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Coming to Our Senses: The Gift of Returning to God

‘Finally, he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have plenty of food? But here I am, starving to death!”’

- Luke 15:17 -

While struggling through grad school years ago, I noticed a disappointing pattern. Many highly regarded intellectual elites - top scholars in their specialized disciplines - were prone to make sadly bone-headed choices in their everyday lives. Earning a PhD in Whateverism and having a tenured position teaching Whateverology did not ensure common sense. A scholar might publish numerous articles and books in their field, but their personal life could be plagued by loneliness, financial chaos, or addiction and its consequences. Clearly, professional accomplishment did not guarantee personal or relational success or joy.


In many academic fields, careful study enables researchers to identify what works and what doesn’t work when striving for some intended result. And yet university campuses are filled with students and faculty suffering the painful consequences of repeatedly sleeping around, drinking too much, spending too much, or dabbling in dangerous drugs. Again. Repeatedly. And again. Colleges resemble giant laboratories in which failed experiments are repeated ad nauseum while nothing is learned.

Hear the wise words of the prophet Haggai: ‘Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.”’ (1:5-7)

If God speaks to us, we should listen. If He says something twice, pay attention! Haggai is a short, two-chapter book, but God commands us to “Give careful thought” five times in those two chapters. “Come on, THINK!” He says. “What you’re doing isn’t working!”

In Luke 15:17, the prodigal son has an “Aha!” moment. He realizes that rejecting his parents’ loving instruction has led to such abject poverty that he’d be much better off going back to serve them as a slave. If only all our sons and daughters could have such “Aha!” moments without first indulging sinful desires; without hitting bottom and envying pigs. As parents, it is sobering to watch our kids launch out into a culture that values so-called ‘freedom’ over responsibility, and pleasure over restraint. We strive to ‘bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4), then we eventually turn them loose, pray like crazy, and entrust them to the Good Shepherd.

In my youth (and not-so-youth) I too made some amazingly bone-headed choices. God has mercifully forgiven me and spared me from many - but not all - of the painful consequences of those sins. Scripture and experience teach us that sin is stupidly harmful, and that God hates it for at least two reasons: 1) because sin defies His perfect holiness, and 2) because sin harms those He loves - both the sinner and those around us. But the Bible’s teachings on wisdom and knowledge can help us guide our children toward living more wisely and resisting the foolishness that permeates a lie-filled world, whether or not their world includes university.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote and collected many brilliant truths in the book of Proverbs. Do you want to be smart and avoid being foolish? If so, hear Solomon: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction’ (Prov. 1:7). Later, Solomon puts it a little differently, saying: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding’ (9:10). Trusting and listening to God with reverence and awe are foundational to living wisely. Those who ignore Him become fools and suffer for it. Solomon knew this and we ought to heed his wisdom.

In the New Testament, Paul echoes this idea in several of his letters. The opening of Romans leads to this statement: ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…’ (1:21-22). Paul says to the Ephesians: ‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts’ (4:17). Rejecting God leads to futile thinking, foolishness, darkened understanding, and ignorance. Life without Him is just not smart!

To replace foolishness with wisdom, God has given us the Bible. For God’s truth to give us wisdom, we need to consistently feed upon it through hearing, reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, and obeying the Word. Tremendous treasures await us there through each of these activities. In Psalm 119:97-100, David says:

Oh, how I love your law!

I meditate on it all day long.

Your commands are always with me

and make me wiser than my enemies.

I have more insight than all my teachers,

for I meditate on your statutes.

I have more understanding than the elders,

for I obey your precepts.

Studying and obeying God’s Word gives us a great advantages over those who ignore it. And I want to have such an advantage, don’t you? Not only does God’s Word make it possible to know God (its greatest benefit!), but it also offers profound insights into human nature, successful relationships, and how to have joy in the midst of suffering. It even teaches sound financial principles. People who live by biblical principles live and die well!

The world, of course, does not usually respect the insights that we gain from the Bible, especially since it teaches us that their values and behavior are sinful and destructive. And the Gospel looks to the world like sheer nonsense - to think that God would become a poor peasant, perform miracles, get killed, then rise again, all to make a way for us to have eternal life in Heaven…yeah, right! In 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, Paul unwraps this sentiment: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”’

When we surrender to God, ‘the lights come on,’ so to speak, because the indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to realize the true brilliance of what once seemed nonsensical. God also gradually reveals to us the foolishness of what previously seemed clever. Therefore, Paul also tells his precious Corinthians: ‘The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them, because they are discerned only through the Spirit’ (2:14). Through the Holy Spirit, what once sounded like religious mumbo-jumbo is revealed to be our Creator’s marvelous truth. The Word accurately describes our miserable state, then accurately prescribes God’s perfect solution to our needs - the Gospel!

Let’s end with another man who came to his senses. In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus leads His twelve Jewish disciples across the Sea of Galilee to reach one man - a naked, insane, demon-possessed Gentile living in a graveyard filled with pigs. Not kosher at all. After Jesus sets him free from the many demons tormenting him, the people of the surrounding area who know the poor man’s history see him ‘sitting there, dressed and in his right mind’ (5:15). They realize Jesus has not only delivered him from demons, but also from insanity.

When the man begs to go with Jesus, He instructs the man to go tell his own people “how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). So, when the Holy Spirit and the Word enable us to come to our senses, let us not claim any credit, as if we have finally figured out what is most reasonable. Rather, like the man that Christ delivered from demons, let us credit God’s Truth and tell others how much the Lord has done for us.

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