Joel- The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Within hours, sometimes minutes, life can change from order to chaos.  Natural disasters, accidents, violent acts and crimes of the heart leave a path of destruction behind them much like Joel describes in his book.  “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them a desert waste…” (Joel 2:3 NIV). Many things we think of as foundational, can be swept away with no advance warning.

For me, an iconic visual of grandeur to ruin are movie scenes when the White House (home to American presidents) is overwhelmed by an invading power.  When bombs explode the white, exterior pillars into a thousand directions, and the American flag is left smoldering in pieces, I feel something visceral while telling myself, “It’s just a movie.” Part of me knows that but for God’s protecting hand, cinema could become reality.

The book of Joel, is a warning to Israel that sin will push away God’s mighty hand and leave them vulnerable to destruction. Not only those caught up in sin would be hurt, but the lives of faithful followers of Jehovah would also be turned upside down.  A stark contrast existed between Israel’s present state in the promised land, and their former lives as Egyptian slaves. Before, the bounty of the land belonged to their masters. Now they owned the most productive acreage in the middle east.  The miles of fields and vineyards became significant symbols of God’s blessing and their national freedom, much like the American flag and White House.

God planted his chosen people in a new Eden reminiscent of the first garden. When the original Eden fell, the world flipped for humans. Perfection became a memory and God rolled out his plan of redemption, to restore us to our intended homeland. Gifting Israel with their own country “flowing with milk and honey,” demonstrated to the existing world, life as God’s special people, beautiful, abundant, like the original garden.  For believers now, the Promised Land serves as a type for Christ’s earthly invisible kingdom, with all its wonders, and our eternal homeland in heaven’s paradise.

Joel’s first chapter is brutal in its descriptions of a land stripped bare and that’s exactly how some of you feel in this moment. At some point, most people experience something that creates that sensation in their lives, where people and things are ripped away. What remains looks like a barren landscape. Just like those images of the White House, and the prophet’s descriptions of locust damage, our dreams, relationships, homes, churches, jobs etc. can be decimated by circumstances, sometimes beyond repair.  Often, we don’t realize we lived in abundance until suddenly, we don’t.

Compare these two descriptions from Genesis and Joel.  God wanted Israel to understand that the bounty he re-created for them in the Promised Land could be taken in the same way humans lost access to Eden.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation; seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.”  Genesis 1:11-12

 

“Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes- joy and gladness from the house of our God?  The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods.  The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.  How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.”  Joel 1: 16-18

You might feel like you’ve moved from lush to barren, bounty to lack. You can’t see any way that what you’ve lost can ever be restored because there isn’t even a seed of hope left in your situation. Take encouragement from Joel 2:25-26. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…you will have plenty to eat, until you are full.”  The end of your story is not yet written, the Author is still at work.

Some theologians believe Joel described an actual locust invasion.  Others say these verses symbolize the coming Babylonian invasion of Israel in the 5th century, which will leave the land wasted, as described.  Like some theologians, I believe both things are true. History records a massive locust infestation during the 9th century, when Joel lived and prophesied.  I think God used this natural event to speak to Israel about the long-term consequences of their disobedience and as a warning to future generations of believers.

Portions of your life may be in ruins due to your sin or the sin of others.  You may be an unintended casualty of another’s rebellion against God’s Word and his ways.  If your own disobedience resulted in a terrible loss, this is a hard thing to bear.  During a financial desert season in our lives, Ken and I counseled with an older pastor, intimate with great loss.  Once the pastor of a large, successful church, a married man with a wonderful wife and spacious, well appointed home, he lost everything, except his wife, due to adultery.

He shared details of his fall, like the eye damage his wife suffered from intense crying, and the shabbiness of the house they could afford, once he lost his ministry.  I’ll never forget what he said to us that day.  “Ken and Sharon,” he stated very solemnly, “what you are experiencing is painful, yet I am certain it is not a chastising, but a trial God is allowing for his greater purposes.  Now, try to imagine all you are experiencing occurrs because you sinned against God. Let me tell you that the agony of that nearly did me in, but God is faithful.”

