Joel 1 & 2
Joel 2:12-13, “That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” (NLT)
Joel is a minor prophet. That’s not a statement about the quality of his message, but the quantity of his content. Major prophets = long. Minor prophets = short.
Joel describes for us a familiar scene. The Children of Israel have once again rejected God in favor of doing things their own way. They have experienced the consequence of their poor choices. Now God has chosen to get directly involved. He doesn’t begin by voiding the logical consequences of Israel’s bad behavior. He brings a punishment and penalty for their choices that looks much more like financial devastation rather than miraculous provision or gracious mercy. The tool God used, a plague of locusts. We would call it a natural disaster.
People today are reluctant to call natural disasters the judgement of God. We lean toward scientific explanations based on cause and effect. The New Testament message of grace causes us to doubt whether God really continues to operate that way. I’m not suggesting an answer only an observation. Sometimes God uses nature to get our attention. We also have a fundamental misunderstanding about one purpose of God’s judgement.
I’ve been a parent for 11 years now. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make me an expert on parenting. However, with four kids I now have the experience of trying to influence the behavior of people I love far more than words can describe. Like their father, my children love gadgets. My wife and I have tried to be clever at how we manage our gifts, budget & technology so over time we’ve collected an abundance of i-devices available for everyone. It’s not uncommon to find our children running around the house with an old iPhone or iPod all connected wirelessly and playing the same game – including our 3 year old. Our kids love to play these games. And they’re good at them.
Occasionally they go to play, but can’t. Someone forgot to plug in the device so the batterie’s dead and needs to be recharged. This means someone gets left out, or worse, none of them get to play as a consequence of someone’s negligent behavior. It’s a natural consequence brought about as the result of a willful or negligent choice.
There are other times when they refuse to obey their mother or father. We ask them to do something simple. Pick up your trash. Be nice to your brother. Get ready for school. Our requests are reasonable. Our expectations well within their ability. More than that, as their father I often delight in helping them accomplish whatever it is I’ve asked them to do. Sometimes my instructions are designed for their protection – “Don’t run out into the street.” Sometimes they are for their personal development – “Don’t whine or hit to get what you want, use your words. Find a better way.” Sometimes they are for the good of the family – “It doesn’t matter who made the mess. Take responsibility for your stuff and take good care of it.”
I find that leading by principle is far more effective than leading by rule. A rule says, “Put your toys away or you’ll be punished.” A principle says, “You’ve been blessed with great stuff, take care of what has been entrusted to you.” Instead of asking my kids to live down to the letter of the law I want them to live up to the higher standard of the principle that makes law unnecessary. It leads to kids connecting the dots. We don’t need a rule for every detail of their lives. I don’t have to make a list of regulations and guidelines for what to do in every situation. Instead we talk about the principle and together learn to navigate each circumstance based on the principle instead of a rule. It’s a work progress. So far it seems to be going well.
Here’s my favorite part of this approach. When it comes time to correct I don’t point to a rule that can be questioned or rewritten. I correct back to the heart. “This isn’t who I know you to be. This isn’t the kind of person you intend to become.” It’s not about clean rooms or unquestioned obedience. It’s about taking care of your stuff and honoring a father and mother who deeply love you. The behavior changes, not because I said so, not because the punishment is harsh or the rule demands it. The behavior changes because my kids know I know they are better than this. They know I love them and stand ready to assist them. They know it’s not about me getting what I want. It’s about them becoming the remarkable young man or woman God designed them to be.
Sometimes punishment is necessary. Privileges were violated. Lessons need to be learned. Principles need to be reinforced so they will be remembered. One way we do this with our kids is to take away video games. In the moment, for my kids, that feels like devastation. It’s not simply about a dead battery anymore. It’s about something they want that could be available to them if only their father hadn’t taken it away.
Now – back to Joel and the natural disaster. God is our heavenly father. Sometimes he allows his children to experience the consequences of their willful or negligent choices. Other times he brings a punishment in order to show us the privileges that were violated, the lessons that need learned and the principles that need reinforced and remembered. He corrects us back to the heart. Like a father lovingly trying to discipline his son so he will one day become a mighty man of valor our heavenly father loving disciplines his people so we will grow into the people he knows we can be.
That’s the story of Joel.
Here’s the cool part of Joel. After the devastation, when the lesson is learned and the people repent Joel says that God will restore the years the locust have eaten. When we repent the Lord will relent. More than that. When we repent God will restore. The New Testament says that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. That’s how he restores. He restores exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think.
That’s why I focused on the verses in Chapter 2 today. Does your heart break over the things that break the heart of God? Are you so distracted by your stuff, your situation or the devastation in your life that you’ve missed the point that God’s not interested in your stuff – he’s interested in YOU! He is eager to relent and not to punish. It’s not about rules to obey, but character to develop. It’s not about jumping through hoops. It’s about becoming the person God believes you can be.
Did you hear that? God believes in you. He believes you can be more.
At the end of Chapter 2 Joel says that old men will dream dreams and young men will have visions. What vision, what dream has God given you? Can you see it? Can you see what God has designed for you? If you can’t. If you’re in the middle of the devastation. If you’re experiencing the consequences of your actions you can repent. He will relent and restore what the locusts have eaten.
Thanks for being my heavenly father. Thank you for loving me with the deep love of a father to a son. Thank you for believing about me things I could never imagine in myself. Help me today to see. Let me dream dreams. Give me a vision for my life, my family and my world. When I am wrong grant me the gift of repentance. Restore my relationship with you and others who I have wronged or who have wronged me. Thank you for leading through principle and precept rather than rules and regulations. Help me do the same.
I love you, in Jesus name –