When was your last ‘Aha” moment?
I love those, and… I hate those. When you have a real-deal “Aha” moment it can be incredible relief, even victory. Or, quite often it can plummet you into a spiral of depressive humility because of personal stupidity.
Guess it just depends on the particular “Aha” you are experiencing.
I love seeing these moments in my kids. I still remember watching ‘just past toddler’ Noah trying to pound a screw into some scrap wood with a hammer. When I introduced him to a screwdriver… I was a genius.
The Prodigal Son story is one of those stories that tends to lead people to their own “Aha” moment, generation after generation. Relationships restored, addictions admitted, hypocrisy revealed… the list goes on and on.
Ironically, it’s an “Aha” moment within the story itself that is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s not that the incredible love of the Father, or the overwhelming stupidity of the younger son, or the amazing hope of redemption take a back seat to anything else. But, they all pivot on the gut-wrenching “Aha” moment of this wayward, reckless kid!
If you haven’t read the story in a while, do it now (Luke 15:11-24), but if it’s a fresh story for you just reflect on this passage:
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), Lk 15:17–20.
“When he came to his senses…” I am sure that many of you reading this right now are praying for a child, a spouse, a friend to have that spiritual light come on and come to their senses.
In the same way, I hope that many of you reading this are open to the possibility that God might be wanting to knock a little sense into you.
That phrase “when he came to his senses” is actually very interesting in the original language (eis heauton de elthōn). If you read the English Standard Version, or even the good ol’ King James Version, you already know the phrase is really different from the New International Version I just provided.
These other versions replace “when he came to his senses” with “when he came to himself”, and honestly, its the most accurate translation.
What does it mean for him to “come to himself”? I think it reveals three very important reminders for anyone praying for their prodigal, or for those of us who acknowledge our prodigal ways.
- A prodigal can’t be convinced, they have to figure it out. You know there were conversations that would have taken place in a household like that which we don’t see reflected in this story. The Father pleading for his son to reconsider, a sibling rolling his eyes and mumbling words like moron, and respectful servant humbly asking him to consider the consequences. Still, none of it mattered. A true prodigal is one that is only going to learn things the hard way. They aren’t interested in alternatives, opinions, reality or even the truth. They have decided what they are going to do, and the only person that is going to convince them otherwise is themselves. If you’re acting the prodigal, and reading this gives you a little “Aha” moment, then consider yourself blessed. You don’t have to hit rock bottom.
- A prodigal needs to see themselves as they really are. This phrase “came to himself” literally means that prior to this moment he had been beside himself. A true prodigal often has characterized their world and is living an out of body experience seeing only what they want to see. They have labeled the wise influencers in their life fools, the ones who love them interferers, the places of hope and security they call boring and stupid. Most importantly, they have come to believe themselves to be the wisest, hippest most clued in of all. To do this, they have to be beside themselves… it’s the only way possible to bow down at the altar of “themselves”. For a prodigal to turn it around, they have to come face to face with themselves in the mirror of reality, and not those carnival mirrors they have been using for years.
- When a prodigal comes to themselves, they need to do something. Just admitting they’ve been a jerk, hurtful, dumb is not enough. Think about it, when is “I’m sorry” really enough? I know, I know, I know, you hyper religious types are automatically wanting to call me out and say that God’s grace is sufficient, you can’t add to or take away from that. Too true, but I also see a Scriptural theme that says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, Ro 6:1–2). In fact, “coming to himself” is a Hebrew/Aramaic expression for “repented.” Repentance is an action, a 180 degree turn, it is a definitive change! The prodigal stays prodigal unless a change is made.
Whether the Prodigal is one you love, or the prodigal is you, it’s important to remember that prodigals have to come to their senses by coming to themselves.
- You can’t convince them, they have to figure it out for themselves.
- They have to start seeing reality and not the world as they have created it
- They have to take some steps in the right direction.
Then, no doubt the Father will wrap them up, restore them and give them back new life.