Don’t Bargain For Blessing

Jeff grace, Mercy, Worship

Let me confess that I do not regularly find myself immersed in that section of Scripture known as the Minor Prophets.  I opened there the other day and little pockets of dust popped up as I turned the pages.  Interestingly, for the last three weeks I find myself continually drawn back to that handful of prophecies and am thoroughly enjoying getting reacquainted.  Yesterday I took some deliberate time in the book of Joel and came away greatly encouraged concerning the beauty of God’s grace and patience with us when we fall short of His calling.  Today’s post is the result of the high points of what I took away from that time in Joel.

The first 31 verses in Joel’s prophecy are rather painful.  God is using plain speech to rebuke Israel, His own children, for their waywardness.  I’m not going to recap it all but He lets them have the “This is gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you…” speech.  Simply put, God blisters them and they undeniably deserved it.  When chapter 2, verse 12, shows up I find myself reading the remainder of the book caught somewhere between wanting to leap for joy or sit down in grateful silence and cry.  Why?  Listen to what your God says to His backslidden, hard-hearted, obstinate kids who have wavered far off the path:

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 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…” Joel 2:12-13 {ESV}

God welcomes them to come back home and holds the door wide open for them to do so.  He is willing to forgive and apply grace in such a way that they are fully restored.  He offers them no less than an undeserved, unmitigated pardon.  But it gets even better.  Part of His discipline upon them was that He had withheld rain so their crops had died for consecutive years during their rebellion.  They had then eaten up all their reserves and now were in danger of starving to death.  Their entire economic system was crumbling as another year of crops failed to come forth.  God not only told them that He would forgive them, He now commits to abundantly supply them with their needs…plus some:

“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…Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given the early rain for your vindication; He has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.” – Joel 2:19, 23-26

Look at the “grace-words” God places in the passage above: satisfied, poured down, abundant, full, overflow, restore, plenty and wondrously.  Law cannot give you that.  Justice cannot provide this.  Mindless tradition and benumbed orthodoxy never result in words like this!  It is only divine grace which reveals the goodness of God to those of us who clearly don’t deserve it.  Transforming grace is not bartered for.  Restoring grace does not wait for us to get our act together.  Here’s something that is so difficult for us to accept: God is good and is committed to revealing that goodness to us.  He cannot wait for someone to deserve it because, if He did so, none of us would ever qualify to experience His goodness – it would continue forever in an unrevealed state.  If anyone is ever to experience the goodness of God it will have to be the undeserving because that is all He has to work with!  God pours grace out, not as a reward for good behavior, but as evidence that He still mightily loves the badly behaved.  God looks at Israel in the days of the prophet Joel and refuses to hide the evidence of how rottenly they have lived.  Then He offers them judicial pardon and relational restoration.  Subsequent to that amazing display of His grace God compounds the matter by promising to pour out the richest of His blessings as He welcomes them home.  This is the same God who has the commitment to convict you of your own wrongdoing as well as the desire to lavishly love you out of living in that error ever again.  It is indeed the goodness of God which leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

So, wandering child, put away your offers to do better.  Throw out your bargaining chips because the Almighty does not recognize them.  Your self-justification will need to fall silent if you are to ever discern the communicated offer of His grace.  Throw yourself upon His evident mercy because you have found the most solid of ground there.  He is good.  He will always be good.  Wonder of wonders, He is choosing to be good to you by calling your name and daring to believe His offer of constant grace.  I, for one, believe.  So did Joel.  And now…what about you?  Is this for you or not?