As they neared the top, they followed what looked like a small foot trail leading to a great view at the top of the mountain. But as the trail crested the top of the mountain, they realized too late that the trail was really a wash where rain and snow melt drained off the mountain. They lost their footing in the loose gravel. They fell about ten feet to a ledge at near the top of the sheer flat side of the mountain, with hundreds of feet of near straight down drop below them. Hours later, they were rescued off the mountain. One brother had to go to the hospital with an awful case of "poison ivy" — the exact kind of poisonous plant is unknown to me, but it saved his life because he grabbed to keep from plunging down the sheer face of the mountain.
My brothers thought that they were on safe footing. They realized later that taking the hike by themselves, without a map or guide, was foolish. The results were nearly catastrophic during an already incredibly stressful time in our family's life. Now this makes for a good story about boys being boys. Yet without the grace of God, a strong vine, a "convenient ledge," and a mountain rescue squad, the story would have been the heartbreaking death of my brothers during the time my dad was beginning his slow descent into incredible health troubles.
Jesus tells the story of a son who thought he knew best how to seize the gusto out of life (Luke 15:11-24). This son shames his father — telling him he is just as good as dead to him — and demands his inheritance so he can follow the path he thinks is best. Off he goes, blowing his fortune, ruining his life, and finding himself in despicable circumstances, with little hope for the future. Then this headstrong, self-willed son comes to an important realization: it's better to be a hired hand in my father's house than to be on my own and away from my father.
Jesus' point is clear. While Satan will do everything he can to make us believe what God asks of us is unfair, capricious, mean, demanding, limiting, joy killing, and ridiculous, what God asks of us is for our blessing and protection. It is better to be a servant in our Father's family than to be on our own and away from the Father.
This realization is the hardest lesson learned. Many of us have to learn it the hard way — wasting our influence, our lives, and our time on the pursuit of stuff that does not matter, or worse, contribute to our own destruction and the destruction of others.
The glorious truth about this hardest lesson learned is this: we have a Father who will take us back, bring us home, love us back to health, restore us with his grace as his beloved children, and give us important work to do for his kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-10). Our Father longs to show us that it is better to be a servant in his house than to be on our own and living it up without him. The only difference, and the powerful point of our story, is that once we come to our senses and really get this hardest lesson learned, God doesn't make us hired hands, he brings us home as his beloved children.
For a powerful telling of this story, watch this video presentation by the Skit Guys!
You can find the video at Worship House Media: http://hlt.me/kNn1Q9