Sometimes the Father will intentionally and repeatedly emphasize a particular theme in your mind and heart. You will find at these times that your thoughts keep circling back to the matter He is cycling back to you over and over again. You will hear it in every song, in each sermon, or woven into daily conversations with others. The resources He is using to communicate to you are human, but the idea that He is layering within you is sourced in the Divine – in Himself. This is how the Father communicates to those who have learned to listen for His voice. Lately, this has been happening to me. God has been speaking loudly, clearly and repeatedly to me about His compassion for those who are serial stumblers.
“Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he My darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore, My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 31:20
If you are not too familiar with who Ephraim is, let me give a quick summary. The twelve tribes of ancient Israel went through a split in their Kingdom. Two of the twelve tribes, Judah and Benjamin, had a stronger record of faithfulness to their God than the other ten tribes did. The ten tribes which chose a wayward course from God were in the northern part of the land, and those tribes were sometimes called by one name: Ephraim. Jeremiah, in the verse above, is proclaiming the heart of God towards wayward Ephraim. Ephraim had become unfaithful to God and was living in an ongoing pattern of spiritual adultery (see Hosea 5:3). Those ten tribes were chasing pagan gods which allowed them to give expression to their most carnal desires. There came a point where Ephraim was so far from God that nobody would think that they had any legitimate participation in the covenant God had given to them through Abraham. Ephraim had gone rogue on the Lord, and had chosen a distinct path of open rebellion. It was to these very people that God spoke the compassionate and gracious words above.
Dear son…Darling child…I remember him…My heart yearns for him…I will show him mercy.
Who would expect a holy God to use such words of grace to open, defiant rebels?
Part of what God is doing in our own generation is turning renegades back to Himself. We write people off far too often and much too easily. We sometimes give up on the very ones whom God chases after in grace, mercy and love. If we will ever become like our Heavenly Father, we will need to pursue His heart of faithful compassion on behalf of those who give us no visible reason to hope for them. Ephraim represented all that was unholy, unfaithful, unfeeling and unrepentant towards God. Yet, unlike so many of us, God did not storm away from them. He did not bolt the door on them. Perhaps even more intriguing, God communicates how He feels about these straying children of His. He employs terms of endearment such as dear and darling. The Father was not on some theological, clinical, forensic mission with Ephraim. He was chasing them down with love and compassion. He intended to embrace them in the midst of their filth. These were the people of His promise, and He could not simply walk away from them.
Please note that it is also clear in the above verse that God communicated hard and confrontational truth to them. He denounced their ways. He warned them of what would happen if they persisted in their sins. No, God is not an indulgent, enabling Parent. He disciplined Ephraim even as He continued to be motivated toward them by His own love. He would do everything in order to woo them back to Himself. This is the heart of God the Father. This is the passion of Jesus, God the Son, as He wept over Jerusalem in His own day (Luke 13:34). This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who often comes as the gentle Dove to draw back to Christ those who sought to distance themselves from God.
Yes, Father, Son & Holy Spirit have never ceased pursuing and pleading with the spiritually estranged.
Will the Church follow suit? Will we refuse to give up on those who seemed determined to run?
To the degree that we are becoming like our King, yes, we also will engage in restoring the fallen.