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Come back NOW!

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Come Back Now (Joel 2:12-14)

Have you been away? You can come back to God. Our spiritual adversary uses sinister methods. He will alienate you from God, then tell you that you have gone too far. The prophet Joel told of a judgment that was already moving toward God's alienated people. It was in the form of a devastating locust plague. That day was immediately upon the people: "The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?" (v. 11)

Yet even at the last moment, you can return. God cries, "Even now, . . . return to me" (v. 12). When you have been away from God for so long that judgment seems immediate, you can return. You can return not because of your nature but because of the character and conduct of God.

Return to God with an Inward Intensity

The Bible abounds with invitations to return to God. It is really the theme of the Book. To return means a total reorientation of life toward God. Moses predicted that God's people would abandon Him, then return (Deut. 30:2, 10). Solomon prayed at the temple dedication that the people would return to God (1 Kings 8:48). Amos declared that God judges in order that His people return (4:6-11). The entire Book of Hosea is one long call for Israel to return to God (14:1-2). We can return even when we have greatly revolted (Isa. 31:6). Jesus' favorite parable related the return of a son (Luke 15:11-32). At all times God desires your return.

Return to God is not a casual matter. Return requires an intense inwardness: "with all your heart." This phrase indicates the entire force of your moral purpose. The biblical heart is not only the organ of affection, but of intellect, resolve, and moral purpose. Return to God cannot be a laid-back, mellow matter.

That return requires inward reality and not just outward ceremony: "rend your heart and not your garments" (v. 13). In the biblical world to tear one's garments expressed exceptional emotion on the occasion of overwhelming misfortune. Jacob tore his garments when he thought his son Joseph was slain (Gen. 37:34). Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes at the lost opportunity to enter the promised land (Num. 14:6). David and all his army tore their clothes when they heard of the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:11). To rip one's garments is an impressive act of intensity, but the prophet calls for more intensity than that. We must rend our hard hearts and crack them open so God can penetrate them. God returns to a broken and crushed heart (Ps. 51:17).

Yet there is also an outwardness in returning to God: "fasting and weeping and mourning" (v. 12). Any real return to God will express itself outwardly. Fasting is a voluntary abstention from food and physical relations in order to express self-abasement and sorrow for sin. We have lost something because we no longer fast. Return to God does express itself in emotional outlets appropriate to our own personality.

James 4:7-10 gives us the same steps to come back to God. Outwardness and inwardness characterize any return to God.

Return to God Because of Divine Integrity

The reason for our hope when we return to God is the consistency of the divine character. Our hope does not rest in our own intensity but in divine integrity.

You can count on God's character when you return. Four aspects of God's character encourage you to return. God is gracious. This is one of His earliest self-disclosures (Ex. 34:6-7). God's graciousness means the complete goodwill of a superior person who condescends to a lesser person.

God is compassionate. The word suggests a fatherly or motherly care extended to one who is helpless and endangered. God has a tender regard to one who needs to return.

God is slow to anger. The word beautifully suggests one who takes a long breath in order to postpone and place at a distance any anger. God restrains His anger toward sin in order to give time to return.

God is abounding in love. This points to many concrete deeds of voluntary kindness in our life in order to keep faith with us and renew His covenant with us. When you leave God, you must trample underfoot mountains of His kindness. Jonah discovered these aspects of God's character in the return of Nineveh to the living God (Jonah 4:2).

You can count on God's conduct when you return: "He relents from sending calamity" (v. 13). When man repents, God relents. This is a mystery to mere humans. God can intend with all His might to send personal judgment. Yet when man repents, God relents (Jonah 3:10; Jer. 18:7-8; Amos 7:3, 6). Although we cannot explain this change in God's mind, it can be a personal reality.

But not only does God relent, He also restores blessings (v. 14). The locust judgment would leave a scorched earth. When Joel's generation returned to God, there would be a new fertility and abundance. God does not desire a mere neutrality in His relationship with you. He wants an abundant life (John 10:10). You can come back, but do so now.

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