Description – Part 2 of a 6 part series on the 12 Steps as a Spiritual Discipline
When I was a kid, and I do not remember how old I was but I was still in grade school, I ran away from home. I ‘ran away’ to a former neighbor’s home that had moved one street over from the street I lived on.
I remember hiding under the bed in one the children’s rooms and having the mom and the kids trying to get me out from underneath it. A phone call was made to my home and eventually I ended up back at home (and I cannot remember if I rode my bike home or my dad came to get me).
My parents, especially my dad, were extremely irate with me. And he let me know in no uncertain terms that the consequence of my actions was to be grounded to my short street of 7 houses for a week! I have no doubt that today such actions would probably trigger an ‘Amber Alert’ and generate a great deal of media coverage because of the tragic results when a young child or teen runs away or is abducted.
In our main text for this morning, we have a young man who intentionally and knowingly runs away. He runs away from his family, he runs away from his friends, he runs away from love, he runs away from responsibility, and he runs away from himself. (At least for a little while.) Ultimately, as the real meaning of the story unfolds, he runs away from the Father.
This is the second sermon in a 6 part series, ’12 Steps to God’s Way of Living.’ It began last week with a Biblical examination of two important first steps that we can take to live life God’s way. (Overhead 1)
Step 1 is the step of admission: We admitted we were powerless over our rut, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2 is the step of belief: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We read in Hebrews 11:6 “Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” This verse is an important verse to understand, remember, and believe because for us to get out of our ruts, we have to believe that God is and that He wants us to live victoriously in life.
This verse is also important for this morning as we learn the next two steps to God’s way of living. For if, we believe that God is; that He does exist; and that He cares about us and for us, then we can take them with a greater confidence and faith. (Overhead 2)
Step 3 is the step of surrender: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the power of God, as we understood Him.
Step 4 is the step of taking stock: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
A familiar Bible story illustrates how one person took these two steps and the results that happened as a result. It is the story of the lost or prodigal son.
Some of us this morning perhaps see ourselves in the father’s role. We have a child or a friend that has wandered far away from the faith and relationships of their childhood. We are anxious and we are concerned about their lives and their choices. Our hearts are heavy and understandably so.
Some of us here this morning do not see ourselves in the father’s role. We do not have a friend or family member ‘out there’ away from God and faith, stuck in a rut. We are aware that we are the lost son the prodigal son, we are far away from what is really right and true and real. Our rut has got us in a bind and we have awoke to the truth, like the son did, that it is better back at home with the Father. However, how do we get there from here?
Again, I give credit where credit is due for the outlines of this series. They are based on the work of Pastor Marty Grubbs from Oklahoma City who freely gave them to pastors after a conference here in Northeast Indiana two years ago.
One of my colleagues the other day said to me that this story, this parable, really illustrates all 12 Steps. I told him that at some point, this passage of scripture would be the main text and here it is!
Some time back I preached a sermon based on a question that came to my mind one day as I read this passage of scripture, ‘From what was the prodigal running?’ And it is a question that I think others have asked as well because this son seemed to have it all and did not need anything.
It would be interesting to have a panel discussion on this passage with a social worker, a psychologist, a teacher, and a minister. I could hear a case for the son leaving because the dad (and maybe the older brother) was cramping his lifestyle and he needed to get out on his own. On the other hand, a case could be made that there was severe conflict between the two sons and dad, or the two sons only, or between the older son and the father and that, the younger one decided that he had had enough and wanted out. And I could almost guarantee that one of our panel members would argue that he needed to leave because he needs to become his own person.
But, let’s consider the following factors as we go back through the text because Jesus is making a point about being ‘lost’ about being in a ‘rut’ and Jesus shows us what led to the son’s troubles:
First, he was arrogant as we read in Luke 15:12 “Father, I want my share of your estate now…” Arrogance is an attitude that can create problems for us RIGHT NOW! And the son begins to dig his rut because arrogance sets him up with an ego that will blind him to things that leads him away from the father. (By the way, ego means Edging God Out.)
Just like David, as we learned last week, the son’s arrogance pushed aside all thoughts of others and left only his agenda at the center of his soul. To paraphrase Bob Buford, his own agenda was ‘in the box.’ Arrogance is one of a set of attitudes that will enable us to start digging a hole for our self that leads us to ruts.
A second factor was the issue of control. We read in verse 13 ‘A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land…’
Now control is not a bad thing. One of the Fruits of the Spirit, (evidence of a God centered life) as we read in Galatians 5:22 is ‘self-control.’ However, control here has to do with assuming the role, as someone has said, ‘of being the manager of the universe.’ That’s God’s role, not ours.
And this younger son exercised this kind of control. And it was presumptuous on his part because the younger son, in that day and age, had little or no rights to property and wealth, at least while the father was still living! However, his attitude was, “I am going to live my life my way and do what I want and I am going to call the shots and if you don’t like it, fine!”
