I went to the ocean to be with God. Ironically, I was never much of a fan of the ocean growing up. But as I became aware of my own brokenness, I began to view the ocean as a representation of His love. With each crashing wave, He reminded me of His forgiveness. With each breeze of the saltwater air, I felt the comfort of the Father.
The ocean wind blew softly yet generously, as if calling out my name in a gentle whisper. I felt isolated yet free — alone but known. I stared out into the vastness of the waters; the birds above sang a song of worship in awe of the Creator. With my journal in my hand, I wrote down a sentence that still defines the state of my soul:
“I know my Creator, but I do not yet know why He created me.”
That was May 30th of last year.
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation I had with God on that Wednesday afternoon. I was in some small, Rastafarian town on some island I had been on for only three days at the time. I was with a small group of people I had never met before, not realizing they would soon become my closest friends. But now, nearly nine months later, I’m beginning to understand what God was speaking to me that Wednesday.
“Your’e the prodigal, Jake. Your’e the son who ran away from home. Come back home.”
Growing up, I never saw myself as the prodigal son; I was the son who stayed at home. Literally, actually. I didn’t party. I didn’t hang out with the “wrong crowd.” I was nice. I was quiet. Heck, I took my Bible to school and even took part in a Christian club in middle school. Prodigal son? C’mon, God. That ain’t me.
But beneath the facade of the “good Christian” I acted like was pharisaic Christianity and a depressed kid who dealt with his own personal sin, just as we all do. And just as the Pharisees did, I attempted to overcome sin with my own strength, all the while living a life of hypocrisy and trading Jesus for theology. And then something happened: I finally realized that Christianity is far more than understanding theological doctrines and dressing nice on Sundays. It’s a freaking incredible adventure full of beauty, risk, love, and life. And it was that realization that led me to that ocean side conversation, which made me realize that I have spent years running away from God as I attempted to overcome sin by my own strength.
God can’t chase after someone who never left.
Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that we all fall short of the glory of God; we have all ran away from the Creator, seeking satisfaction, purpose, and fulfillment in something or someone apart from Him. And, with this, we have all subsequently created a false self. John Eldredge says that, “the true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails.”
There comes a point in a man’s life where he gets tired of living as the false self. He gets tired of faking it — of trying to keep God in a box. He gets tired of trying to create his own image of himself, rather than the image God has already created Him in. There comes a point in which he must come to his senses, as in Luke 15:17, and return to the Father. The Father waits for His return. Sadly, however, most never return. Maybe they believe they are too far gone for God to love them. Maybe they believe they will eventually find satisfaction and meaning in something/someone other than God. My heart aches for those people, yet even still, I find myself believing those lies in my everyday life.
Recently, I began wondering why sin separates us from God. I had this notion growing up that it was God who caused the separation — He didn’t like my sin, and so He would leave. Perhaps this is why I struggled with giving Him my sins and burdens to carry; I was worried He would leave. However, as I look at the Genesis story, I realize that it was Adam and Eve who ran from God. Out of fear, the two abandoned the only One who loved and cared for them and they hid in shame. I now know this is exactly the Enemy’s goal for sin — to create separation. Where as God created us for relationship, Satan’s goal is to cause separation between our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves. And he accomplishes this through shame.
In Luke 15, the prodigal son, who had sinned greatly against his father and did not consider himself worthy to be accepted, decided to run back to the very one he had left. To his surprise, the father joyfully welcomed him, throwing a party to commemorate the day.
Not all of our hurt is caused by our own sin. The sins of others, the lies of Satan, and this world we live in all cause wounds in our lives. And just as physical wounds need healing, so do spiritual ones. I thank God for my scars; they remind me that God heals the broken.
We live in a world that is captivated by the now. Starbucks. Fast food. Google. We want everything right now, and we become agitated when this doesn’t happen. But God doesn’t work this way; He uses a process that is so intricately woven into the beauty and adventure of life that it can only be described as perfect. With each new season comes new opportunities for growth and maturity. The world may offer what seems like fulfillment, but just like the fruit that Satan deceived Adam and Eve to eat, it is all a distortion of the true fulfillment God has for us.
God started a process in me many years ago, and it is moments such as that ocean side conversation that reveal to me the true majesty and nature of God. He is a loving Father who fights the Evil One so that we may all return to Him. He has freed me from the shackles of my sin; so why do I insist on putting back on the shackles?
We are all the prodigal son. No matter how far we run away, the father is awaiting our return.
“But while [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
— Luke 15:20