks away, still crippled with pain? How do we guard our hearts when we are in church, hearing a testimony of answered prayer, while our own desperate cries seems to go unanswered? When it’s “YES” to someone else, and a resounding “NO” for me? Even harder – when God decides to shine His light on us, when we are singled out for great favor and suddenly our best buddy goes rogue on us, unable to deal with our spiritual promotion?
I think we struggle with these issues so much because we do not truly grasp the fact that there is no end to the Father’s love, the Father’s provision and the Father’s wisdom and that His timing is always perfect. The Father does not only know when to give good gifts to His children, but He also knows when to withhold that which we desperately want, for our own good. If we truly believed the He knew best and had it all in the palm of His hand, we would rest. If we truly believed that the Father gives good gifts to all His children and that His storehouses never runs dry, we would be more inclined to rejoice with others – the way He intended us to.
My prayer is that we would not only read the Word, but get a hold of every promise and understand that it is for us – each and every one who is in Christ. Our Father is faithful and true. He will never fail us, therefore we can celebrate another’s blessing and favor, knowing that our time will surely come. May we learn to be grateful for the yes, rest in His wisdom when it’s no and be patient in the wait.
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Psalms 119:89