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.
We’ve looked at how turning to God with your whole heart involves a true and unfettered tearing up of your heart over the sin in your own life, and what sin does to all of our lives. It is not an external religious act, nor even a particular emotional response but a true response of the heart; an evaluation of what keeps us from God, a completely honest admission of everything in our life that is turned away from God instead of towards Him. Fasting helps us see God more clearly; weeping is our heart crying over the realization of what and how much separates from God’s complete fellowship; and mourning is taking a period of time to really grasp, evaluate and grieve over the true nature of this sin-cursed life.
What is God’s response to this authentic act of turning 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)
God Relents from Doing Harm
Before explaing that thought, take a look at what the Bible declares as God’s nature:
- Gracious: pleasing, acceptable, generous, charming, agreeable
- Merciful: compassionate, relieving, favorable
- Slow to anger: patient, understanding, inclined to being pleased rather than displeased
- Great kindness: luxurious goodness, extravagant blessing
And God relents from doing harm. What exactly does that mean? The best analogy I can think of is comparing it to parents disciplining their children but I hesitate to continue. We live in a time and a society where people routinely do NOT discipline their children because 1) they don’t know how to properly and effectively, and 2) those who do are scared to because of criticism and the actions of those who don’t.
Nevertheless, it’s the best comparison I can think of. Parents have to punish their children for wrong doing in order to teach them not to go it again, to teach them that there are “harvests” for transgressions (ie, ‘you reap what you sow’) and that there are consequences to deal with even if you aren’t “punished”. Sometime, for various reasons, a parent may forego the punishment (sometimes out of mercy or because the fallout might be punishment enough) but there might still be consequences to play out.
For example, a boy who is once again playing with a baseball in the house and accidentally breaks the computer monitor. The parents may forgive the child and not punish him but the computer is still broken (consequences). Another example might be a teenage girl who wrecks her car. The parents forgive her and don’t choose to punish her further, but the car is still a mess.
More often than not though, parents have to (or should) administer punishment (in a sense, ‘harm’) for trangressions in the form of scolding, timeouts, grounding, additional chores or God forbid, spanking (I say that tongue in cheek; it is a SHAME that most parents have 1) never been taught how to properly administer spanking which, when lovingly practiced, is a priceless parenting tool; and 2) been shamed or intimidated by liberal society into avoiding spanking because of fear of being reported or ridiculed.) This punishment, or harm, is a direct result of the child’s choice to ignore, forget or defy what those in authority over them have declared as acceptable.
As “grown children” we often ignore, forget or defy God. There are times, like any loving Father, God must discipline us (punish, harm) to get our attention, or to show that we simply cannot get away with choosing sin (turning away from God).
When God “relents from doing harm” because of our authentic repentance, He chooses to forego our rightful punishment, and instead bless us. There may still be consequences to deal with, but God’s discipline is avoided. A quick example: let’s say that I have gotten into the habit of lying. After a period of time, I come to a realization of what I’m doing and genuinely “turn my whole heart towards God”, repenting of my sin and asking forgiveness. The Lord may choose to withhold or cancel some sort of discipline He was preparing for me, but there could still be consequences to deal with such as a loss of trust from other people, or perhaps having to make amends or restitution to those whom my lies have hurt. God “relents from doing harm” because of my genuine contrition demonstrating His patience and mercy.
So what does all this have to do with our New Years resolution to turn our whole heart towards God, a resolution we should be making every day? It has to do with our spiritual maturing understanding:
- Knowing what constitutes true repentance (turning your heart towards God as we’ve talked about in previous messages)
- Revealing God’s nature (kindness, mercy, patience, love) in response to our repentance
- That repentance of sin may lead to God changing His mind about disciplining us – but it doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t consequences to deal with
We mistake consequences for punishment
feeling like God didn’t really forgive us.
As we mature and get off the roller coaster of spiritual inconsistency, we learn that consequences aren’t punishment. Don’t mistake the “harvest” of sin (ie, reap what you sow; aka consequences) with God’s forgiveness and restoration upon the event of our true repentance.
I want to leave you with a summary you can write down, or take with you from this series. It doesn’t do much good to write all this stuff if it becomes “too much” to assimilate or apply on a daily basis in a real world. So here’s what I’ve been trying to teach in these messages:
- Make it a New DAY’s resolution (not just a New Year’s) to daily “turn your whole heart towards God”. Don’t wait for the calender, and event for for your life to get out of control (ie. “the roller coaster”). Do it every day as a life habit.
- Turning your whole heart towards God starts primarily with repentance (an understanding of sin and an honest admission of it in your own life)
- Fasting allows you to clearly see the parts of your life that are not turned towards God; weeping is the sorrow over that realization; and mourning is the process of taking time to consider all of it deeply and seriously.
- Turning your whole heart towards God reveals God’s nature to us: He is loving, kind, merciful, patience, forgiving and blesses us when we deserve punishment.
- Turning your whole heart towards God sometimes results in God changing His mind about impending “harm” (punishment, discipline), although there may still be consequences to deal with.
I can’t stress enough the importance of making this a daily process rather “crisis management”. Turning your heart towards God every day, being proactive about repentance, keeps your life consisent (no more roller coaster), keeps you from getting too far off track, keeps sin from “building up” in your life and keeps God front and center in your heart and mind.
It is a universal truth that when Christians get “off track” (their whole heart is not turned towards God) you will inevitably find a Christian who is not deliberately, proactively and routinely practicing the daily habits that lead to Godly consistency and spiritual maturity (ie. daily worship, repentance, prayer, Bible study and serving).
So wake up every day and start your year over. Have a New Years resolution to have a New Day’s resolution: turn your whole heart towards God. And the God who is merciful, kind, loving, patient and forgiving will be there waiting for you every day.
Lord God, help us to make our daily resolution to turn our whole heart towards you. Help us to see the mercy, kindness and patience in Your response to our repentance. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: The most common lament I hear from other Christians concerns spiritual inconsistency. I believe (primarily from own personal experience, sadly) that the typical cause of the “roller coaster” Christian life is 1) a lack of a daily routine discipline concerning Godly habits, and 2) living REactively rather than PROactively (or in common terms, flying by the seats of your pants). Both of these are at war with our (western countries) affluence and our pleasure-entertainment drenched lifestyle. It’s easy to sit back and just let life happen, especially when life is mostly easy and materialistic. It’s hard to practice a daily deliberate repentance and turning your heart towards God. But like my Daddy use to say: “My Daddy use to say that his Daddy said that nothing in life worth doing was easy.” The point is, alot of Daddy’s have been saying that for a long time because of one reason: it’s true.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?