A Spiritual Kingdom

Me:  What does today look like for you?

Prodigal:  I’m busier than a long-nosed weevil in a cotton patch.

Me:  I will not take up too much of your time then.

This is from A.W. Tozer The Pursuit of God

A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to reorganize it.  God himself is here waiting our response to His Presence.  This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.

The fast pace, the stress, the demands, the deadlines, are of this world.  God is calling you to look beyond them for this moment.  There is an eternal kingdom that will bring about a peace and you are part of it. Today God would like you to remember the eternal purpose and not get carried away with the kingdom that will pass away.

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.

Psalm 118:29

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalpig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

I Didn’t Have a Prayer

Me:  I remember reading that book in school!

Prodigal:  Yes, it is a very good book.

Me:  Here is another story about school.

The five men seated at the conference table looked at one another.  Then they looked at me.  No one said a word, but I could read their minds, and what I read there made my heart sink.

I had used my last funds to hire these men, all experts in business management, to advise me on how to resolve the financial difficulties I was facing.  For two hours we had been going over my books and records.  They had asked searching questions, and I had attempted to answer them honestly.

Finally one of the lawyers–three of the men were lawyers and two were certified public accountants–cleared his throat.  “George,” he said, “would you mind stepping outside for a few minutes?  We’d like to discuss all aspects of your situation frankly among ourselves.”

Feeling like a condemned man, I waited outside.  The minutes passed slowly.  Finally the door opened and I was asked to rejoin the group.  The lawyer spoke again. “I’m sorry to tell you this, George, but we can see only one solution for you.  We feel you should give up and close your business schools.”  Give up!  Here I was at age 28 with my own buisness–and now I was facing bankruptcy.

One of the lawyers accompanied me to the elevator.  I guess he meant to be kind, but his parting words went through me like a knife.  “George,” he said, “why don’t you go to work for someone else?  You don’t have a prayer, not a prayer!”

I went out of the building like a man in a daze.  Give up.  That was all the experts could suggest.  Well, I thought with sudden grim determination, I wasn’t going to take that way out.  There had to be a better way, there had to be.  But still I could hear that lawyer’s voice with its mocking echoes:  “You haven’t got a prayer, not a prayer!”

The whole thing had come as such a shock that it almost seemed unreal.  In the first place, I never expected to have a business of my own.  When I finished high school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, my goal was to make $100 a week and to buy a new car every three or four years.

My first full-time job was an unskilled laborer in a factory.  After a couple of years I developed trouble with my back.  X rays showed an injury to my spine, probably from playing football in high school.  The doctor told me I could do no more heavy work.

My mother recommended college.

I knew I needed more education, but there wasn’t any money for it.  My father had died when I was eight, leaving a lot of debts, and my mother had gone to work, sometimes holding down two jobs at once, to keep us going.

College seemed out of the question, but in nearby Concord was a small business college.  I registered there for a two-year course.

Six months later, my savings ran out.  I asked the school manager if there was any way I could earn my tuition, and he took me on as the school’s janitor.  For pocket money, I found a part-time job in a bakery.

One Saturday morning, I had just finished my janitorial chores and changed into my street clothes when two high-school girls came in.  One of them asked, “Do you work here?”

“Yes, I said.  But I didn’t tell them the distinguished position that I held!

She said, “We’re thinking of going to college after we finish high school.  Can you tell us something about this school?”

That was easy.  I liked the school.  I felt I was learning important things about business administration, and I knew the school was providing a valuable community service in training young people who still were too inexperienced to get a good job in business.  As I gave the girls a tour of the rooms I had just cleaned, I also told them what a great school it was.  Before they left, they enrolled for the fall semester.

Monday morning, when I gave the applications to the school director, he was delighted.  “George,” he said, “in addition to your job as janitor, if you want to do some recruiting for the school, I’ll pay you ten dollars for each student you bring in.”

When you believe in something and are enthusiastic about it, you can’t help but be successful.  Eventually I was earning enough from recruiting to quit the bakery job.  Then, when I finished the two-year course myself, the director hired me as a full-time recruiter.

I really enjoyed my work.  I looked upon recruiting as more than a job.  Not only was I helping the school, but I was also helping young people to improve themselves and their futures.  Even, so, I wasn’t satisfied.  I wanted to become more involved in the school and feel more like a part of it.  I was looking for a future myself.

One day I asked one of the owners if there was any chance that I might buy into the school as a partner.  To my surprise, he said yes.  We agreed on the price and that he would make deductions in my salary each week until I paid him off.

