Finding a Way Out of Desolation

 

Has the most consistent part of your Christian life been the level of inconsistency you’ve mustered since becoming a Christian?  Have you wallowed in the world as a backslidden Christian knowing that you need to get you heart right before God but aren’t sure how to do it?  There’s one thing that usually drives the fear and doubt into repenting and getting “right with God” and that is the fear that things will never again be as good as they once were between you and God.  After all, you’ve crossed God and now have to come to Him on His terms and seek forgiveness after failing, so why would God restore you fully?

Haven’t we all heard at one time or another people say that once you “fall from grace” you can never come back to where you once were?  Is it that we believe God won’t or can’t use us for His service anymore?  Or is it the belief we have that we don’t deserve to be back where we once were because of what we’ve become while backsliding in the world?  I think for the average Christian who backslides severely and falls from a prominent position in a church or ministry, that’s exactly the thing that causes such hesitancy in one’s quest to be restored.  We’ve let down God and didn’t do what we should have with what He entrusted to us.

We then go to God and admit our failings, but few Christians feel they could ever get back to the level they once were in God’s service, let alone ever think about surpassing where they once were.  That’s because it’s all we see in the media.  One televangelist had a great fall and doesn’t have the same level of ministry he once had.  Or maybe another preacher fell from a very high profile and lofty position and he is now in a small church somewhere in the South, no where near doing what he once did.  But hold on…who said they’ve stopped there.  Maybe they’re on their way up…slowly…and under God’s tutelage to be used mightily again.

We can learn a few things from the Nation of Israel in the book of Joel that speaks to the issue of backsliding and total restoration.  Whether you are an individual who is backslidden or maybe you’ve taken your whole family with you, there will be worsening conditions coming your way if you haven’t already experienced them.  Things can and will get worse for you unless you repent and “get right” with God.  If God hasn’t made you desolate, get while the getting’s good.

Joel was a prophet sent to the nation of Judah.  He speaks of two themes:  First he speaks of the desolation of Israel.  Second he speaks of God’s deliverance of the entire nation.  How this relates to us can be better understood by taking a very brief and cursory look at the history of Israel, and see how it, as a nation, was as inconsistent as we are as people and how God dealt with them harshly, and then restored them to greater measures than before, once they repented.

Israel had not lived up to all of the expectations of God several times in the Old Testament.  Thusly, God chastened them several times and put them into bondage of the people whom they were either living amongst, or He allowed armies to come in and overtake them.  While Israel was in Egypt, God blessed them with numbers and physical prosperity (Exodus 1:7).  Then God delivered them out of Egyptian bondage.  Then, later in Israel’s history, we see in Second Kings 15:29 & 17:5-6 how God allowed the King of Assyria to take captive all of the land of the tribe of Naphtali and other surrounding lands.  But eventually, God restored Israel once again.  Then there was the Babylonian captivity of the Southern tribes of Israel.  But, once again, God restored Israel by sending in the Persian Empire to overtake the Babylonians.  These Persians allowed the rebuilding of the second temple and this was a time of great rejoicing in the Nation of Israel.  However, it didn’t end there.  The Romans came in and destroyed the second temple and it has remained destroyed to this day.  Since that time, there has not been a full restoration of the Nation of Israel to this day.  Israel has not enjoyed peace and prosperity like it had.  Though they were restored as a Nation in 1948, they have suffered many things in the modern era.  But more on all that in a moment…

First, let’s look at the Book of Joel.  Joel was warning Israel of a plague to come.  This was to be a plague of locusts (figurative language for an invading army).  This prophetic announcement was to serve as a wake-up call for Israel to repent from its wicked ways and seek God’s restoration and be spared the effects of God’s chastisements.  This invasion was to be severe.  So severe that Joel cries out to God in verses 19-20:  O Lord, to thee will I cry:  for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.  The beasts of the field cry also unto thee:  for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”  That’s pretty severe, when God will strip a nation to the point where even the animals are suffering.  There are a few things worth touching on with respect to this coming desolation.

