When I was a young boy, one of my favorite things to do when my family went to Wal-Mart was to “play” the arcade games near the entrance. As the demo version played on the screen, I would press buttons and swivel the joy stick, pretending that I was playing the game on the screen.
Sometimes I would get really lucky and someone would insert a couple quarters and start actually playing the game. I would stand there looking over his shoulder (at that time it was invariably a “he”), and as the action on the screen got more and more intense, I would begin to bounce up and down with excitement. Who knows what the people around me thought of this, but I didn’t care. I was totally absorbed in what was happening on the screen.
I remember a few times when my dad took me to a real arcade; the ones with aisles and aisles of arcade games. The rooms were filled with seizure-inducing flashing lights and a garbled cacophony of music and sound effects. Each console seemed to compete for your quarters like a street vender in an Arabian bazar, playing its music loudly and calling out to you as it hawked its most engaging game footage to lure you in to play it.
I’d follow my dad over to the change machine and watch him feed paper money into it. The bill would disappear into the bowels of the machine, some hidden gears would whir, and magically, change would spill out into the tray below. It felt like winning the jackpot in slots. With change in hand, he and I would set off together to find a game. At that time, I was a huge fan of any game starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When we found a Turtles game, my dad would reach down and drop a few quarters into the slots below as the game chirped its acknowledgement of the money. With much anticipation, we poised our hands over the “start” buttons and together we pressed them. And the adventure began.
After a few minutes, one of our characters would die, and dad, without a word, would feed more quarters into the machine and the character would be resurrected to battle some more. I think this memory stands out in my mind because it was one of my first realizations of the prodigal nature of my dad’s giving toward me.
Now let me quick clear something up for those who, like me, thought prodigal meant “runaway” or “lost,” as in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Tim Keller, in his book Prodigal God points out that prodigal actually means “profuse or wasteful expenditure,” and the parable is talking about the wasteful spending of the son, not the fact that he was lost and wandering. But Keller points out that prodigal can also be applied to the father’s freely lavish and extravagent giving in providing a feast for his son when he returned.
Back to the arcade. To my young mind, quarters were a lot of money. My dad was relatively frugal and normally didn’t throw money around. Now he had a pile of quarters that he got from his paper money, and he was spending them all on me. Every time I let my character die, he just put more money into the machine to bring him back to life. He didn’t tell me to be more careful. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his money. He just let me keep playing with his quarters. I could tangibly see his quarters disappearing, yet he didn’t care. He just wanted me to have fun playing.
I think you probably see where I’m going with this. We serve a prodigal God. Every breath we take, every new day we are alive, every wonderful experience we have, every kiss from a puppy’s tiny tongue, every delicious bite of rich chocolate cake, every burst of laughter that leaves you gasping for breath and shedding tears, every clear starry night, is like another quarter dropped into the machine. Our God continues to feed quarters into the arcade game despite the fact that He could play the game better Himself. It’s an incredibly prodigal act if you reflect on it. Every moment is a vote of confidence from God that says your life, your pleasure is worth His time—more than that—is worth surrendering His very life.
Spend some time with God. He’s got a pile of quarters with your name on them.
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11, NASB)