But there’s also this, it’s not too late – GOD’s personal message! – “Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!” Change your life, not just your clothes. Come back to GOD, your God. And here’s why: God is kind and merciful. He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot, this most patient GOD, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe. Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now; maybe he’ll turn around and show pity. Maybe, when all’s said and done, there’ll be blessings full and robust for your GOD! (Joel 2:12-14)
It’s not too late – what a glorious message of hope for those of us that get caught up in sin, seemingly without any hope of breaking loose from the hold of the consequences of those things that we have done. What a message of hope for those that have been in the midst of trial for what seems like an eternity without any end to the “catastrophe” of the hour. What a message of hope to those who just cannot seem to break free of those little habits that draw them down, hold them back, or keep them in a place of compromise. It’s not too late – the proper time has not yet come, although the time seems to have advanced and the appearance of things seems to be pretty bleak – it’s not too late!
It is most powerful for the one with dwindling hope in the midst of trying circumstances, life-dominating sins, or seemingly unending struggles to see the very next statement: “GOD’s personal message!” Those three words cannot be overlooked – this message of hope is from GOD directly. Jehovah, the one who is unchangeable in his promises and willing to become all we need for the moment, is speaking. The LORD of divine compassion is reaching out to his children in divine compassion, with an awareness of our distress that plays upon his heart in such a way that he desires to alleviate that distress more than we could possibly imagine. He often waits in anticipation for our voice to simply cry out, “I need you, LORD!” He waits for our heart to yield, our attitude to become desperate, our will to be laid down. Then he moves in ways we never thought imaginable.
The progression of his work is simple. First, he explains that we must take the step to come back to him – and really mean it. He stands waiting to meet the need, but we must take the step toward him that will begin the work of having that need met. To come back implies that we have not remained where we should have been in the first place – that we have drifted, gone astray, or chosen a way that was never intended for us to follow in the first place. The way back is often the opposite of the way we have traveled – it is in turning around that we find our way. The journey back is progressive and toward a specific purpose – restoration of relationship with our compassionate, righteous GOD. The approach to GOD is not one of half-hearted, wishy-washy movement – it is determined, deliberate advancement, drawing near to the heart of the GOD of compassion – our “becoming one”.
The title of GOD used in this first statement refers to Jehovah or Yahweh. The God of moral obligation and the one who stands in his righteousness and holiness, ready to forgive, becoming for us what we could never become for ourselves. The approach back to God is one of defined process – come fasting and weeping; come really meaning it; come with an attitude of sorrow for your sins, mistrust, or drifting. The suggestion is that of a heartfelt, determined attitude of repentance – of a heart change that results in a change of position, practice, and purpose.
Joel is not proclaiming a haphazard, willy-nilly “Hey, God, forgive me and help me out of this mess” approach to our holy, morally pure GOD. He is outlining an approach to God that is demonstrative of the desperation of heart that is willing to lay down the need to be in total control of the situation, in return for God intervening to bring order out of chaos and beauty out of ashes. It is an attitude of heart that reflects more than sorrow for the mess that they find themselves in at the moment. It is a heart response that reflects deep distress, intense regret, and grief over the loss of intimate fellowship with a holy God. This is the attitude of heart that gains the immediate attention of our God.
Change your life – not just your clothes. Seems simple enough, but what a challenge for most of us! Change is a difficult process for the majority of people. It is a dreaded process that most of us would rather avoid than face. Yet, the message is clear – change! Not just in some particular fashion, in one area, or in a little way – but change in a radical manner that makes what you have been doing, what you have been thinking, and how you have responded in the past no longer the patterns of behavior, thinking or responses that you will operate in any longer. It is a radical transformation that God is referring to here. Radical implies that which comes from the root – to depart from that which has become usual, habitual, or traditional in our daily walk. It means looking deeper than the actions to the basis of the action itself – the root – because God knows very well that what is at the root in our lives is what produces the fruit in our lives. Until we are willing to have our “root” affected, our “fruit” will not change. We want to “dress up” the root by merely changing the way it we look on the surface (hence the command to not just change our clothes). God is after the very root of our choices – not just a “redressing” of our heart.
The promise to us is one of mercy and love – God is kind and merciful! The one who reveals himself in covenant with his children, who has the power to create out of nothing, the one who is absolute in power and authority – he is standing ready to forgive, ready to restore, and ready to relate. Oh the joy of walking near to the one who is patient, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel our debt! I am awed at the patience of our God, at the deep compassion and extravagance of his love toward us – even in the midst of our selfishness, of our blatant disregard for his commands. This is a picture of a God, standing arms wide open, welcoming his children deep into the embrace of those loving and merciful arms. What a message of hope for those who have drifted away! Here is one extravagant in love – absolutely exceeding in every way – no limits, no moderation, no restraint in his love. His is an elaborate love - spending much more than we could ever pay in order to cancel the debt we owed for our wandering. This is the God who beckons us to return. This is the God who welcomes us in our brokenness, warmly embraces us in our despair, and patiently waits for us in our times of desperate struggle for control.
His is a message of action – come back! Rise up out of your despair. Give up the control – stop acting as the ultimate authority in your life. Be unrestrained in your approach to God. In turn, he is unrestrained in his welcoming, his embracing, and his restoration. There is no greater reward than his open arms. There is no greater blessing to him than a restored life. Bless him today with your return of heart – in turn, he will bless you with the welcome of his open arms.