First, as we just mentioned, even the animals were crying out to God.  These may have been animals entrusted to the farmers and shepherds and used for sacrifices, food, milk, or even for labor in the fields.  The coming judgment against Israel for their backslidden ways was going to affect many helpless animals entrusted to their care.  Let’s say that you are a mom or dad that is falling away from God and maybe you’ll take your whole family with you as you make church and the things of God less and less important to you.  Beware, God may cause your life to be so void of what it needs, that your helpless children will be affected negatively and even suffer for the wrongs that you are doing.

The second thing to look at in Joel’s warning is the fact that as God allowed the desolation to continue, verses 8-9 record:  Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.  The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.”  God had allowed the land to be so stripped that there was nothing left with which to make offerings and sacrifices to the Lord.  There are two ways to apply this personally.  First, as you backslide, the devil will strip you of any and all desire to worship God and get back into fellowship with Him until things are so severe that you humble yourself and seek God’s forgiveness and restoration.  Like I said a moment ago, you will start attending church less and less and the things of God will matter less and less until you have little to no desire for worship…it’s been stripped away.  The other way to apply this loss of ability to make sacrifices and offerings is this.  Suppose you never leave church but remain backslidden and leading a double life.  God may strip you of finances and keep you from being able to give to the church properly, losing that ability to worship through giving.  Maybe you feel to make up for it you will work extra hours to supplement the loss of income and begin missing church to work.  So now you not only lose out on the ability to worship in giving, but now you are missing out on worshipping corporately as a member of your church.

In Joel chapter one, the language used to describe the desolation paints a picture that few people and families would ever want to experience.  But in chapter two, God calls Israel to repentance.  But before Joel explains what God wants, he continues to instill in their minds how the beautiful surroundings and life they know now will be made desolate (Joel 2:1-11).  Verse 11 has this final warning, “And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army:  for His camp is very great:  for He is strong that executeth His word:  for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide in it?”  God has a breaking point with our disobedience, rebellion, and unrepentant attitudes.  The “armies” that will invade our lives and make desolate our personal lives and those of our families are at the beck and call of God, should He so choose.

But God will “call off the dogs” if we would repent.  “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:  And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of evil” (Joel 2:12-13).  This repentance is similar to that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  It can not be a half-hearted effort to say sorry to God with no real intentions of putting in the work it will take to turn away from whence we came.  That’s why God says to rent your hearts and NOT your garments.  We may fool people with our outward display of repentance, but God looks upon our hearts and wants us to have an inward rending of our heart, so it’s to be totally broken before God.  We should inwardly show God weeping and mourning for what we’ve become while backsliding.

If we truly repent from our backslidden ways God says He will be zealous for His land and pity His people (Joel 2:18).  But that’s not all.  The desolation, whatever its severity, will be fully reversed:  “Yea, the Lord will answer and say unto His people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith:  and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen” (Joel 2:19).  So not only will God restore us, but He will also put us in good standing with the people we are to minister to…why…to use us again to do His work.  God restored Israel up to, AND BEYOND, where they were before they we’re made desolate.  Just read Joel 2:24.  God will even restore them all that they lost during the invasion of the armies (locusts) (Joel 2:25).

Now, remember I said that many who backslide have a difficult time returning to God because of their sorrow over what they’ve done and feeling unworthy to be restored and pick up where they left off for God?  Remember I have tried to teach that repentance will be followed by full restoration?  Remember I used Israel as a good study in backsliding and repentance and restoration?  Remember I also said that Israel, after the Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple has never again been fully restored?  Well, there’s a good reason for that, and it’s the subject of next week’s article.  Joel chapter three is the final full restoration of Israel, but the reason Israel has not yet been restored again in our time is the same reason that keeps many backslidden Christians from seeking God’s restoration…they feel they don’t deserve it…you’ll see…

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