They owned three other business colleges in the state.  I visited those and met the staff members and liked them.  Soon I heard that the owners were ready to get out of the school business and move into other fields.  With an audacity that was beyond my years and experience, I offered to buy them out.

After I took over, I soon discovered I was facing trouble.  There were unpaid bills totaling thousands of dollars.  On the horizon were creditors with lawyers.  Some staff members hadn’t been paid for weeks, some for months.  Properties were mortgaged to the hilt.  I tried to get a loan at practically every bank in North Carolina, but my applications were rejected.  I didn’t know any people I could borrow money from.  That was when I decided to have a meeting with the lawyers and accountants.

For days the words I had heard there haunted me:  not a prayer, not a prayer, not a prayer.  Then late one day, as I was driving home, deep in despair, I suddenly realized, “But I do have a prayer!  It’s all I have left.”  As a small boy I had been active in the church, but when I became a little older I drifted away from it all.  My faith had not diminished; I just hadn’t called upon it lately.

I stopped the car along the road, and I let the words pour out of me:  “Lord, You know what a mess I’m in.  Everybody says I’m sunk.  I don’t believe you feel that way.  Help me, Lord.  I’m turning the company over to You.  You do the guiding and I’ll do the work.  And anything that comes to me, Lord, I’ll share with You.”

A sense of great relief shot through me.  I felt as though I had just been lifted out of a nightmare.  I still had my problems and I still had no money.  But even so, it seemed that a huge burden had been lifted.

That night I had my first good sleep in weeks.  When I awoke in the morning, I felt so exhilarated that I bounded out of bed and said aloud, “Good morning, Lord!”

When I go to the office, the secretary was on the phone.  She placed a hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s that textbook publisher in New York.  He’s having a fit.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I said.  She was surprised.  For weeks I had been dodging creditors on the phone and not even reading their threatening letters.  I took the phone.  “Good morning, Mr. Johnson,”  I said.  “I hope you’re in good health.”

“Not financially,” he said.  “Mr. Shinn, what are you going to do about this bill of yours?”

“I’m going to pay it,” I said.  “In fact, I’ll send you a check today.  I don’t know how much, but I’ll send you something.”

“Good, ” he said.  “I look forward to it.”

I didn’t even have to open the checkbook to know that the most I could send him was one dollar, so I sent a check for that amount.  A few days later, he called again and said, “Mr. Shinn, I got your check this morning.  It’s only for one dollar.  Did you make a mistake?”

“No, I didn’t” I said.

“Then are you trying to be cute?”

“I’ve never been more serious,” I said.  “I’m going to pay that bill, but you’ll have to let me do it in weekly amounts I can afford.  Will you go along with that?”

He thought about it, then said, “For the time being.”

The next week, I was able to send him seven dollars.  Gradually the bill was paid off.  So were other bills, as creditors agreed to give us more time.

At first, I didn’t want to tell others about my experience with the Lord on the highway, fearing that they would think I had gone off the deep end.  But then I figured that if the Lord was guiding me He was probably guiding others on our team, and I decided it would be a good idea if they knew about it.

At a staff conference one morning, I said, “I think we ought to open this meeting with a prayer.”  Puzzled looks went around the table,followed by bowed heads.  Knowing that I was going to have trouble with my first public prayer, I had written it out beforehand.  And then I told them what had happened to me.

This was the turn in the road for us; as a company and as individuals, a turn to the Lord.  And the answers started coming, sometimes even popping into my mind in the middle of the night.  We began to reorganize the schools, expanding curriculums, increasing facilities and trying new ideas, such as offering valuable programs for veterans returning from Vietnam.  We did our best to offer first-class training in many business skills at moderate tuition costs, preparing students for successful careers in the business world.

Enrollment grew to over 5,000 students; new schools were added to our chain of colleges.  As our expertise increased, other schools throughout the country started coming to us for consultation services.  Today the once nearly bankrupt organization has a staff of over 800, and serves as a management consultant to colleges in over 28 states.

When I look back through the years, I’m amazed by the difference that simply turning to God and letting Him direct things had made for me.  Every morning when I wake up and get out of bed, I still say, “Good morning, Lord!”  because, thanks to Him, that’s just what it is.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:9

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalipig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

Solitude Is Not Loneliness

Me:  You look lonely, sitting by yourself.

Prodigal:  Being physically alone doesn’t mean you have to feel loneliness.

Me:  True, God is always with us.  You are not a lone!

