by Betty Baker Bailey
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn;
wail, you who minister before the altar.
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
you who minister before my God;
for the gain offerings and drink offerings
are withheld from the house of your God.
Declare a holy fast;
call a sacred assembly,
Summon the elders
and all who live in the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord.
Alas for that day!
For the day of the Lord is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty. – Joel 1:13-15
Here the priests are called to gather together to seek the Lord because the evidence of His displeasure was unmistakable. The economic repercussions from the loss of crops had set their economy into a tailspin. So, Joel calls them together to fast, weep, and seek – knowing that God honors honest contrition.
Today we are in just such a tailspin. Yet, few call out for a gathering of the priesthood – more commonly known as the saved, and even fewer gather. Why? Well, part of the reason is that some do not truly understand the need. Another is that some don’t care to hear that they have sinned, much less what those sins are. Some like their sin so much they are completely unwilling to change or be changed. Even among those who do gather, some are still speaking “empty words”.
First off, anyone who considers it acceptable to speak empty words to God needs to seriously consider what that says about their relationship with God. Did you think He would not know? I implore you to consider the problem of attempting to lie to One of such great Supremacy. Do you not take your very life in your hands? Turn back before it is too late. You cannot hide from God. He knows the truth of your heart better than you do. It would be far better for you to be silent than to risk His ire so contemptuously.
Secondly, Christ made it clear that He came for the lost; rather than, the self-righteous. If you will not be turned from your sin, you will be left in your sin, and to the judgment that comes with it. Turn back before your pleasure consumes your eternity.
God hears prayer uttered in honest, humble submission to Him. He does not care for the idle repetitive prayer. He has no love for the screaming insistent prayer. Nor does He value the self-righteous prayer. We are all saved by grace -- His grace. Therefore, our righteousness -- if, indeed, we have any -- is from Him. He will not be moved by our abundance of words, our raised voices, nor our inflated self-worth. No, He looks at the heart and sees even what we attempt to hide. Though we recognize not our unrepentant desires, He most certainly does.
Further, we can gather from dawn 'til dusk – every single day of the week; but until our hearts genuinely seek His will, it will avail us not. He isn't interested in the semi-dedicated. He's interested in the fully committed. He has no regard for the self-inflated, but graciously attends the brokenhearted.
Yes, we must gather. The sin that has brought this judgment upon us requires repentance -- sincerely committed repentance. We cannot just pretend like we have no part in it. It is our guilt that brought His wrath upon us. Therefore, we must gather to seek forgiveness and mercy from our holy God. However, it must be with those sincerely ready to be broken by Him – for when He breaks us, it is truly to our own good. (How much better it will be to be a stubby branch than an errant vine. One will be cut down and cast into the fire. The other will, by grace, be covered in blooms.) We must seek His mercy in earnest. We must set aside our own plans, our own desires, and be drawn apart unto Him – to seek His heart exclusively.
Let it not be said that those of this generation did not take the time to earnestly seek Him; but rather, let it be known that we esteemed Him so highly that we thought of little else. What greater acclaim could a generation attain? Though His grace is not for the perfect, it most certainly is for those who, recognizing their own frailties, choose His will over theirs – even to the point of allowing His pruning according to His will.