“‘…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; and He relents over disaster.” Joel 2:13
What does it really mean to rend my heart? To rend, qara, is from the root “revile, paint the eyes, as if enlarging them.” It can mean to cut out, to tear, which is how it is usually used in Scripture. Of course there is this look alike, qara, that has a different pronunciation and is accented differently, and I wonder if it isn’t slightly related? This other qara is about crying out to someone specific, and it’s also an onomatopoetic word, meaning, it sounds like what it says. Now I’m no language specialist here so, I’m just wondering.
But let’s look at the picture here. People were going through the motions of what they ought to do, you know, the outward motions, without the inward motions reflecting the same beliefs in their living. They could rip their garments in feigned repentance because it was what they thought they were “supposed to do.” But You never desired for us to be robots going through the motions of obedience. It’s not just our actions that count, but our hearts. Our heart, our lebab, isn’t just some organ that beats in our chest. What You are referring to here is something different and something more. You are referring to our will, thoughts, and emotions. That’s what You mean when you refer to our heart.
The truth is that fixing up the outside of me won’t ever change me. I can tear up my garments to shreds and it won’t change my attitude one bit. I’ll still be the same on the inside. Until I revile any thoughts of my own that stand against You, until I see how grotesquely painted my will is over Yours, until I cut out my emotions that don’t agree with You, I might as well just be running around in torn clothes. I may look pitiful on the outside, but I’m just as full of myself on the inside.
Jesus warns us, “Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) You can run around saying, “Lord, Lord,” all you want in your torn garments but if you aren’t internally and externally determined to choose His ways and desire what He desires and taking pleasure in what pleases Him, don’t fool yourself, because you can’t fool Him.
What does that mean? What is the Father’s will? Jesus told the people to figure it out. What does it mean when God says, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”? And Jesus followed that by reminding us that He came to call sinners to repentance. What is the Father’s will? Rote obedience? Or joyful obedience because we realize the immeasurable mercy that has been shown us through Christ and through every breath we are given? Do we stop to understand the grace and mercy and steadfast love You have shown despite our own behavior toward You? Do I realize how patient and slow to anger You have been with me? Do I realize that I ought to be that sacrifice, yet You spared me? Because I wouldn’t have been a worthy sacrifice at all. I would have been rejected. Yet by faith in You I am made acceptable.
But being made acceptable doesn’t mean I’m perfect as I am. It doesn’t give me the right to be more of me. It gives me the freedom to let You be made manifest in me. It gives me the freedom and vision to see and know that You are the only truly good thing in me. The best thing I can do is tear up my own will and my own thoughts and my own desires and throw them in the trash and take on Yours which way surpass mine any day.
You can’t really turn partly to the Lord. It just doesn’t work. The Lord says, “turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God…” Of the 1050 times that shub, or turn, is used in Scripture we have it repeated twice here because it’s so important for us to get. God wants to help us change our future. He wants to give us a new destiny. The answer is in turning away from evil and turning toward good. But it’s not just about good things. It’s about turning to God and to the things that are pleasurable and delight Him. It’s all about repentance. If I’m all about turning to God, than God guarantees my path. If I want to be radically changed than I have to get on board with the Radical One. Life in the Radical One means a radical life and a radical future.
But what if I don’t want to turn? What if I want to hold onto my own will, my own emotions, my own desires? Well, I can. But if I never turn, neither will my future. The locusts will still come and I will be left desolate in the middle of my will, my feelings, and my desires. I’ll have what I thought I wanted. Sounds like the beginning of hell to me. And I don’t say that because I’m holier than thou or being judgmental here. I say that because there have been times when I didn’t want to let go of my will, when my feelings outweighed what I knew was right, when my desires overrode Yours, and it’s a battle. But I have found that You are worth every inch of fight that I have. And the beauty of it is that You fought right there with me. It’s always Your voice that brings me through. Because the last place that I would ever want to be is a place apart from You. That’s the worst part of hell, that You aren’t there.
I’ve read true stories about people martyred for professing their belief in You. And I think of this one martyr who was burned at the stake. He went in singing and he had told his people that he would raise his hands over his head and clap them together if he could bear it. He sang till he could sing no more and as the skin was melting off his hands, he raised them over his head, clapped them together, and went to be with the Lord. It’s not the fires of hell that are the worst part. Everything is bearable if You are there. But that’s just it. You are not present in hell.
I don’t want to just say I love You or love You with my things and possessions. I want to truly love You. I want You to have my heart, my feelings, my emotions, my dreams, my desires, my will, my plans, my attitude, my everything inward and outward. You are more than theology, You are Real and You are God. You can’t be fully described because You are so great. Your grace and mercy and kindness can’t be measured. Your anger is terrible. And Your desire is to bless us who don’t deserve it. And if I only understood what an immensity it is to be blessed by You, by Your presence, by Your love, by You caring about all the little and big things in my puny little life. If I really stopped to put this all into perspective of who You are and why You would even stop to notice me and ask me to turn to You, I would be stopped in my tracks. It doesn’t make sense.
But what would make worse sense, is not responding to a God who loves us so much and would go out of His way this much for us. What would be ludicrous is to refuse Him and to turn away and choose our own measly, temporary way when He wants to give us so much more. I suppose I can choose to think that eternity doesn’t matter and just live for the moment. But the more I read, and the more I see You God, the more I see that eternity has already started. And I can live today like I will live into eternity in You, or I can throw it all out the door. I can begin my weeping now, or I can allow my own choices to so destroy my destiny that instead I choose to be brought to weeping and gnashing of my teeth when I finally have to realize that choosing anything other than You was the most detrimental life decision I could ever make.
Lord, I am so grateful that You are a God that cares, that You long for us and seek and save those who are lost. I want a heart like Yours. I want to live out Your will. I want Your desires to be my desires. I want to feel like You feel about things. I want a real heart like Yours, so that even in my nakedness, I would be the same person before You and others. And I want others to want that too. I want them to understand. I want them get it. Because You don’t just call one person to this truth. You are calling together all those who will turn, a whole multitude to rejoice and live in You. `