Thursday, February 11, 2016

Return to Me with All Your Heart

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Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand — a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. (Joel 2:1-2)
We do not know much about the prophet Joel or the occasion of his writing. He speaks of devastations that are past and also of great devastation to come, which he calls “the day of the LORD.” He speaks of locusts as armies and armies as locusts. In chapter 2, he describes a time of terrible judgment, when God allows the violent ways of man to come to fruition. Whatever the judgment is that he foretells, however, it is not the end nor is all finally lost. There is a word of hope from the Lord, an opportunity for repentance, for turning again to God.
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing — grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17)
Joel twice says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion.” The first time was to sound the alarm, but now there is a different purpose: to declare a holy fast and call a sacred assembly. Everyone is to come, from the very young to the very old, and even the bride and groom are called back from their honeymoon — it is a deeply serious matter. It is to be the preoccupation of the priests to weep between portico and alter, an area accessible to priests alone, to cry out for the mercy of the Lord, for him to deliver his people from destruction and the reproach of the nations.

Even now — whatever you have done, or are going through, or will face ahead — even now is the time to repent, to return to the Lord. Not in outward show or empty ritual, but with all your heart. Tears and ashes mean nothing without the heart. They do no good but are merely a deception. And God, who knows all hearts, is not the least bit fooled.

God is full of grace and compassion, slow to anger and abounding in love. That it is what he is in his very nature. Those who are hard in heart are senseless of it. But if we allow our hearts to be open, even to be broken before him, we will experience the love and grace he has towards us. Indeed, it is divine love and grace that breaks open our hearts to receive him. And if we are willing to bring our brokenness for the sake of his love, we shall be healed by that same love.