Jesus told a story (a ‘parable’) that has intrigued people for two thousand years. He rarely explained his stories, but it is safe to assume that he meant people to assume that God is like the father.
In the story a father watches his son leave home and squander his money. The son has a wild time, but it doesn’t last. With money and friends gone, the boy sinks fast and takes a job so repellent that he is forced to take stock. He realises that his only option is to return to his father, acknowledge that he has done wrong, and ask for a menial post in his business.
The father, however, has been absolutely yearning to see his son again and, glimpsing him in the distance, is overwhelmed with love. He runs to meet him. There is an emotional reunion. The son doesn’t get a job; he gets a party. The restored relationship between father and child is a source of unending joy.
It was clearly Jesus’ intention that having a restored relationship with God would dramatically improve a person’s life. To live that out by following Jesus’ teaching would be a challenging and sometimes sacrificial way of life, but it would increase the joy that a person experiences. It would give a new understanding of why human life exists, and of what each individual’s purpose is. He declared, memorably, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
Choosing to live at one with God and follow the way of Jesus changes people. Christians speak of a sense of being accompanied and directed through life by an unseen presence. This is the Holy Spirit – the form in which God invisibly lives within humans. Being aware of the inner presence of the Holy Spirit gives a real enrichment to the lives of believers.
The Bible lists nine highly desirable features which Christians should expect to increase and to improve their lives as a result of a relationship with God. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Where to find it:
About these words:
About thirty years after Jesus Paul, one of the first leaders of the Christian church, wrote a letter to Christians in Philippi. When Paul had visited the town local Jews had come to believe in Jesus. This was controversial and Paul was briefly imprisoned.
And they said...
Clarissa Dickson Wright, cook and television presenter:
God is my friend. If I remember to let go, and just go with the tides, then things slot into place. It's amazing.
John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford:
Christianity is a kind of extreme sport. It's not for those who want to sit out of life.
Rhydian Roberts, singer:
The rest of the Bible didn't make sense to me until long after [I first followed Jesus] but you know when you're a Christian. Suddenly you're no longer scared to die when before you were filled with worry and fear about things like that. Also, you know how to love. I didn't understand the concept of loving everyone before then, but suddenly I did.
Timothy Dudley Smith, bishop and hymnwriter:
I thank you with all my heart
that though the human condition
speaks to me of hopes unfulfilled,
of the mark missed,
the bloom fading,
the chill of autumn,
and beyond that the dark,
yet the Christian condition is
Friedrich Schiller, poet, 1759-1805, part of the ‘Ode to Joy’ that concludes Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:
Joy, beautiful spark of God,
Kiss the world’s millions!
Brothers, beyond the starry canopy
A loving Father surely dwells.
Do you recognise the Creator?
Be happy as a hero at the moment of victory!
Sir Cliff Richard, singer:
Some young berk of a journalist ... asks me impertinent questions and I just want to clobber him on the jaw. But I don’t. And afterwards I think, yes, that’s the triumph of God in my life. That I haven’t hit as many people as I could have done.