Just as God eventually restored that pastor back to ministry, he can bring new life and opportunities to any believer who will acknowledge and confess sin.  There will most likely be a time of humbling and setbacks, but God is always eager to return his children to Eden.

What if  you are experiencing a locust swarm created by someone else’s sin, like our pastor friend’s wife? Your first job is forgiving.  When the behavior of others results in our loss, Satan is ready to pounce and build a stronghold of anger and self—pity inside of us.  Not everyone in Israel sinned against God. Some remained faithful and certainly young children were innocent of the charges God brought against his people. Yet, due to sin, the entire nation went into captivity in Babylon a couple centuries after Joel’s warnings. The promised land lay ruined by the invading conquerors, just as Joel prophesied.

Consider the prophet Daniel and his friends, carried away to Babylon.   Instead of allowing themselves to fill with bitterness at the injustice of it all, they rose to positions of power and influence because of their godly response to horrific circumstances.

 

Painful trials come to everyone at some point. Seasons will come when we feel lost and empty.  How we respond, be it repentance, forgiveness or bitterness, will determine what happens next.  

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • ADDITIONAL VERSES about God’s ability to redeem and restore. Make a copy of these to keep with you, put in your Bible or place around your home. (NIV) Personalize these verses and then speak and declare them out loud over your circumstances of loss and brokeness. God’s Word is alive, unlike any other book.  Speaking it out loud will change the atmosphere around you and your soul within you.

 

 Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so, you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.  Isaiah 61:7

 

Heal me O Lord, and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.  Jeremiah 17:14

 

“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 30:17

 

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.  Job 42:10 (Don’t discount this verse, thinking somehow Job was more deserving of special treatment than you are.)

 

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. I Peter 5:10

 

 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 (“Double for your trouble,” as Joyce Meyer likes to say it, is a reoccurring theme in the Word.)

 

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. Psalm 71:21-22

 

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3

 

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. … Ezekiel 37:1-10 (Read this entire passage and then be bold enough to start speaking the Word out loud to the dead, dry areas of your life.)

 

  • Stand on verses specific to your situation.  Wherever your place of loss and barrenness lies, God’s Word can speak to it.  Ask him to help you seek and find his promises that are more specific to your situation.  Remember, a lack of faith grieves God.  Choose NOT to spend your life grieving what once was.  Grief is a  necessary season, but not a lifestyle.  Stand fast on the Word and expect God to do new things in your environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • For a fascinating video about locust swarms, check out this link. Imagine this on your property, leaving it stripped of anything green. Makes God’s promise to restore everything the locusts eat more meaningful when you understand the devastation they can create.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bx5JUGVahk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope for Discouraged Hearts Part 2

Unmet expectations can destroy a marriage, ruin a business, split a church and crush the human spirit.  Every hour of every day our minds are filled with sets of expectations for everyone with whom we engage and everything to which we put our energies. When our anticipations and our realities are out of sync, chronically, we become discouraged.

Through watching friends, I developed some imaginings of what my first pregnancy might look like.  I pictured the excitement of confirming suspicions on a stick while my husband and I laughed and hugged, the wonderful reveal to friends and family, buying cute maternity clothes, designing a nursery and such.

The reality of my pregnancy erupted one cold, January morning with violent, unrelenting vomiting which nothing stopped except hospitalization, I. V’s and drugs. I cycled in and out of the hospital many times, unable to keep even my own spit down.  At home, in between hospital stays, I sat on the couch or the bathroom floor all day long, dutifully trying to eat jello and crackers and keep them down., too weak to even engage in conversation.  Imagine an unending stomach flu.   My husband felt guilty every minute he worked and helpless every moment he spent with me.  This loveliness lasted until the end of that May.   Those nightmarish months looked nothing like my pregnancy dreams and left both of us deeply discouraged.

