Learning from Hard Places
Learning the hard way isn’t fun. We can resent the hard places in our life, but maybe if it weren’t for the hard places we would not come to God. God wants to restore us but sometimes it takes hardship to get our attention. Learning from hard places might just keep us nearer to God and away from future pain, too.
Bible Reading of the Day: Joel
We are starting and finishing a new book today, the book of Joel. Written by Joel who wrote his book about 850 years before the birth of Jesus. Some scholars think it was possibly 330 years after that.
Joel depicts a drought and a famine that has struck God’s people because of their waywardness. They have forgotten their God. Joel uses the imagery of locusts to describe the judgment of God upon them as God is seeking to bring them to repentance so they can be restored. The Lord sends their enemies to bring His people to repentance. Joel mentions ‘the army that comes from the north’. Locusts do not come from the north. But the armies in Daniel 11 and Revelation 9 do.
Sometimes it takes hard times to get our attention. The drought and famine were so severe that God’s people could not even bring an offering. If you’ve ever gone through a lean time, it is in those moments that we suddenly become aware of what we don’t have and we become better stewards of what we do have.
God had to take away what they had so the Israelites could see their lack —both physically and spiritually.
Learning from Hard Places—Finding Joy Even Then
In chapter 1:12, Joel says that the grain is destroyed the trees have withered and human joy has dried up. Human joy can waiver, can’t it? Especially when our provision changes. But Paul taught us a lesson about being able to be joyful—content, no matter what the provision. In Philippians 4:11-13, he said that he had learned the secret of being content whether well fed or hungry—and the secret was that he could do all things through Christ which was his strength.” We can find joy even in the hard places because Christ is our strength and our joy.
But still, we are affected by hard times and it can be discouraging. But the hope is that hard times will bring us back to God, who we are supposed to rely and depend upon. This is the challenge Joel gives in 1:13-14, that they would dress in sackcloth, fast, mourn and cry out to God. You see the danger in this life is that we will just go through the motions and live for self. And then live a life of sin.
But maybe we will recognize that we don’t want hard times to be the impetus for us to draw near to God. Learning from hard places can keep us out of the hard places or it can give us wisdom in the middle of hard.
Learning from Hard Places—Fearing God
In chapter 2 we read about the Day of the LORD, which many other prophets describe, as well. The description is pretty vivid and the end of verse 11 sums it up, “The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing. Who can possibly survive?”
I’ve heard people say that they don’t want fear to be a motivator for someone to get right with God. Friends, we have a holy, awesome God! No flesh can stand in His presence and live. It is a fearsome thing to be in the presence of God, and yet, as we talked about yesterday, we are to live in His presence by the grace of God.
Learning from Hard Places—Avoiding Shame
Joel 2:17, there is a plea not just for restoration, but the removal of shame:
“Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Have pity on your people, Lord, and do not make your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
God responds to even this request:
“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate, the young locust, the destroying locust, and the devouring locust— my great army that I sent against you. 26 You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. You will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. My people will never again be put to shame. 27 You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.”
God cares even about our shame, though we deserve it. We would not have shame if we did not have an audience. God wants to restore His people and remove their sin and shame.
“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as the Lord promised, among the survivors the Lord calls.”
“Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy, and foreigners will never overrun it again.”
Shame gets our attention just like hardship does. But learning from hard places helps us to quiet shame, too.
Scripture of the Day: Joel 2:12-13
“That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.”
In verse 13, Joel uses words from Exodus 34:6. With these words, he reminds the people what God is really like. They would tear their clothes when they were filled with grief. Outward expressions of repentance. God wanted them to rend their hearts. Not literally, but to have their repentance be inward. Not just an external display. Learning from hard places rather than getting a hard heart in hard places draws us nearer to God and restores us.
- Friends, God is inviting us to return to Him.
- Is there any area of our life where we have gone astray?
- Learn from hard places so we don’t have to stay there.
7-Fold One-Year Bible Reading Plan Day #234: Joel
Scripture of the Day: Joel 2:12-13
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