A Christian testimony tends to fall into one of two categories.
The first category is the spectacular testimony. Such a story describes a person submerged in their sin when God rescued them. A testimony like this make us think to ourselves, Wow, God surely can work miracles. The second category is the my-testimony-is-boring kind. These stories are not so much spectacular as they are mundane. Not miraculous, but merely privileged, we think. Lucky to have been born into the right family.
If you are like me, you lament not having a first category kind of testimony. You wish you had a story that people love to hear so much. But consider how backward this thought is! We don’t mean to, but in this thought we glorify the power of sin by implicitly wishing it had played a larger role.
If we look at the famous parable of the prodigal son, we see these two categories come to life. The younger son left home to spend his inheritance on a hedonistic lifestyle only to realize his sin and return home repentantly. He has the spectacular story. Then there’s the older son who stayed. Interestingly, the end of the story focuses not on the return of the younger son but on the anger of the older son.
I want to look at his anger, for in his response we can learn something amazing and tragic: Christians with boring testimonies have been given a tremendous blessing, but we risk overlooking it due to our own sinfulness and a misunderstanding of our status as God’s children.
[The older son] answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” (Luke 15:29)
When I read these words, I hear myself. I hear previous (shameful) conversations I’ve had with my wife: Look at how many times I’ve cleaned the dishes. Look at how many times I’ve picked up the groceries. And yet, you’ve never…
When I say these things, I wrongfully view my marriage through a lens of prideful entitlement. If I do something nice, then she must do something nice in return. I deserve it. This attitude places the motivation of my good action on what I may get as a result. And then my sin reveals itself when I don’t get what I think I deserve.
The older brother is the same here—he reveals that his obedience has little to do with his love for his father, but much to do with what he thought he’d get from his father.
Don’t we treat God the same way? Look how many prayers I’ve said! Look how many church services I’ve attended consecutively! Yet you still have not given me what I deserve.
“But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30)
After revealing his own entitlement, the older brother then shows his envy. Consider how the older brother must have perceived this as injustice:
The younger brother not only got what the older brother wanted, but he got it even after he committed great sins! The younger brother offended the family by asking for his inheritance (implying he wished his father were dead), and then wasted all of the father’s hard-earned money due to self-indulgence and lust. The father should cast him away, or at least make him work to build trust back. Certainly not throw him a party!
Notice how the older brother calls his younger brother “this son of yours.” Now, I’m no Greek scholar, but this sounds to me like he is distancing himself from his brother. He can’t stand to be associated with him! In his eyes, they are not brothers—they are two very different people.
I empathize with the older brother. I wonder if some of his frustration comes from a place of felt neglect. We might try to understand his words as something like this: “Dad, you care too much about the son that hates you. He only uses you for your property! But I’ve been here the whole time. Why don’t you care about me?”
But if this is how the older brother feels, if this is how the older brother perceives reality, then he is wrong. If he is a victim, then he is his own oppressor due to his pride, which clouds right understanding of what it means to be a child of his father.
And [his father] said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31)
What a powerful response by the father of these two sons. I’m not yet a father, but I worry if faced with such pride from a son my response would be reckless and angry. I would have revoked something of his—whether some small privilege or perhaps even his status as my son.
But this father, reflecting God the Father, reminds the older son who he is. The first word that comes out of his mouth is son. You are my son, he says, I see you, I hear you. I have not forgotten you, I have always been here.
In saying “all that is mine is yours,” this father suggests that the older son could have asked for or taken all that he desired from him at any point. He suggests that he never gave the older son what he felt entitled to not because he didn’t deserve it—though he certainly did not—but because he already gave everything to him!
This unity to the father—having access to everything in the family estate—was seemingly unknown to the older son. What lie or sin held him back? Did he mistakenly believe he still had to earn his father’s favor? Did he sinfully wish to be greater than his brother?
We cannot answer this question, because we are meant to answer a different question: What lie or sin holds you back, Christian? Do you feel like you still need to earn God’s favor, though Christ has already justified you on the cross? Do you wish to be greater than your brother, and cannot stand it when God brings praise to others and not yourself?
Embrace Your Testimony
When Christ died on the cross and rose again from the grave, he did so with you in mind. He thought of you, and blessed your life so that it would not steer too far to the left or too far to the right. He predestined you to be with him as soon as possible, offering you the unique life in which you can grow, mature, and live under his rule.
Christian, if you are like me and have a boring testimony, if you have been saved for a long time and find yourself jealous of new Christians’ spectacular stories, remember God has blessed you beyond your imagination.
Remember the words that God offers you: You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Even if you feel like you have a boring testimony, don’t miss out on this blessing due to an entitled attitude or an envious heart. Praise God that you are secure—eternally!