When God gets your attention in a big way

The book of Joel was written by Joel the son of Pethuel. Joel was a prophet we know very little about. He had a great name for a prophet in that his name means, "Yahweh is God." Joel directed his preaching toward Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. Estimates for the date of the book range from 835 BC to 586 BC, but there isn't a strong consensus as to the date because Joel doesn't mention the names of specific kings or give other details that would help us nail down an exact year.

In this brief book, Joel speaks about God's righteous judgment, our need for repentance, and the future restoration the Lord has in store. A phrase you'll probably start to pick up on as you read through the book is, "the day of the Lord." As Joel prophetically references that day, he's speaking of a future time of God's judgment on sin, and how that will play out on this earth and in our lives. The concept of "the day of the Lord" is referenced elsewhere in Scripture as well (2 Thes. 2:2, 2 Pet. 3:10, etc.), so it's clear that the Lord wants us to be aware of the fact that that day is absolutely coming.

As this book opens, we can see that God is trying to make us aware of this reality. To aid us in understanding what's coming, we're given imagery that's intended to get our attention in a big way. Have you ever experienced a season when you could tell that God was trying to get your attention? How did you respond? How does this Scripture encourage us to respond to God's attempts to open our eyes to His truth?

I. Convey the work and word of God to your children

The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:

Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
— Joel 1:1-4, ESV

The book of Joel is one of the shorter books of the Bible, but it conveys a powerful message of the judgment of the Lord and the restoration only He can facilitate. As the Lord was speaking this message through Joel, He used the occasion of a severe locust plague that had afflicted Judah to get their attention and draw a parallel about the judgment He was going to bring about at a future date.

Not long ago, a friend of mine who lives in Las Vegas shared a picture of a major invasion of grasshoppers that had swarmed their city. It looked rather unpleasant and I'm sure it was a big mess. That picture comes to mind when I read the opening verses of Joel's book. Locusts are a species of grasshopper that have the ability to swarm and devour large amounts of vegetation as they move through an area. In short order, they can completely devastate an agricultural economy.

At the time of Joel's writing, locusts had just devoured the vegetation and crops of the people of Judah. As a result, their economy was suffering, many of the animals were without food, and their families were devastated physically and financially. This event was so severe that it was unlike anything that generation of people had ever witnessed.

Through this event, God was certainly getting the attention of His people in a big way, and He wanted them to be sure to convey what He was teaching them through this occurrence to their children and the generations of grandchildren that would come after them.

Have you ever considered just how vital your influence is on your children and their children? From whom do most children first learn about God? From where do many Christians trace their understanding of the gospel? Who has the greatest opportunity to model what it looks like to live with a vibrant relationship with Jesus? Parents and grandparents tend to be the ones with the greatest role of influence in a child's life.

That being so, make the point to convey the work and word of God to your children and grandchildren. Establish intentional patterns in your home whereby this can be accomplished. Read the Bible out loud to your family. Pray together. Confess to each other. Remind one another of the goodness, grace, judgment, and mercy of God.

II. Wake up from your slumber and distractions

Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth. For a nation has come up against my land, powerful and beyond number; its teeth are lions’ teeth, and it has the fangs of a lioness.  It has laid waste my vine and splintered my fig tree; it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down; their branches are made white.
— Joel 1:5-7, ESV

Not long ago, I took my family to our favorite amusement park. My wife and I enjoy it just as much (if not more) than our kids. It's a wonderful distraction that can take our minds off the burdens and stresses of everyday life, but it isn't easy to step back into reality the next day. The following morning, we're all exhausted and hard to wake, but we can't live in an amusement park fantasy forever.

I think we all know of people who would rather live in a fantasy than come to terms with reality. There are many diversions that can attempt to facilitate slumber and distraction for us. Some of us choose to distract ourselves with media, or video games, or sports, or substances. But there comes a time when we need to wake from our slumber and distractions.

I get the impression that the people of Judah weren't any different from us. In our day, the majority of people treat God like an afterthought, and a minority possess the understanding that He is present with us and concerned for our well-being. Under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, Joel challenged the people of Judah to wake up from their slumber and their drunkenness so they could actually begin to see what God was doing in their generation. Ironically, now that all the vineyards in their land had been destroyed, they would be forced to wake from their drunkenness since they could no longer produce wine to drink.

