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Joel 2:12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart…” (NKJV)

Turning your whole heart toward God. A great New Year’s resolution; an even better daily resolution.

That’s sounds good doesn’t it? A pretty good rah-rah devotional to start the year out. The only problem is, that rah-rah pep talks and emotional-willpower driven resolutions almost always end up as this year’s first failure and guilt trip. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve started and failed so many times, that the most you can conjure up anymore is a heavy sigh, an “oh well” and return to business as usual. Better luck next year.

So let’s forget the pep rallies and cliches and talk about real life. You know, the every day grind of your feelings versus your flesh, your spirit versus your sinful nature; and your “I wish” versus your “I just can’t”. That’s the real stuff us average Christian’s deal with. If you’re a super Believer, or want to positive confess your way out from reality, then you’ll probably want to tune out the rest of this message.

Have you tried every trick in the book,
but not turned to look in the Book?

I’m talking to the folks out there like me. Have you started and failed a hundred times? Have you tried every trick in the book but not turned to look to see what THE Book says? Do you get discouraged at how difficult life is and how you always seem to fall well short of where you need to be? Do you feel like your life is a tug of war between wanting and trying to be Godly, but often waking up to the realization that once again you’ve gotten way off track?

The bad news is, that ain’t good. You and I shouldn’t be so wish-washy, weak and easily tossed around. The good news is, you’ve got some well connected company, and someone pretty important who understands your plight:

Romans 7:15-20 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (NKJV)

If Paul hadn’t already laid claim to those words, I certainly would. I want to do one thing, but do another. I want to be holy, but am not. I want to live a certain way, but seem to constantly battle falling back into my old ways. Sounds like me. How about you? Just in case you think the Lord doesn’t understand this teeter totter, think again:

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (NKJV)

No, Jesus never sinned, but He knew all about every temptation that wars against us. He knows, He cares and He has experienced every temptation Himself. Since He never sinned, He is the strength that we can call on to help us off this roller coaster. Our series verse(s) contain some great direction on how we can turn our whole heart towards God:

Joel 2:12-13 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. (NKJV)

Don’t Tear Your Clothes

Rend your heart and not your garments. Huh? What does that mean? In modern language, you could say: “Don’t give God external acts of religion, but rather a broken and changed heart.”

In the old days, and in that culture, when a person was repentant or sorrowful, they would tear their clothes as a dramatic symbol of inner turmoil or grief. However, outside behavior can be faked even while the inside is not right. Don’t believe me? How many times have you been doing all the right “Christian” things (church attendance at the ‘right’ church, saying the right words, reading the Bible once in a while) and yet, you know for a fact that your heart is not right with God, your walk doesn’t match your talk, and spiritually you are dry and dead inside?

We can easily fool ourselves by checking off our “holy checklist”
of externals: words, clothes, activity, religious acts.

As humans we can fool people by acting the right way on the outside. We can deceive our spouses, our kids and our family. We can fool the Pastor, the Elders and the unbelievers around us. We can certainly, and sometimes most easily, fool ourselves by checking off our list of external Christian behavior, expressions, conformity and attitudes. Substituting religious acts/behavior for true humility, a repentant heart and a worshipping spirit is so NATURAL for our sinful flesh, that we must be on guard and alert against it at all times.

God isn’t looking for religious acts UNLESS they spring from a rended heart. Rend – hmmm – what exactly does that mean anyway? We don’t use that much today. The word is much more than simply “broken”. It’s actually very intense:

  • To remove from it’s position by violence
  • To split or tear apart violently
  • To cut mentally or emotionally

This is not just some sort of “I’m sorry”. This is a true brokenness that cuts to the heart of your heart. This is a heart that tears apart what it currently is, so God can repair it the way He wants it. A rended heart is one that is opened wide with honesty, removing all pretense and defense. It is a heart that doesn’t try to fool anyone; not God, not your own self. It’s a heart that admits it’s frailty, it’s constant failures, it’s war and struggle with sin.

Now some may ask at this point: “so I have to have some big emotional episode, and cry and wail and all that stuff?” If that’s your reaction, then you are still on the surface. I’ve seen broken men who have wept almost uncontrollably at the realization of the condition of their heart. I have seen woman whose heart was torn and it rendered them speechless, motionless, and at least externally, emotionless. This is not about some outward display. What’s in your heart along with how God compiled your personality will determine the outward response. The key is that the outward response is a result of a inward heart-turn towards God.

How can you reach the point of rending your heart? Verse 12: fasting, weeping and mourning. Fasting takes our attention off physical needs and as those needs increase, we are increasingly dependent on God for strength. Through fasting we clear our minds, purge our bodies and draw close to God.

Weeping, crying, sadness, remorse, contrition – in whatever form that takes for you, it is a true sorrow over the struggle against our sin. It is an authentic hurt over what sin has done to us, our families and the world. Any person who is void of emotion when thinking about their sin, doesn’t really understand what sin is, what sin does and how much misery man has suffered because of it.

While weeping is the immediate emotional reaction to the realization of our sin, mourning is a deliberate effort to make time to grieve and sorrow for it. Mourning takes us from a simple momentary emotional response to a deliberate period of time where we express sorrow and actively grieve. Sin has ruined countless lives. Sin has wreaked havoc on your life and mine. It merits more than a passing tear. Mourning is a time of sadness to comtemplate the extent of the damage and effect sin has had on us. Sin is what separates us from God. It has earned more than just a passing consideration.

Fasting, weeping and mourning – through these sincere acts we are drawn to God, made aware of our sinfulness and express true sorrow and humility. It is an inward act of tearing our hearts in response to our waywardness and inconsistency; a true act of worship and repentance with one authentic moment being worth infinitely more than every external religious act ever performed.

Tomorrow we will look at God’s response to this rending of our hearts. As for now, if your Christianity has not moved past an external checklist, quit tearing your clothes – it’s a waste of time. Get about the business of fasting, weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and turn towards our God who is interested in what’s going on inside your heart, not outside your body (unless what is occurring externally is a by-product of a truly Godly heart).

Lord God, help us to rend our hearts instead of tearing our clothes. Help us to understand that religious acts are meaningless without a changed heart. Help us to have as our daily resolution that we will turn to You with our whole heart. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Contemplation: Do you understand why God says rend your heart and not your garments? Do you understand that ACTING like a Christian doesn’t necessarily make you one? Do you know that God could care less about a religious act that does not originate from a holy heart? Have you ever been truly heart-torn over sin, your sin?

Application: Until we tear down into the real depths of our heart, and truly sorrow over sin and how it keeps us from God, we will forever remain on the roller coaster of religious acts and checklists. Make is your New Day’s resolution to turn your WHOLE heart to God every single day weeping and mourning over your sin, and rejoicing and singing over the victory God has given through His son.

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?