This is from the book Facing Loneliness:  The Starting Point of a New Journey by J. Oswald Sanders

Being alone involves only physical separation, but being lonely includes both spiritual and psychological isolation.  It produces a solitude of heart, the feeling of being cut off from others whom we should like to have as friends.

A certain degree of solitude–being alone with one’s thoughts–is a normal state.  It is essential to the cultivation of the inner life.  We all experience times  when it becomes essential to escape what Thomas Gray called “the madding crowd’s ignoble strife” and engage in constructive introspection.  Without such periodic physical withdrawal, the spiritual life will lack depth and freshness.  In such a period of solitude we will find a welcome alternative to the rat race of modern life.

Take an hour today and just be in solitude with the Lord.  You need a freshness after all of the rat race.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodgialpig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

Mr. Critic

Me:  You know people can really judge at times.

Prodigal:  I know.

Me:  Please God help me not to judge.

Please do not find fault with the man who limps,

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears,

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,

Through hidden away from view.

Or the burdens he hears, placed on your back,

Might cause you to stumble, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall, or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you,

In the self-same way at the self-same time,

Might cause you to stagger too.

Don’t be harsh with the man who sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,

That you have no sins of your own.

For, you know, perhaps, if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you,

As it did to him when he went astray,

Might cause you to falter, too!

Author Unkown

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

Romans 8:13

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalpig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

Reasons to Pray

Me:  We are seeing some wonderful art on our walk!

Prodigal: Yes, I am glad we came out.

Me:  I think you need a couple of hours just to pray and spend time with God every so often.

Prodigal:  I believe in would make a difference.

This if from the book Finding Peace for Your Heart by Stormie Omartian

Fifteen Reasons to Pray

To seek the face of the Lord and know Him better (Psalm 27:8)

To get your eyes off your problems and on to the Lord (Psalm 121:1)

To speak to God (1 Peter 3:12)

To unburden your heart (Psalm 142:1-2)

To make your requests known to God (Matthew 21:22)

To hear God (Proverbs 8:34)

To be free of suffering (James 5:13)

To resist temptation (Matthew 24:41)

To be rescued from distress (Psalm 107:19)

To receive God’s reward (Mathew 6:6)

To withstand evil (Ephesians 6:13)

To have joy (John 16:24)

To get close to God (Isaiah 64:7)

To be healed emotionally (James 5:13)

To have peace (Philippians 4:6,7)

Hebrews 6:19

Hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enteredth into that within the veil.

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalpig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

The Parable of the River

Prodigal:  It is beautiful just looking at the water.

Me:  I agree that is why I wanted to share about another body of water.

This is from the book  In the Grip of Grace:  You Can’t Fall Beyond His Love by Max Lucado

Once there were five sons who lived in a mountain castle with their fathers.  The eldest was an obedient son, but his four younger brothers were rebellious.  Their father had warned them of the river, but they had not listened.  He had begged them to stay clear of the bank lest they be swept downstream, but the river’s lure was too strong.

Each day the four rebellious brothers ventured closer and closer until one son dared to reach in and feel the waters.  “Hold by hand so I won’t fall in,” he said, and his brothers did.  But when he touched the water, the current yanked him and the other three into the rapids and rolled them down the river.

Over rocks they bounced, through the channels they roared, on the swells they rode.  Their cries for help were lost in the rage of the river.  Though they fought to gain their balance, they were powerless against the strength of the current.  After hours of struggle, they surrendered to the pull of the river.  The waters finally dumped them on the bank in a strange land, in a distant country, in a barren place.

Savage people dwelt in the land.  It was not safe like their home.

Cold winds chilled the land.  It was not warm like their home.

Rugged mountains marked the land.  It was not inviting like their home.

Though they did not know where they were, of one fact they were sure:  They were not intended for this place.  For a long time the four young sons lay on the bank, stunned at their fall and not knowing where to turn.  After some time they gathered their courage and reentered the waters, hoping to walk upstream.  But the current was too strong.  They attempted to walk along the river’s edge, but the terrain was too steep.  They considered climbing the mountains, but the peaks were too high.  Besides, they didn’t know the way.

Finally they built a fire and sat down.  “We shouldn’t have disobeyed our father,”  they admitted.  “We are a long way from home.”

With the passage of time the sons learned to survive in the strange land.  They found nuts for food and killed animals for skins.  They determined not to forget their homeland nor abandon hopes of returning.  Each day they set about the task of finding food and building shelter.  Each evening they built a fire and told stories of their father and older brother.  All four sons longed to see them again.