The next factor was the issue of bad decisions. We read further in verse 13 “…and there he wasted all his money on wild living.” How many of us here this morning have never made a bad decision? I made one about the Fiesta Bowl. I rooted against my native OSU Buckeyes and for Notre Dame! That was a bad decision!
Think about a bad decision that you recently made…. Have it in mind? Was it a decision that you rushed to make? Did you make it under emotional stress? Did you make it in anger, were you mad?
We have all made decisions that were bad ones, even when we had all the facts and made it with a clear head. But this son, was making bad decisions with a bad attitude and his rut was getting deeper and deeper faster and faster!
A fourth factor in the son’s situation was a bad economy. We read in verse 14 ‘About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.’
Now, you might be thinking at this point, ‘Jim what in the world does a bad economy have to do with this young man’s problem?’ It is an environmental issue. Let me explain what I mean.
Have you ever entered a place that has made you uncomfortable? Then after leaving that place gone either home or somewhere else and felt comfortable?
Have you ever worked in an environment that really stood against what you believed? It was hard to be there, right?
Well, let’s look at this son’s environment for a moment. It was filled with partying, wild partying. Most likely, there was sexual situations and even some form of alcohol present. (Some of us here know about that kind of environment.)
It was not a good environment because his judgment, already clouded with resentment, ego, anger, entitlement, and a whole host of other things, created a situation that left him internally weakened. So, when the famine hit, it made his rut deeper and bigger because all of his choices to this point left him powerless.
And this powerlessness brings him to the point of humiliation. We read in verse 16 “The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him.’
Because of where we live, in a small town and surrounded by farmland, and the fact that some of us grew up on a farm, we know what it is like around the pig’s trough, don’t we? It is uuuuuuugly! The thought of eating those pods turns our stomach.
The boy had hit bottom. He had violated one of his faith’s most deeply held values of not associating with swine because they were unclean animals. Yet here he was, feeding the pigs and wishing how he could eat with them!
Our ruts, our unaddressed problems and issues, do that to us, don’t they? They put us in the mire and muck of life to the point we are wallowing in a mess.
It is now so bad for this young man, once rich and proud; he had a father, a family, warm clothes, and food on the table. He had a life. He now has nothing. Our ruts, our choices, our addictions do that to us. They leave us powerless and debilitated.
Now we can be in a rut and still live well. But the inside of us is miserable and dark. Emotionally we are where this young man ended up. And it is just as painful and serious as if we were physically in the barnyard.
Then we come to verse 17 and we read the first words of hope in this story. ‘When he finally came to his senses,’ He has hit bottom and in his bottom dwelling thinking he begins to think, ‘Maybe I can go back home and live like a servant, they have enough food to eat.’
But it is bad thinking, misguided thinking. It is denial. He has forgotten that he is still (although he does not feel like it) someone’s son. He thinks, as we read in verse 19, ‘I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.’
Therefore, he makes the decision to go home to his dad and in making that decision, he makes three key decisions:
- He decided that enough is enough.
- He decided to return to the father.
- He decided to place his future in his father’s hands.
He has taken, if you will, this third step toward God’s way of living. He decided to place himself in the father’s hands. It is a risk because he has been gone for a while and he does not know if his father will take him back even as a hired hand.
Now I stopped between verses 19 and 20 and I thought about the journey home. What went on during his journey home? The text says he went to a distant land. We do not know how far ‘distant’ means. It could have been in the next country over or across the seas. We do not know how long it took him to come home. He had no money. He probably had to either work for enough to pay his way home or beg, borrow, or perhaps steal.
Maybe it took him a month, a year, or a decade. We don’t know but I think that we can say given the mode and speed of travel in those days, it took him awhile.
This makes me wonder if he didn’t do the equivalent of a Step 4 on his way home. (Overhead 4)
I wonder if he did not take stock of his life as he journeyed back home. This important step requires three things: courage, honesty, and trust.
The son would have to have the courage to face the truth about his actions and decisions. He had started to do that and I believe that in the journey back home that courage was strengthened to the point that he could face his father humbly instead of how he left him.
Then he needed to be honest about what he had done in a couple of ways: First, emotionally. He needed to own and admit to his own emotions, whatever they were. Easier, I believe for women than for men.
Second, behaviorally. He needed not to let denial keep him from being honest about what he had done. You call a spade a spade and tell it like it is.
Third, relationally. He needed to be honest about what his decisions and actions had done to his relationships, especially his primary ones. He could not deny that he had fractured them.
Then this young man needed to re-build trust in himself and allow trust in him to be re-built as well. He needed to become a trustworthy person again.
How does that happen? Three important things take place:
Number one is: Clean out the closet – take a personal moral inventory. In Lamentations, 3:40 we read ‘Let us test and examine our ways.’ That takes courage, honesty, and trust because who among us, likes to look at our dirty laundry? We would rather look at somebody else’s dirty laundry wouldn’t we?
We clean out our closets, we clean out our attics, we clean out our garages, we clean out our gutter, and we clean out our cars. We need to learn the valuable step in cleaning out our lives. We need this step to live life God’s way.
