If you have studied along with me for any length of time, you will realize I speak often of mercy and grace. It isn't because this is the only "theme" I see in scripture, but because I need it so frequently to be extended into my life! I don't know about you, but every now and again I just need to stop to consider how marvelous God's love really is and how great is his grace extended on my behalf. One of the amazing things we discover as we peruse the scriptures is this central theme of grace - unmerited favor of a holy God toward an unholy bunch of sinners. I love the reminders about how man will fall into some temptation which is only common to us sinners and how God will faithfully stand by with a means by which we can return again to our restored state of grace before him. No matter how far - his love reaches beyond the distance. No matter how deep - his love reaches into the darkest depths. No matter how all-consuming our fall - his grace envelopes us in the riches of his love and compassion. No matter....
Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations. But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped. (Nehemiah 1:8-9 CEV)
As we begin our new year, it is never a more fitting time to begin again. If we look closely at our passage we will see the idea of both return and restoration. Returning involves repentance, and restoration involves what God does on behalf of those who "turn again" toward the grace they know to be the basis of all their hope. Let's break this passage down to discover what God has in store for us:
- God has promised his watchful eye over each of us. There is no amount of "wandering" we can do, no "distance" we can put between us and God, that is too great for his reach and watchful eye. He allows the wandering, not because he wants to hurt us or teach us a lesson, but because he respects our free will. He doesn't want robots, he wants hearts who abandon all other pursuits for the magnificence of one pursuit - the pursuit of his heart. In the time between abandoning our own pursuits in deference to what we can realize by being close to the heart of God, he watchfully waits on us.
- The pursuit of anything which takes "center stage" in our lives is contrary to what God has designed for each of us. "Center stage", so to speak, is designed as the place where God is to dwell. When we wander off on our own, we are allowing other things and people to take the place designed by God for his presence. These things may fill the "gap", but they don't fulfill the purpose for which the "gap" was created - so they leave us wanting something more. It is this "something more" which brings right back around to the one who "designed the space" in the first place!
- It is in "turning" that we take the first steps in a new direction. Think about the last time someone said to you that you needed to turn around. In so doing, what changed? It was more than your physical position. It was also the perspective you were now able to take in as a result of having turned. We turn around not to just turn away from whatever it was which had our previous focus, but to gain a new focus. This is the first step toward restoration - repentance. Repentance is simply a change in our focus - we turn away from and then turn toward.
- The first step is to turn toward, but the next step is to begin walking again - just in a different direction. If you have ever turned around and started in a different direction while you were walking, you might have realized something which occurs in taking what sometimes appear to be steps "backwards". We really aren't "retracing" our steps, but the the very steps which got us into the place we were are often the steps we need to take to get back out of the place! For example, if we take steps away from God by laying down our Bible in deference to reading a novel, we need to lay down the novel and take up the Bible in order to regain perspective. If we take steps away from God by getting consumed in our work, we take steps back toward relationship with God by making time in our day for him.
- The outcome of repentance is restoration - God bringing us back to the place where we can humbly and obediently stand in awe and worship of him. Nothing else quite restores like the grace of Jesus - nothing else puts "right" again the attitude of heart, the focus of mind, and the balance of emotions quite like grace! Repentance leads to restoration - the change in focus brings with it great reward - for restoration is definitely a reward undeserved! Just sayin!