Then, one night, one brother failed to come to the fire. The others found him the next morning in the valley with the savages.   He was building a hut of grass and mud.  “I’ve grown tired of our talks,” he told them.  “What good does it do to remember?  Besides, this land isn’t so bad.  I will build a great house and settle here.”

“But it isn’t home, ” They objected.

“No, but it is if you don’t think of the real one.”

“But what of Father?”

“What of him?  He isn’t here.  He isn’t near.  Am I to spend forever awaiting his arrival?  I’m making new friends;  I’m learning new ways.  If he comes, he comes, but I’m not holding my breath.”

And so the other three left their hut-building brother and walked away.  They continued to meet around the fire, speaking of home and dreaming of their return.

Some days later a second brother failed to appear at the campfire.  The next morning his siblings found him on a hillside staring at the hut of his brother.

“How disgusting,” he told them as they approached.  “Our brother is an utter failure.  An insult to our family name.  Can you imagine a more despicable deed?  Building a hut and forgetting our father?”

“What he’s doing is wrong,” agreed the youngest, “but what we did was wrong as well.  We disobeyed.  We touched the river.  We ignored our father’s warnings.”

“Well, we may have made a mistake or two, but compared to the sleaze in the hut, we are saints.  Father will dismiss our sin and punish him.”

“Come,” urged his two brothers. “return to the fire with us.”

“No, I think I’ll keep an eye on our brother.  Someone needs to keep a record of his wrongs to show Father.”

And so the two returned, leaving one brother building and the other judging.

The remaining two sons stayed near the fire, encouraging each other and speaking of home.  Then one morning the youngest son awoke to find he was alone.  He searched for his brother and found him near the river, stacking the rocks.

“It’s not use,” the rock-stacking brother explained as he worked.   “Father won’t come for me.  I must go to him.  I offended him.  I insulted him.  I failed him.  There is only one option.  I will build a path back up the river and walk into our father’s presence.  Rock upon rock I will stack until I have enough rocks to travel upstream to the castle.  When he sees how hard I have worked and how diligent I have been, he will have no choice but to open the door and let me into his house.”

The last brother did not know what to say.  He returned to sit by the fire, alone.  One morning he heard a familiar voice behind him.  “Father has sent me to bring you home.”

The youngest lifted his eyes to see the face of his oldest brother.  “You have come for us!”  he shouted.  For a long time the two embraced.

“And your brothers!” the eldest finally asked.

“One has made a home here.  Another is watching him.  The third is building a path up the river.”

And so Firstborn set out to find his siblings.  He went first to the thatched hut in the valley.

“Go away, stranger!” screamed the brother through the window.  “You are not welcome here!”

“I have come to take you home.”

“You have not.  You have come to take my mansion.”

“This is no mansion, “Firstborn countered.  “This is a hut.”

“It is a mansion!   The finest in the lowlands.  I built it with my own hands.  Now, go away.  You cannot have my mansion.”

“Don’t you remember the house of your father?”

“I have no father.”

“You were born in a castle in a distant land where the air is warm and the fruit is plentiful.  You disobeyed your father and ended up in this strange land.  I have come to take you home.”

The brother peered through the window at Firstborn as if recognizing a face he’d remembered from a dream.  But the pause was brief, for suddenly the savages in the house filled the window as well.  “Go away, intruder!”  they demanded.  “This is not your home.”

“You are right, ” responded the firstborn son, “but neither is it his.”

The eyes of the two brothers met again.  Once more the hut building brother felt a tug at his heart, but the savages had won his trust.  “He just wants your mansion,” they cried.  “Send him away!”

And so he did.

Firstborn sought the next brother.  He didn’t have to walk far.  On the hillside near the hut, within eyesight of the savages, sat the fault-finding son.  When he saw Firstborn approaching, he shouted, “How good that you are here to behold the sin of our brother!  Are you aware that he turned his back on the castle?  Are you aware that he never speaks of home?  I knew you would come.  I have kept careful account of his deeds.  Punish him!  I will applaud your anger.  He deserves it!  Deal with the sins our our brother.”

Firstborn spoke softly, “We need to deal with your sins first.”

“My sins?”

“Yes, you disobeyed Father.”

The son smirked and slapped at the air.  “My sins are nothing.  There is the sinner,”  he claimed, pointing to the hut.  “Let me tell you of the savages who stay there…..”

“I’d rather you tell me about yourself.”