Have you ever experienced a season when God gave you a distinct wake-up call? How did He facilitate waking you up? When I was a kid and wouldn't get out of bed, my mother would take a cup of water and dump it on my head. I hated that, but it worked. Has God ever used a difficult season to remind you of your need for His presence? Has He ever used an event in your children's lives to remind you of your need for His intervention and power? How is He waking you from your slumber and distractions?

III. Allow yourself to express godly sorrow

Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.  The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord.  The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes.
— Joel 1:8-10, ESV

Recently, through tears, a friend of mine shared with me the story of the regrets he had with his father. During his youth, he regularly gave his father a hard time. He fought against him over big issues and little issues, and for a season, took his life in a very bad direction. At the end of his father's life, my friend was feeling regretful for the grief he put his father through, so while his father was dying, he decided to confess his regret and seek forgiveness. He told me that he said to his father, "I'm sorry I did that to you, but you do know that I've always loved you, right?" And his father said, "Absolutely. I always knew."

Expressing sorrow isn't something that most of us feel naturally excited about doing. Generally speaking, I think it's fair to say that most of us prefer expressing feelings of happiness than feelings of sadness. But Scripture speaks of a sorrow that's quite healthy for us to embrace and express.

Scripture tells us that, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (2 Cor. 7:10, NIV). We may not always realize it, but sorrow can be an extremely healthy thing for us. Consider how sorrow impacts the nature of our relationship with the Lord. At one point, we were doing our own thing, living in ignorance to the sacrificial love of God that had been shown to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered and died on the cross in order to take our sin upon Himself and atone for what we had done, but we have all spent time living as if this was never done for us.

Then the day comes when the Lord opens our eyes and makes us able to see the nature of our sin, the depth of our offense to His righteousness, the pain Christ endured to pay for what we have done, and we experience godly sorrow. We become sorrowful for how we have sinned against our loving Father, and we repent of our sin. Now through faith in Christ, we experience the joy of salvation and the new life He secured for us through His resurrection from the dead.

God desires that humanity experience this great blessing, and His heart was conveyed to the people of Judah through Joel's words. They were encouraged to "lament" and "mourn" with the ultimate intent that they would turn to the Lord and seek His power and presence in their lives once again. Have we allowed ourselves to express the kind of godly sorrow Scripture encourages God's people to express? Have we been compelled to repent of our sin and unbelief?

IV. Admit the unpleasant so you can prepare to address it

Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished.  The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.
— Joel 1:11-12, ESV

The locusts destroyed the land of Judah in a very abrupt way. It appears that the people of Judah had become complacent in their riches and didn't foresee something like this coming. It's also clear that their complacency became an excuse for them to live as if the Lord was distant from them. God was barely an afterthought in their minds.

But now it was time for them to admit the unpleasant. It was time for them to admit that they were trying to do life on their own without God's help. It was time for them to admit that the faith they had once placed in their abundant harvests and healthy livestock was misplaced. The objects of their misplaced faith were being taken away and it was time for them to admit the unpleasant so they could prepare to address it.

Do you like old jokes? Here's one about admitting our struggles that I've heard a few times, but it still makes me chuckle.

Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, “Our people come to us, pour out their hearts, and confess certain sins and needs. Let’s do the same. Confession is good for the soul.” In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars, and the third one confessed to liking to play cards. When it came for the fourth one, he wouldn’t confess. The others pressed him saying, “Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?” Finally he answered, “It is gossiping and I can hardly wait to get out of here.”
— Primary Source Unknown, Bible.org

Sometimes God gets our attention in big ways because small ways won't suffice. Sometimes it takes a financial emergency, a health crisis, a family need, or a relationship strain to get us to pay attention. Can we admit the unpleasant and learn to address it, or would we like to attempt to remain in our personal fantasies a little longer? Are we ready to experience the long-term benefits of godly sorrow? Are we ready to wake up from our slumber and distractions? Would we like to be able to testify to our children of the difference Christ has made in our lives once we finally stopped ignoring Him?

© John Stange, 2019