Join Pastor James MacDonald in the 7th message from the Game Changers series as he walks through Joel 2:25. Lean in to this week’s teaching, and be equipped and encouraged through the bold proclamation of the truth of God’s Word.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you (Joel 2:25, esv).
What if I told you it wasn’t too late? Those places where you say, “There’s not enough time, not for me, not to make up for what I’ve done . . . not to recover from what’s been done to me . . . ” What if I said, “No, really, it’s not a lost cause!”
You might not believe me, but would you believe it from God?
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him’” (Joel 2:12–14a).“If you’re standing today in the midst of consequences that are tied to things you desperately wish you’d done differently, here’s what He’s inviting you to do: Return to Him, with all your heart.” Click To Tweet
These words from the prophecy of Joel come after his vivid account of a locust plague that swept across the land of Israel in the seventh or eighth century BC. Locust swarms weren’t just a nuisance; they were (and still are) one of the most dangerous, devastating pests known to mankind. When locusts descended on an area, they cut down whatever in the field was growing. They even crept into people’s homes, devouring cupboards, destroying everything.
But the reason the description of this event shows up in the Bible is because that particular plague was God’s judgment on His people for their complacency. He created an incentive for them to return to Him with all their hearts—“with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning”—because, if they did, He was prepared to make them a shocking promise.
He would “remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land” (Joel 2:20). God was prepared to deal with their invaders, their persecutors, cutting His people free from this anchor that had held down their souls for so long. And there’s something else, something even more incredible: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” If He saw a humble, wholehearted response to the plague He’d sent, He would make it as though the locusts never came. “I will restore to you the years . . .” Do you see that?
This promise is yours as well.
If you’re standing today in the midst of consequences that are tied to things you desperately wish you’d done differently, here’s what He’s inviting you to do. Return to Him. With fasting, with weeping, with mourning—with all your heart—as though nothing else matters except getting things right with Him (because it doesn’t). You do that, and He has said He will restore you to such an extent that it will be as if those years never happened, as if you didn’t waste any of them. It’s one of the most remarkable promises in all the Bible.
This is how much God loves you, and is longing for you, and is waiting for you—with arms wide open, not folded in disgust and insult. What you’ve lost more than anything, He knows, is time. Too many months, too many years. But where regret is rooted in time lost, restoration is God going beyond forgiveness to make your life as though you’d never run away. Wherever you’ve believed the lie that it’s too late—“too late for me”—God’s Word says it isn’t.
Return, and be restored.
Heavenly Father, I don’t know what to say. Could this promise really be true? For me? It seems impossible. But I believe Your Word, and I trust Your heart. You have overwhelmed me already with Your forgiveness. Why would You stop there, when You are fully capable of so much more? Do it for Your glory—what no one would ever expect to see in me, unless it came from Your hand. Restore the years, as I return to You with all my heart, in Jesus’ name, amen.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing (Matthew 23:37, esv)!
I really hate dandelions. The harder you try to get rid of them, the more they hang around. It doesn’t really matter what you spray or what kind of program you get on, they’re coming up anyway. There’s another one—here, there, everywhere. That’s just the way dandelions grow. They spring up all over the place.
And sin, I’m sad to say, is a lot the same. Contrary to popular opinion, the longer you live and the more time you spend in self-examination, that’s how certain you can be of spotting a new one sprouting up where you thought you’d already treated for it.“The Lord wants you free, once and for all, from the sin that has only made you restless and miserable for so long.” Click To Tweet
But as discouraging as it can sometimes be to discover even more things in your life that grieve the Lord, this dandelion count is to be expected. We were wrong to think we’d become more content with ourselves the longer we knew Jesus, that we could spend more time sitting back, admiring our green fields of self-righteousness. It’s good, in fact, to become more acutely aware of how badly we need His grace. And to find He is not there scolding us, offended by us, but rather is eager to work with us so we don’t stubbornly resist His intentions to bless us, encourage us, and give us life.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus cried out, looking over a rebellious city that God had previously destroyed, then rebuilt, and would destroy again. But notice His heart. It wasn’t harsh. He wasn’t flying off the handle. He was wanting them to come to Him, out of the pain and heartache their sins had cost them, and into His loving embrace. He wanted them free, once and for all, from those things that had only made them restless and miserable for so long.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”—hear Him say it again—“how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Here, then, is the encouragement you can take from those patches of dandelions you keep noticing. Are they areas where you’re leaning on a crutch of some kind, rather than leaning foremost on Jesus? Are they matters of job-related integrity? Are they images of other faces appearing at the corners of marital intimacy? Are they pockets of financial fear, where you’re not sure you can trust His Word and the faithfulness of His provision? Are they places where you’re not prioritizing your family, or not being loving and forgiving?
Nobody wants to keep seeing these blemishes in their lives. But they are less of a cause for condemnation and more of a reminder of how much you need Jesus. So, unlike the generation of His day, who wouldn’t gather up close to Him, who wouldn’t accept His relief, use these sightings to draw nearer to His side. And He will pluck those weeds for you, one at a time.
The field won’t ever be totally rid of them. But you will love Him increasingly, as you allow His uprooting in your life.
Lord, I admit to sometimes becoming discouraged. I’d hoped I wouldn’t still be finding so much that needs work in my heart. But thank You for not being surprised at my continual need for You. And thank You for looking on me with grace and compassion, eager to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I yield to You today. I come up close to Your side. In the strength of Your arms, You give me hope in my discouragement. I pray this in the life-giving name of Jesus, amen.
“Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13, esv)
Whenever you see a crash or collapse, whether in another person’s life or even in your own, you don’t need to be a genius to conclude that somewhere behind it is compromise—a pattern of slipping, softening, weakening, lowering the standard. “Slipping is Crash’s law,” as poet Emily Dickinson brilliantly said. It’s essential to stop the compromise that happens so gradually, but ends so badly—and the time God has given us to handle it is now.
As per usual, a biblical example will serve us well.“What’s the importance of God’s Word in your life? You’re never too old to start a new discipline of reading and studying the Bible, and never too old to return to it.” Click To Tweet
Josiah was a young king in Judah when he detected the ruins of compromise in his country, going back a couple of generations in his royal line. His grandfather Manasseh had “rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed” (2 Kings 21:3), the altars to pagan gods that God had told them to knock down. His father Amon was no better. “He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them” (2 Kings 21:21). Josiah, however, was determined to change the culture of compromise. Here’s how he did it. And here’s how we can do it too.
1) He rebuilt God’s place. He allocated money to be used for “buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house” (2 Kings 22:6), the house of the Lord. When you’re wanting to reverse the negative trends of compromise, one of the first questions to ask is, “What’s the importance of the Lord’s house in my life?” First things belong to God—the first portion of your income, the first moments of your day, and the first day of every week. Put your church conviction back where it belongs: the Lord’s people, in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s day.
2) He reprioritized God’s Word. During the cleaning up of the temple, workmen found something that should never go missing in a church—the Bible! “Shaphan the secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read it before the king” (2 Kings 22:10). Then, watch what happened next: “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (verse 11), because its truth affected him so deeply. Same question: What’s the importance of God’s Word in your life? You’re never too old to start a new discipline of reading and studying the Bible, and never too old to return to it.
3) He repented over compromise. At Josiah’s command, the leadership went to a prophetess to inquire more deeply into what the Word of God was saying. And while she declared the Lord would punish the nation for its disregard of Him and His laws, she had a different word for Josiah: “Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord . . . your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place” (2 Kings 22:19, 20). God withheld His judgment for a whole generation—because of one repentant man.
That’s how you stop what compromise has started.
Father, thank You for providing a stop for the waves of compromise I’ve stirred up in my life. I’m weary of these joyless feelings, of the costs to my family and those I care about. Help me experience what Your Word calls “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21, nkjv), delighting again in pure things, in simple things, in consistent priorities that honor You. Thank You for desiring my good, and for making it result in Your praise, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matthew 12:30, esv).
I don’t know how much time you spend in the historical books of the Old Testament, but probably the most repeated theme in the two books of Kings (which originally was only one book of Kings) is the identical set of summary statements that characterized the kings’ reigns.“Neutral zones don’t exist. You’re either with Jesus or against Him. Either covering ground or covering up.” Click To Tweet
There were approximately forty kings in all, following the tenures of Saul, David, and Solomon, after which the nation split into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But the report on each of their performances was remarkably consistent. Either they “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:11, and others), or else they “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 15:26, and others; many others). In fact, of these almost forty kings, only ten were said to have done what was “right” in God’s eyes. And several of those kings maintained that description for only a partial amount of the time they spent on the throne. Actually, then, the number is four of those forty who the Bible says “did what was right” throughout their entire lives. So it wasn’t a high percentage.
But notice the black-and-white nature of that abbreviated review: “did what was right” or “did what was evil.” It was pass/fail. Right or wrong. No grading on the curve. No infinite iterations of gray. Each person was remembered by either one phrase or the other, with no middle ground in between.
And though we’d like to think (as it relates to us) that these stark distinctions would come with a little added space for explanation, our life in Christ and our spiritual maturity can be defined in much the same way. We’re either doing what is right—going forward, moving ahead, making progress—or we’re doing what is wrong—sliding backward, losing ground, not making progress. It’s that simple. It’s that clear-cut. And if you or I are letting what’s wrong encroach upon us, by embracing and making allowances for compromise, we find ourselves in that larger, much-more-common category with the long list of Israel and Judah’s kings who did what the Lord regarded as “evil.”
Jesus said it like this, when some of the Pharisees tried framing His reputation and ministry as being demonically empowered. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” If they didn’t believe Him to be who said He was, and if they didn’t live what His Word truly commanded of God’s followers, they were in another camp altogether. Neutral zones didn’t exist.
So I think it’s a fair question to ask ourselves today. If one or the other judgment was to be made of how you’ve lived your life up to this point, which way would the arrow toggle for you? He/she did what was right in the sight of the Lord? Or not?
And if you chafe at how categorical such an assessment may seem, it may mean you’re already up to your knees in compromise and hoping nobody notices.
You’re either with Him or against Him. Either covering ground or covering up. Make sure you settle today which side of this equation you’re walking on.
Father, thank You for a living Word that speaks just as clearly from its obscure, narrative passages as from its more direct words of instruction. And thank You for being wise and insightful enough to see straight through my attempts at cutting corners, calling me to nothing less than total, absolute allegiance. Keep my eyes open to the truth, and empower me to live a life that is right and good in Your eyes, in the strong name of Jesus, my righteousness, amen.