“Don’t worry about me.  Let me show you who needs help,” he said, running toward the hut.  “Come, we’ll peek in the windows.  He never sees me.  Let’s go together.”  The son was at the hut before he noticed that the Firstborn hadn’t followed him.

Next, the eldest son walked to the river.  There he found the last brother, knee-deep in the water, stacking rocks.

“Father has sent me to take you home.”

The brother never looked up.  “I can’t talk now.  I must work.”

“Father knows you have fallen.  But he will forgive you…”

“He may,” the brother interrupted, struggling to keep his balance against the current, “but I have to get to the castle first.  I must build a pathway up the river.  First I will show him that I am worthy.  Then I will ask for his mercy.”

“He has already given his mercy.  I will carry you up the river.  You will never be able to build a pathway.  The river is too long.  The task is too great for your hands.  Father sent me to carry you home.  I am stronger.”

For the first time the rock-standing brother looked up.  “How dare you speak with such irreverence!  My father will not simply forgive.  I have sinned.  I have sinned greatly!  He told us to avoid the river, and we disobeyed.  I am a great sinner.  I need much work.”

“No, my brother, you don’t need much work.  You need much grace.  The distance between you and our father’s house is too great.  You haven’t enough strength nor the stones to build the road.  That is why our father sent me.  He wants me to carry you home.”

“Are you saying I can’t do it?  Are you saying I’m not strong enough?  Look at my work.  Look at my rocks.  Already I can walk five steps!”

“But you have five million to go!”

The younger brother looked at Firstborn with anger.  “I know who you are.  You are the voice of evil.  You are trying to seduce me from my holy work.  Get behind me, you serpent!”  He hurled at Firstborn the rock he was about to place in the river.

“Heretic!”  screamed the path-builder.  “Leave this land.  You can’t stop me!”  I will build this walkway and stand before my father, and he will have to forgive me.  I will win his favor.  I will earn his mercy.”

Firstborn shook his head.  “Favor won is no favor.  Mercy earned is no mercy.  I implore you, let me carry you up the river.”

The response was another rock.  So Firstborn turned and left.

The youngest brother was waiting near the fire when Firstborn returned.

“The others didn’t come?”

“No.  One chose to indulge, the other to judge, and the third to work.  None of them chose our father.”

“So they will remain here?”

The eldest brother nodded slowly. “For now.”

“And we will return to Father?”  asked the brother.

“Yes.”

“Will he forgive me?”

“Would he have sent me if he wouldn’t?”

And so the younger brother climbed on the back of the of Firstborn and began the journey home.

All four brother heard the same invitation.  Each had an opportunity to be carried home by the elder brother.  The first said no, choosing a grass hut over this father’s house.  The second said no, preferring to analyze the mistakes of his brother rather than admit his own.  The third said no, thinking it wiser to  make a good impression than an honest confession.  And the fourth said yes, choosing gratitude over guilt.

“I’ll indulge myself,” resolves one son.

“I’ll compare myself,” opts another.

“I’ll save myself,” determines the third.

“I’ll entrust myself to you,” decides the fourth.

May I ask a vital question?  As you read of the brothers, which describes your relationship to God?  Have you, like the fourth son, recognized your helplessness to make the journey home alone?  Do you take the extended hand of your Father?  Are you caught in the grip of grace?

John 1:8

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalipig.com

www.faithincounseling.org

Who Is the Spirit

Me:  Ready to do laundry?

Prodigal:  I am about as ready as welcoming tight shoes on a long hike.

Me:  Sometimes we have to just do it anyway.

Prodigal:  Well, lets talk of God so I can change my focus

This is from the book How To Be Filled with The Holy Spirit by A.W. Tozer

Who is the Spirit?  The Spirit is God, existing in another mode of being than ourselves.  He exists as a spirit and not as matter, for He is not matter, but He is God.  He is a Person.  It was so believed by the whole Church of Christ down through the years.  It was sung by the hymnists back in the days of the first hymn writers.  It is so taught in the Book, all through the Old Testament and the New.

The Holy Spirit is something that has confused others.  Some only hear it mentioned but have never experienced this during their walk with the Lord.  The Spirit convicts us, lets us know we did wrong. It can also guides us.  Telling us that we should contact that person today.  Let’s not confuse all emotions with the Holy Spirit.  The best thing to do is to combine, prayer, reading your bible and being still.  You will then learn to let the Holy Spirit guide you.  First thing pray and ask God to guide you on this.  Then don’t forget to be still so that you can listen.

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.

Psalm 104:14

Jennifer Van Allen

www.theprodigalpig.com

www.faithincounseling.org