Note: This post is part of a series about building a personal relationship with God by reading the parables of Jesus. You can browse the entire series here.
When I was growing up, I had a wrong view of my dad.
I thought his discipline and guidance meant that he was strict and mean.
One day, I was doing yard work with my dad in the front yard of our house. My dad started mowing the lawn, and when the lawnmower bag filled up, he took it across the street to dump out the grass. But before he went, he gave me clear instructions not to go near the lawnmower, which was still running. He even repeated himself to make sure his instruction was clear.
Although I agreed with him outwardly, I didn’t agree on the inside. I thought that one of my dad’s chief jobs in life was to prohibit my fun, so I figured that he must not have wanted me to go near the lawnmower because something cool would happen.
As soon as my dad turned away, I ran up to the lawnmower. and put my hand under it. It didn’t hurt at first, so I moved my hand higher. Before I knew it, my hand hit the blades. I was bleeding everywhere and wound up in the emergency room getting stitches.
My dad had been looking out for me the whole time, while I accused him in my mind of standing in the way of my joy.
Just like in this example, much of the reason I misunderstood my dad growing up was because I thought so much about myself. I wanted to have fun, so I wasn’t going to let my dad get in the way of that.
I was what many call “entitled” – I believed I deserved to get what I wanted just because I wanted it. This led me to see my dad not as a person or relationship. I saw him as either someone who could get me what I wanted or someone who got in the way of what I wanted. I couldn’t be grateful for or appreciate who my dad really was because I was so focused on myself.
I have found that it is very easy to misunderstand God in the same way. At times I have seen God as a roadblock who stands in the way of me having fun or as a resource who is just supposed to give me what I want.
Our view of God matters, because when we see God in the wrong way, we won’t want to listen or talk to him. We won’t be able to appreciate his care for us.
Luckily, our view of God can change. The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is an incredible story about who God really is and about two sons who had an entitled attitude and needed to change their view of him.
God is incredibly generous, loving and caring. Even when we misunderstand him, use him, or hurt him, his love for us remains unchanged. When we understand who God really is we will want to have a close relationship with him.
In this devotional, we will ask ourselves a few questions to reflect on how we view God so we can understand who he really is.
Do I see myself or do I see God?
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.Luke 15:11-12 NLT
In this story, Jesus introduces us to a man (who represents God) and his two sons. We can learn a lot about our view of God from how the sons see their father. As we see the younger son tell his father that he wants his share of the estate, even though it still very clearly belongs to the father, we learn that this son sees his father as a resource. He doesn’t see his father as a person or a relationship, but as someone who should give him what he wants (money) on demand.
Why does the son view the father that way? The younger son is focused on himself and what he can get from his father. His wants consume him, not his relationships. He has an attitude of “You owe me because I’m me,” which is the epitome of entitlement. By definition, entitlement means “feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want without having to work for it or deserve it, just because of who you are.”
Entitlement hurts our view of God because it turns him into a resource. God does want to provide for us; the father is still generous to the son in this story, just as God is with us. But God is more than a resource. He wants a relationship with us. The son’s entitlement doesn’t stop the father from loving him, but that entitlement does affect the way the son views and treats his father.
As I mentioned in my story earlier, I grew up with the mentality that “I deserve something just because I want it.” This self-focused mentality has crept into my relationship with God.
When I became a Christian in college, I was very grateful to have my life changed. God freed me from the sins I was imprisoned by, and he gave me a greater purpose for my life than I had ever found on my own. However, my relationship with God was still very one-sided. It was all about me. My prayers were self-centered; they were all about my needs, my worries, and my wants.
God absolutely wants to know what we’re feeling, but he also wants a relationship. Having a relationship with God means we also consider and care about him.
I thought that if you did the minimum requirements of attending church services, then you should be left alone to do what you wanted to do with the rest of your time. Rarely, if ever, did I consider God’s feelings or wants, much less other people’s. I ended up using God, only seeing a need for him when I needed help with something like a big test coming up. Otherwise, I would ignore God.
Like the younger son, I liked what I could get from God but kept my distance to do my own thing when I had the chance.
How our view of God can change
Let’s take a look at what the younger son did after his father generously gave him what he wanted:
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.
The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’Luke 15:13-19 NLT
The younger son gets what he wants and then distances himself from his father. But eventually the son learns that this distance has consequences, and his perspective on his father changes. He comes to his senses and starts appreciating his father. His focus shifts from himself to their relationship.
Similarly, my view of God began to change when I had a “come-to-my-senses” moment. One time in particular as a young Christian I remember spending time with a friend from high school. I caved in to temptation and we got high, which was something I had stopped doing because of its destructive effect on my life and relationships with God and people. It was a terrible experience and I felt guilty the entire time.
I tried to keep this experience a secret from my spiritual friends, but eventually I couldn’t live with the lie anymore. When I was honest about what I had done, I realized that my sin had affected God personally. God had given me so many good things (a relationship with him, forgiveness, purpose, and new friendships) and yet I still made a decision to be selfish and not care about the relationship.
