So rend your heart, and not our garments; Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”Joel 2:13
When growing up, I was caught on a number of occasions taking something that didn’t belong to me, stealing, to be exact. I would not admit to being a smart thief, so choosing thievery for a life-long profession was nipped in the bud at an early age because of the law of diminishing marginal returns and not due to of any innate goodness I possessed.
When faced with punishment for crimes rendered, I did have a sense of remorse, even a sense of guilt, little as it was. Yet, my guilty feelings were not backed up with remorse coming from a broken heart and contrite spirit but one of a broken record. I would have continued my crime spree had I really been good at it and the only reason for not stealing again was low profit margins. If that sounds hard and cold then you have just viewed an X-RAY of my heart at that time. It is also a good picture of everyone’s heart until they are caught by God. A little more on this later.
ISRAEL EXPRESSION OF OUTWARD REMORSE—The ancient Hebrew custom indicating humility before God by wearing coarse cloth, (normally used to make sacks) and dusting oneself with ashes was a common expression of repentance, as was the custom of tearing one’s clothing to express extraordinary emotion, usually grief, terror, or horror. At times I believe it was very genuine, as in the case of Job, (Job 1:20:21), but when reading the prophet Joel’s account, I don’t believe that was the case with all of God’s people. Richard Patterson once wrote, “Like his contemporaries, Joel emphasized the need to turn to God in true repentance and in total reliance on the God of all mercies, turning from the past inequities, recognizing that the repentant heart is the only soil in which the regenerated soul can grow.” So it is, the mere demonstration of rending garments without a true heart rending is at best repulsive to a holy God.
ASSUMPTION OF PERFORMANCE BASED CHRISTIANITY—I will never assume that all of us have run on the performance-based treadmill. To define this type of Christianity, it is the belief that all one must do is perform everything a good Christian should do and they will have a good life and, in the process, God will be pleased with them and bless them. Having said this, doesn’t negate the fact that a large portion of the Christian community base their relationship with Christ on how well they perform in their daily lives. Now, I have no empirical evidence to suggest the body of Christ wrestles with their performance in front of God as a means of pleasing Him and being blessed by Him, other than my thirty years of observing God’s people as a pastor and my own personal experience with the topic.
GETTING CAUGHT BY GOD—I love being caught by God. I suppose that sounds strange but it is true none-the-less. You see, I have a propensity toward performance-based Christianity. Growing up with this mindset, it is easy for me to slip back into just going through the motions while walking with Christ than to really get to the center of my problem—me. So, when God catches me in the act of perfunctory behavior in light of spiritual commitment, I know He wants better for my life. He wants a genuine ongoing relationship with me and I am sure He wants the same for you too.
RETURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD—The key to Israel’s change of circumstance was not based on keeping the law of Moses or performing certain duties, nor was it the theatrical display of grief by the rending of garments. The key to Israel’s change was in how they view their God. Joel calls the people back to the LORD based not on His laws but on His character. God is a God of grace and mercy, a God who is slow to anger, and one who always wants to show His great kindness. God’s first step in dealing with His children is not to do them harm. Perhaps we sometimes view God as one with angry eyes, holding a large hammer in His hand, ready to swing it toward us at any moment, but that is not the God Joel is referring to. Joel’s God has an unchanging character displayed by His infinite demonstration of grace, mercy, and kindness. Once we get a glimpse of His true character that indeed never changes, we will see getting caught by God is the best thing that could ever happen to us. Unfortunately, Israel didn’t quite make the connection as seen in the case of the prophet Joel, nor during the time Jesus walked the earth.
CONNECTING HEAD AND HEART—Growing up under household laws, commands, and good performance in the absence of love, kindness, grace, and mercy took its toll on me. I became superficial and mechanical in my approach to life and the people around me, as did my lifestyle. The truth is, there was no connection between head and heart, no connection between desire for goodness based on a changed heart and the character of God. Now, one would think after one comes to Christ one’s approach to life would change automatically, after all, God is in the business of changing lives, right? However this is not the case. Not for Israel, as seen in the Book of Joel, nor in my life, and probably for many others believers.
There are times when my heart and head do not make the connection because it is much easier to rely on past performances than to deal with present circumstances. Still I have found getting caught by God is the best thing that can happen to me. As God is in the process of catching me, He turns my attention, not to laws broken, but to His character as my Father who is abounding in grace, mercy and kindness. So it is, broken laws are exchanged for a true broken heart, the rending of garments is exchanged for a torn heart, exposed not by mere laws, as important as they are, but by the character of a loving Father God who wants only to have a right relationship with His children. My prayer is, if you are struggling as I am, or have in the past, you would get caught by God—Oh what a blessing when God will not leave you alone!
This is Pastor Pat FROM BEHIND THE PEN wishing you Joy in Jesus!