A Heart That Returns to God
Below is an edited version of the sermon manuscript titled, “A Heart that Returns to God.”
12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 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.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the LORD your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O LORD,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
- Joel 2:12-17
In his prophesy, Joel speaks of a locust invasion that is deemed to be “God’s army.” They march on the people of of Judah and wreck havoc, hunger, and pain upon the people.
One might wonder how God could use a locust swarm to do anything spiritual to His people. Yet the first two chapters of Joel do exactly that. God used a bunch of bugs to bring about suffering and pain and death upon his own people so that his people would turn to the majesty of a benevolent God who wishes to save a sinful people. He used a bunch of bugs. This was his method to get man’s attention. One characteristic of God is that he does not enjoy inflicting wrath upon his children. He does not discipline his children because he loves to swing the belt. Instead God only disciplines his children when his children go astray toward things that are not good for the child of God. (Heb. 13, Joel 2:13-14) This is the extent that God will go in this life time to wake you up to the needs in the life to come.
Throughout history God has sent bugs, floods, fire, pagan military nations, and plagues upon plagues on His children so they will wake up. and the sign that his children have awaken from their dead sinful and dreary ways is found in two simple concepts. Repent and believe. The same words our Savior used to beacon in a generation of Jews that were farther from God than many prostitutes were.
“Assemble a Solemn assembly”
“Consecrate the congregation”
Such are words that are used to define a return to God from God’s Word... Is this how you return to God? Is this how we return to God? Full belly’s and full lifestyles leave no desire to fast in any way to show God of our love and desire for him and his presence to be among us. A prideful arrogance that we don't have to weep over our sins. That we dont have to relent of the things that we do. How often is our hearts anywhere near God?
“Assemble a Solemn assembly”
“Consecrate the congregation”
These are the words of a return to God... when was the last time we used these terms in our hearts? We cry out for God to reclaim our nation when God isn’t allowed anywhere near our hearts...
And so I want to offer you this invitation today straight from the hand of God. What will it take for you to have a heart that returns to God. Jesus himself had a list of the same caliber of those who were to be called “blessed” in the Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
- Matthew 5:3-11
This is the heart that is blessed in the Kingdom of God.
This is the heart that returns to God.
And this is your pastor’s plea.
When we imagine that we have attained these characteristics of a heart returning to God in both Joel and Matthew we ultimately deceive ourselves and the power of what these passages are trying to convey to you disappear under the disguise of a prideful Pharisaical heart. We all understand how this thought process works. We all know that anyone who determines that they are a humble person is not a humble person. The characteristic of humility is not something that can be self-assigned. In the same way we should never consider these characteristics of the heart to be what we already are but instead make it an ever more goal to become what these characteristics of the heart to return to God truly are. This type of heart is a spiritual awareness of how far we are from God and how desperately we need him. Only with this heart can we be a people who cry out to God for help and repent of our sins when we fail him.
Many will not be able to return into the joys, pleasures, and work of God because they have falsely believed that they have already become what God wants them to be. Today have not become what God wants you to be. Jesus has indeed paid for your life with his blood and redeemed you by his grace, but he has a work to do in your life to sanctify and purify you.
And what is the result when we do not deceive ourselves and realize we have not arrived at what God wants each of us to be in our lives?
18 Then the LORD became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.
19 The LORD answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
a reproach among the nations.
- Joel 2:18-19
A jealous God shows up for those with a heart to return to Him. Don’t think of jealousy in the negative stereotype that we give it from our relationship issues today. Instead think of it as a jealous love a husband holds for his wife. There is no other. This jealous God who seeks out his nation, and his church who would repent and admit they are not a perfect people.
I am not sure if you want God to show up with “grain, wine, and oil” but for a starving people who have developed a heart to return to God, this is a celebration. This is restoration. This is where we have hope in a God who redeems... those who have the characteristics of a heart that returns to God.
When God brings about restoration there is plenty, satisfaction, no more shame, overflowing, rejoicing, and no fear. This is the characteristics of a heart that has seen a need to return to God for restoration.
And the most vital piece of all of this is that you and I can not skip to the restoration of God in its true and fullest scenes without first having a heart that repents, laments, weeps, and grieves over how far we are from our Father. There is no ability to reap the blessings of restoration without a repentant heart.
For many in these pews today you wonder why you do not encounter a restoring God when you worship him on Sunday. Do you have a heart that is repentant? Only the repentant heart can be restored. You can not bypass repentance to receive the blessing of restoration with God.
Caleb Rawls is the pastor at Pleasant Home Baptist Church located in Laurel Mississippi. He and his wife Taylor work to lead the church to grow closer to Jesus and help others encounter Jesus. They also have a golden-doodle named Tiglath-Pilesar IIII.