I was reading the story of the lost (prodigal) son recently. Do you realize that there are two sons and two parts of the story? The story of the youngest son who leaves home always gets the publicity. However, this time the story of the older son who stayed at home grabbed my attention. Let me give you his story straight from Scripture as told by Jesus:
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (Luke 15:25-32 NIV)
The words of the father especially seized my attention, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."
First of all, isn't it interesting that the Father did not say, "I am always with you," but he said, "you are always with me." Do you see the difference? "I am always with you," suggests the father goes wherever the son goes. "You are always with me," states the opposite, the son travels or remains with the father. The father probably said it this way, because the father is the authority over the son.
But let's apply this difference to our relationship with God for a moment. Our role in our relationship with God is to be where God wants us to be, with him. However, in our selfishness we often claim that God is always with us no matter where we go, and there is some truth to that. But God wants us to be where he is and to do what he wants us to do. Read the story of Jonah in the book of Jonah. Without going into all the details of the story, as Jonah fled from God's desire for him to go to Nineveh, God was still with him, but he wasn't with God. Jonah was trying to run away from God. However, after he gets regurgitated by the large fish, he goes with God to Nineveh, and his preaching is a success, for Jonah now was with God.
Are we with the Father?
Secondly, it would seem that the son never really understood and valued all that he had. He didn't know what it was to be with his dad; he must not have enjoyed or cherished his father's presence. In verse 29 he perceived his father more as a slave master, and he, the son, as the slave. Nor did he value or understand his possessions. In that culture the oldest son received the birthright, twice the inheritance of any other child. So, the eldest son received twice the amount of the youngest. So, here is the oldest son complaining about never getting a goat to have a party with his friends, but all the goats are his. "Everything I have is yours." (The inheritance was divided when the youngest son left- vs. 12.)
This leads to two challenges or questions: 1) Why is it that we don't enjoy what we have until we lose it, or until someone else gets something "unfairly"? The oldest son didn't enjoy his father or his possessions until he thought his brother was getting something unfairly. 2) How can we celebrate someone's good blessings (physical, relational, or spiritual), if we don't know what we have and value what we have? The older son cannot get excited about his brother's return to his father; after all, the oldest son doesn't have any joy of being with his father. It seemed like the older son stayed home, not because he valued his dad or his inheritance, but because it was his "duty." "Duty" often drives or motivates the oldest child in a family.
Let's not fall to the oldest son effect. Let's treasure God our Father and be where he is, and let's greatly appreciate all he has for us.