And yet, although I had hidden and lied, God was incredibly forgiving and gracious. He didn’t hold my sin over my head. Oddly enough it was admitting my sins and seeing God’s response to me that helped to change my entitled view of God from a resource to a relationship.
Pause and reflect:
- Do you think you are more self-focused or God-focused?
- The way to tell is to reflect on what consumes your mind the most in a given day. Are your thoughts centered around you and your wants? Or on your relationships with God and others?
- What are some things you have been experiencing in your life that could help you “come to your senses” and appreciate your relationship with God?
Do I see a God who values my performance or my presence?
One amazing thing that happens when we change our perspective from self-focused to God-focused is we begin to understand God’s heart for us in a new way. God just wants us to be present in the relationship, not perfect. This is what the younger son realizes when he comes to his senses:
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 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. 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.”Luke 15:20-24 NLT
It’s moving to see the father’s heart towards his younger son. I love how he notices his son while the son is still a long way off. The father is looking for his son, eagerly anticipating that one day he would return! The fact that the father runs to his son as soon as he catches a glimpse of him tells us that the most important thing to God is our presence, not our performance.
God’s love for us is so enormous that he’s willing to forgive us for any sins we have committed towards him. It doesn’t matter how entitled, selfish, or proud we’ve been. He doesn’t care about making a point to us as much as he cares about our presence. He wants our relationship and loves it when we want a relationship with him too.
This reminds me of the story I shared earlier. I did something I said I’d never do again: used drugs and got high with a friend. I was not only guilty but also ashamed, embarrassed, and disappointed in myself. I had violated a promise I had made to God and myself.
And yet, when I prayed honestly to God about what I had done and read this passage of the Bible, my guilt was changed to gratitude and my humiliation turned into healing. I learned that God cared more about our relationship being close than he did about making me feel guilty for my sin. Understanding this motivated me to give up this sin and other sins as well because God’s friendship became more inspiring to me than the excitement of sin.
Pause and reflect:
- How do you handle guilt in your life? Do you respond to it by hiding and distancing yourself from God and others, or do you let your guilt make you more grateful to God for his forgiveness?
- Make a decision today to be honest with God and others about anything you feel guilty about so you can experience God’s compassion and be present in your relationship with him.
Do I see God as a relationship or a roadblock?
The younger son has returned safely home to his father, but the story isn’t over yet. There is another brother who can also teach us a lot about how we view God:
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”Luke 15:25-32 NLT
Though on the outside, the older brother was the polar opposite of his younger brother, he was just as self-focused and entitled. He has an unwritten and unspoken agreement with his father, not a relationship. The older brother believes that if he is “obedient” he should be entitled to his father’s money, property, and possessions.
This makes his relationship with his father a transaction rather than a connection. The older brother then gets angry because he feels like it is unfair for his father to celebrate the return of the younger brother, who has been“disobedient,” while the older brother has spent years following all the rules.
I also relate to the older brother. When I was a senior in high school, my dad encouraged me to go to junior college instead of going straight to a 4-year college. I took this as my dad “hating on me,” not believing in me, and being a roadblock to my happiness. I was determined to prove him wrong.
However, seven years later, after stumbling through college, being put on academic probation, and switching my major again and again, I finally found my way and got my degree. In that process, I learned that my dad wasn’t hating on me. He was loving me and trying to guide me because he knew me better than I knew myself.
Similarly, I’ve had moments in my relationship with God where I thought he was a roadblock to my happiness. My wife and I were struggling with infertility, and at the same time many of our friends had started having kids. I felt like God wasn’t giving me something I really wanted while I saw others around me getting it.
I not only felt jealous but also started believing that God didn’t care about me. I thought he didn’t want to help me and that he only wanted to use me. As time went on, though, I discovered that couldn’t be further from the truth because God blessed me beyond what I imagined during this time.
I learned invaluable lessons in my relationship with him, like how to be satisfied no matter what life threw at me and how to appreciate and enjoy what I did have, rather than pining away for what I didn’t have.
Then, at just the right time, God did bless us with two incredible healthy kids.
The older son in this story has a lot of good in his life, but he misses out on it because he only sees his father as a roadblock. When I was so focused on my anger about what I didn’t have, I missed out on all the incredible things I did have: a personal relationship with God, a family that loved me, many friends who supported me, an incredible job, and a purpose that was making a difference in the lives of others.
My entitlement had made me turn to anger and blaming God because I didn’t get what I wanted at exactly the time I wanted. Time proved that I had God all wrong. He wasn’t a roadblock to my happiness. Instead, he was a loving father providing the pathway to my potential. This changed me because I learned from these moments in my life that God is a relationship rather than a resource or a roadblock.
Pause and reflect:
- How do you respond when you don’t get what you want from God right away? What do you think this shows you about how you view him?
- What are some situations in your life that God could be using to show you he is a relationship and not a roadblock?
- What might you miss out on in your relationship with God when you view him as a roadblock instead of a relationship?
- How do you view God: as a resource, a roadblock, or a relationship?
- How do you think this affects your relationship with him?
- Study the gospel of John in the Bible to help you shift your focus from yourself to God so you can see him for who he truly is.