We read in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you…’
That’s a hard thing to do, right? But when you are looking at the back side of the pigs in your life and then begin to wonder, ‘What did I do to get here and how can I get out,’ this kind of soul searching honesty and reflection help us begin to clean out the closet of our soul and get honest with God.
Number two is: Stop the Blame, Deny and Avoid Game! We read in Proverbs 20:27, “The Lord gave us a mind and a conscience. We cannot hide from ourselves.”
What is the greatest pastime for most people? Blaming and judging. They are both the same in some ways, but they are two things that we love to do.
We love to judge others so we can feel better about ourselves and we love to blame others so we can justify our actions.
I have done a fourth step inventory. In fact, I have done two fourth step inventories. One was to a friend of many years ago, who told me about his addictions and problems and who introduced me to a great book on the 12 Steps and how they can help us grow in our faith. (It is called A Hunger for Healing and is written by Keith Miller.)
As I read Miller’s book and started to do the exercises, I realized, and painfully so, that I had some moral housecleaning to do. Whew! Hard to do.
And the main reason that it was hard was because I had to stop blaming others for my unhappiness and problems. I had to take responsibility for my actions and my thoughts and my feelings and I had to admit they were mine.
But you know what happened? The bottom did not drop out. I was still standing on solid earth. I did not change into a pumpkin or some weird creature. (I was still the same crazy guy that I am today!) But, there was a peace that I had not felt in a long, long time. I felt like I had rejoined the human race and really had people who cared about me and that I really cared about! I also felt reconnected to the Lord for the first time in a long time.
One of my favorite lines in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA is this one, ‘When we are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest with ourselves and with God.’
We have to stop playing the ‘blame, deny, and avoid game.’
Finally, you have to let God do the deep cleaning. Again, Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you…’
This step is about confession and repentance. It is about admitting the truth about ourselves. (The good and the bad.) It is about being truly sorry for what we have done wrong and really, really wanting to change. It is about really accepting the forgiveness of God for our sins and truly letting the Holy Spirit do this deeper work of changing us.
But, to do so, requires us to really let the Holy Spirit talk to us (and for us to listen to Him) and take our time in admitting the truth about ourselves. (Overhead 5)
I learned two questions as I took this step that I still ask myself when I notice that I am starting to be impatient, lack faith, or experience anxiety:
- What or who do you resent? We need to bring our resentments out into the open and deal with them. By facing my resentments, admitting to their existence, and choosing to let them go, a lake of poison drained out of my heart.
- What or who do you fear? Our fears drive us to do things that we would otherwise not do. They need to be addressed and acknowledged because they are used against us by Satan to keep us in bondage.
We read in 2 Timothy 1:7, ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity but of power, love, and self-discipline.’ Taking these steps will allow this spirit of ‘power, love, and self-discipline’ to begin to develop.
At the beginning of our time together this morning I quoted Hebrews 11:6, “Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” This is critical if we truly want to live the life that God created us to live. It is especially critical when we choose to take the third and fourth steps because our concept of God determines our course of action. Why is that Jim? Because if we have trouble believing in God, how can we believe He can help us get out of the ruts that we have dug in our lives?
In his book, A Hunger For Healing, Keith Miller shares a situation that illustrates the challenge for those who want to get out of their life’s ruts. It was an observation of a conversation between a newcomer to a 12 Step group that Miller was in and a long-time member of the group.
The new member said, ‘No way I’m going to turn my life over to God! He’d ruin me- and I’d deserve it!’ Miller went onto say that this man viewed God as a ‘giant policeman’ and that he had not had good relations with the police. The old timer, after listening to him, fired back, ‘You ought to fire that God; you ought to fire him! You’ve got the wrong God for this program, friend’ and went on to describe the God who cares and wants to help and that he had to fire such a God that had been described.
This brings me back to the risk that the son had to take in going home. He had to trust that his father would take him back even as a hired hand. He did not believe that he could return as his son.
But the father, as we movingly read, took him back in a moment after the son honestly confessed! Luke 15:21 through 24 reads, ‘His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “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. And kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. We must celebrate with a feast, 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.
This God is the father in this story. We are the lost son and the father is looking down the road for us to come home!
I believe that the God of the Bible is a God who is the right God for each of us. I believe that Jesus Christ is there for each of us to help us turn around and go the right direction in life. I believe that with all my heart and my life this morning!
Where do you place yourself in this story? Are you on the run? It’s not too late to turn around. Take the steps of admission, belief, surrender, and taking stock. Come home before it gets worse. The father wants you home!
Are you out there, in the muck and mire and wondering how do I get out of this mess? Take the steps of admission, belief, surrender, and taking stock. Get out of denial! The father wants you home!
Are you on your way home and wondering what you are going to say to those that you have betrayed? Keep coming home and do the closet cleaning that you need to do and be ready to be rigorously honest with God, yourself, and one other human being. The father wants you home. Amen
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA, © 1953 by AA.
A Hunger for Healing. © 1991 Keith Miller p. 50