When life doesn’t go the way we planned, we are faced with response choices.  We can live in the disappointment of “should have been,” or we can find ways to flourish in the land of “what is and what might be.”  I seriously lacked any “go with the flow” or “make lemons from lemonade” skills in my young years, therefore I wasted a lot of time living in pity parties, wondering why things couldn’t just go the way I wanted.

The beginning of anything new, whether it’s a marriage, a job or something else, can become a minefield of unmet expectations when a situation shapes itself differently and we lack the strength of character to adjust and commit to makes the best of what God’s given us.  My visions of life as a newlywed didn’t match our reality remotely. With Ken in graduate school, he attended classes and studied non-stop, except for meal breaks, from early morning to late at night.  For the first few months in a new town with no friends or family, loneliness overwhelmed me.  I read huge classic novels from cover to cover in between job hunting, a small, part-time waitress job, and the miniscule amount of housework necessary in our 400 square foot apartment.  My college degree gathered dust as I discovered that teaching jobs in my field couldn’t be found.   Every day my dreams seemed to move farther away and I lived in a state of perpetual disappointment.

As disheartening as some of my lifetime unmet expectations were, they are junior varsity compared to others which require much deeper courage and strength.  When your spouse states that they don’t love you anymore and they’ve found someone else who makes them happy, that’s enormous.  If your company downsizes and you are one of the expendables, that is a monstrous blow to a sense of value and a feeling of financial stability.  When an adult child chooses a self-destructive lifestyle with addiction or other devastating behaviors, it’s heartbreaking.   Cancer upends lives and demolishes expectations every hour of every day.

Job knew a lot about loss and unmet expectations.  Who, in their wildest imaginings would think that their entire family and business could be wiped out so completely in such a short time?   With no family or possessions left and covered with painful sores, it’s no wonder he sat in an ash heap.  Discouragement is a normal response to broken dreams, but if we choose to live in the ash heap of disappointment, we aren’t able to see the new possibilities God places before us.

A victim mentality, hopelessness, cynicism, sarcasm, bitterness and a host of other negative emotions will attempt to establish themselves as our new baseline when we are low.  How do we shift gears and recapture a peaceful, joy-filled outlook?  Here’s what works for me, perhaps it can help you too:

  • Remind yourself that the unexpected for you is no surprise for God.   He’s already prepared a new way for you to walk and function before you even knew you needed one.  Whatever you need for your adjusted situation, He will provide.  He is your Jehovah Jireh and you Good Shepherd.

 

  • Forgive anyone who contributed to your unmet expectations.  You will make yourself crazy spinning around over what individuals should or shouldn’t have done that affected you negatively.  It doesn’t mean you forget what’s been done or never lovingly confront them, it means you don’t hold it against them.

 

 

  • Feel what you’re feeling then begin to move on even if it’s just small steps.  I’ll say it again; feelings aren’t right or wrong.  How we act on them, leads to victory or despair.

 

  • Don’t rehearse the details of your setback with numerous people.  Share your disappointment with one or two close friends, not everyone you meet.  Some people allow themselves to be defined by their disappointments and the minute you show an interest in them, they launch into a soliloquy about all the harsh blows life has dealt them.  To be sure, some people walk through some long-term Job style stuff but repeatedly talking about wrongs and disappointment just makes it harder for their soul to recover and become re-appointed in a new direction.

 

 

  • Re-establish your hope and expectations in the Lord. I find I must return repeatedly to a place of abandonment where I say, “Lord, this isn’t what I wanted or dreamed of at all, but I believe you create beauty, purpose and meaning in whatever you allow into my life. Let me line up with your will and your kingdom purposes in my attitudes and actions. I know your hand is good towards me and you are always, always, always, trying to prosper me, not harm me.”  Sometimes I pray this a bunch when it’s a massively squirreled up situation.

 

  • Find Scriptures pertinent to your situation and hang onto them like it’s your job. I know I keep saying this but if you can get this truth, of immersing yourself in the Word and rolling it over and over in your mind, I promise you are going to handle life’s crazy dial much better than many others.

Life will perpetually hand us lemons.  We must decide whether we will simply drink the bitter juice or transform it to some tasty lemonade.