2016 has been special. And when I say special, I’m thinking messy. Especially messy.
I’ve heard this same thing from multiple friends and family members. Many are ready for 2016 and it’s bag of challenges to be over and for something new to begin!
My messy involved a lot of coming to the end of myself. Not being able to hold it all together. Losing control. Seeing my inner motives for the awful truth that they are. Messy.
You know what’s wonderful about all of that? Jesus shows up in messes.
They are His specialty.
Most of my life, I’ve been an elder brother. Technically, I am female, and a middle child, but my heart posture and mindset has been that of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).
My role in my family growing up was that of a “good kid.” I was a peacekeeper and never made waves. I behaved. I stayed within the boundaries. I followed the rules.
This year, I’ve realized that the driving motive for most of my life and that good behavior: earning and control.
Even as a young girl, I gathered that if I did the right thing, then God would OWE ME a decent life. Right? It’s not that far-fetched.
Good things come to good people. If we are obedient, we get the blessing. I put the coin in the machine, the prize pops out. Isn’t this how it works?
And while I produced all this good behavior on the surface, my heart has been riddled with fear and anger, control and rebellion.
At 22, when my father passed away unexpectedly while I was serving as a missionary in Japan, my world of “good behavior = getting what I want” came to a grinding halt.
I was furious.
Hadn’t I earned insurance against this sort of thing? I was serving the Lord overseas. Everything was supposed to work out nicely.
Yet, even the elder brother said, “haven’t I slaved for you all these years?”
My family had done everything right. We served in our local church. We tithed. We prayed and had quiet times.
God surely hadn’t help up his end of the deal.
I hadn’t gotten what I was OWED.
How many of us have this sort of “transaction” with God, and call it a “relationship?” It’s a business partnership. It’s a slave mentality, not the heart of sonship.
Did you know that according to the Jewish calendar, most of 2016 was a year of Jubilee?
I had heard bits and pieces about Jubilee in the past, and frankly thought, "How nice."
It has changed everything.
Leviticus 25 lines out God’s design for the year of Jubilee. Here’s how it works:
- The year of Jubilee comes once every 50 years (at 33, this was the first time I’ve experienced it. The next one happens in 2066 - I will be 83!).
- All debts are erased that year.
- All property that was lost is restored.
- All Jewish slaves are released that year.
- All sowing and reaping and WORKING the land ceases that year.
- It is a year of rest, feasting, celebration, restoration, and freedom.
I saw a documentary on it, and as I watched, I sensed the presence of the Lord. He said that this was MY year of Jubilee. He had already thrown out my ledger of debts and earnings, and if I was ready, I was called to walk FREE. I was called to REST instead of work and earn. Would I accept this FREEDOM?
Because we all know that if I really got what I was owed…
So I said yes. I was exhausted from trying harder. I was so tired of being afraid of not doing enough and attempting to secure my position with the Lord.
This year of the Lord’s favor has undone me. And it reminds me of Luke 4:18, where Jesus gets up in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The year of Jubilee is constrained by time, however, Jesus Christ is the NOW Jubilee. He is the embodiment of the Lord’s favor and freedom, and it is available to anyone, anytime that is ready to receive it.
Isn’t that Good News? That’s the Gospel, people (!).
This works/earning mindset of self-righteousness is such a seductive trap. It’s so easy to fall into. But we are not enough. We can never be enough. Timothy Keller accurately calls this cycle of earning the "Self-Salvation Project" in Prodigal God. Yet Christ alone can save us.
God, in His goodness, brought a few different resources to shift my heart on this topic. If you’ve noticed any aspect of the “elder brother syndrome” in your life, please check these out:
Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. He unpacks the Parable of the Two Lost Sons so beautifully and focuses quite a bit on the elder brother. This has been huge in my journey. (It's available at our local library, and the audio version is free on audible).
Humility; and Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. “Humility” sets our perspectives of ourselves on the right course, and “Absolute Surrender” deals with the impotency of human effort and “trying harder.” Holy Spirit empowerment is the key to living a righteous, Christ-centered life.
I’m also reading through the Gospels, to let this new freedom sink down deep, and also to ready my heart for the Christmas season. Join me! There are 51 days until Christmas when we celebrate the fact that Jesus came to earth to rescue us from sin and ourselves. To read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by Christmas would mean just 1-2 chapters a day.
Nothing changes our hearts and beliefs like the Word of God. Digesting the Good News will quicken our hearts to see the True Christ and receive what He has done. Lord, let us see Jesus!
Do you struggle with an "elder brother syndrome" or your own version of "The Self-Salvation Project?" Do you need a Jubilee moment? Choose freedom today and surrender to Christ's complete work of the cross and resurrection.