God is a hero.
Heroes. They come in all shapes and sizes, intervening in situations to change the course of events. Sometimes heroes save the day; sometimes they just save dessert. American novelist Edgar Watson Howe once said, “A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”
In recent years, there have been many Hollywood movies produced about superheroes who save the planet. For the most part, they have all been smash hits. There seems to be something in us that is drawn to a hero. Maybe it’s that we all wish to be one. Maybe it’s that we all need one.
The people in the days of Joel the prophet certainly did.
Their land had been totally ravaged by swarms of insects: “Tell your children about these things, let your children tell their children, and let your grandchildren tell their children. What the cutting locusts have left, the swarming locusts have eaten; what the swarming locusts have left, the hopping locusts have eaten, and what the hopping locusts have left, the destroying locusts have eaten.” (vs 3-4)
Everything was gone. I’d say that’s a pretty difficult scenario to imagine. For those of us who live in America or other developed countries, the thought of not being able to find food is a totally foreign concept. It is unfathomable to us to imagine a day when we would drive to the grocery store and find no food on the shelves or not be able to get a meal at a soup kitchen or be turned away from the food pantry. At least in America, no matter how poor you are, you can always find food.
But what if there was, literally, no food left? What if the global economy collapsed and transportation stopped and mass food production ground to a halt? What if there came a time when the food that was on the grocery store shelves was all the food that was left, and whatever you wanted to eat next month would have to come from your garden?
I think the world would become a scary place overnight.
That was the world the prophet Joel was confronted with: “Though we planted fig seeds, they lie dry and dead in the dirt. The barns are empty and falling down. The storerooms for grain have been broken down, because the grain has dried up. The animals are groaning! The herds of cattle wander around confused, because they have no grass to eat; even the flocks of sheep suffer. Lord, I am calling to you for help, because fire has burned up the open pastures, and flames have burned all the trees in the field. Wild animals also need your help. The streams of water have dried up, and fire has burned up the open pastures.” (vs 17-20)
It’s interesting to note Joel’s reaction to his world, isn’t it? Instead of calling for a committee to discuss irrigation or food imports or emergency rationing, he calls on the Lord for help. Maybe things had already gotten so bad that this was their only recourse. Maybe there wasn’t any other option. They were completely powerless to “fix” the drought problem.
Could it be that, in their rebellion and wickedness, God had either sent them to or allowed them to reach a place where only Heaven could help them, so that they would look to no other source of help? Could it be that God is a hero who desperately wants to rescue His people? And could it be that, until we are desperate for physical salvation, we’re often totally blind to our need for spiritual salvation?
Whatever the answers to all those questions, there is only one thing to do when we are confronted with enormous suffering, and that is to cry out to Jesus. Often, that feels like the last thing you should do. We may even be angry at God for allowing the suffering to come to us, but crying out to Him is still the best thing we can do for ourselves.
When we need rescuing—any kind of rescuing—there is only one hero who is able to save the day.
And He’s not found in a Marvel Comic book.
God can make it all up to you.
We live hard lives in a hard world. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of wonderful moments full of elation in this life, but it’s sort of like experiencing a wedding on a battlefield. You may feel joy when the groom kisses the bride, but then, the best man is cut down by a round of gunfire, and that sort of ruins the enjoyment of the kiss.
It’s also hard to remember that we live on a battlefield. For the most part, the battle is fairly well dressed up. Most of the time, there aren’t literal bombs and bullets flying around, but I think that makes it all the more shocking when we get hit with a figurative bullet. When we lose a job. When we experience a divorce. When a child dies.
There are moments so full of vast, gnawing sorrow that it would make you want to hurl your hands toward heaven and, through clenched teeth, scream, “Hey! Where the #*$!@ did You go? Do You even care about me?” There are moments when we have lost so much that we are sure there is nothing more to lose.
It is for those moments that God inspired these words through the prophet Joel: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are fully satisfied, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.” (vs 25-27)
This is an iron-clad promise: Whatever you have lost in this life, whatever you think you have missed out on in this life, God can make it all up to you. He can restore the years you’ve been without your loved one; He can restore the fortunes you lost; He can restore your health and strength and vitality. There is nothing that can be taken from you in this life that God cannot make up to you.
Pastor Joel Osteen once told a story about being on the beach with his little girl. They had gotten a scoop of ice cream from a vendor and were walking down the beach when she dropped her cone in the sand. She was totally distraught over the loss of her ice cream. Osteen described how he took his daughter by the hand and went back to the vendor. And the second time, he bought her a cone with two scoops. In “making it up to her,” he met her pain and disappointment with reward, not just restoration. Because of what she had been through, he gave her more than she’d had before.
Now, this might seem like a frivolous example—losing an ice cream cone as opposed to losing a loved one. But I believe the heart of God beats with a love for us that is a million times stronger than the strongest love a parent can feel for a child. And if a father has it in his heart to “make it up” to his child who has lost a frivolous pleasure, how much more does God have it in His heart to make up for any loss you have suffered?
I will say it again. Whatever you have lost in this life, whatever you think you have missed out on in this life, God can make it all up to you. And He will do more than just make it up to you. He will give you the double dip. Because of all you have been through, He’s going to give you more than you had before, more than you can even imagine in all your wildest dreams.
So, you may have lost an awful lot in your life. And if you haven’t, you probably will. As readers of the Bible, we know things are going to get worse before they get better! But let not your heart be troubled. Even if you lose it all, God can (and He will!) make it all up to you. He will repay you for every ounce of suffering you’ve been through.
God wants you to decide.
My father used to have a poster hanging in his classroom that read, “Not to decide is to decide.” It’s been almost twenty years since I was a student in that classroom, but I can still see that poster in my mind. Its message has echoed in my heart all this time.
Looking back on it now, I think I didn’t even realize what the saying meant at the time. But I’ve come to understand very well what it means now. It means that we were not created to be neutral beings. It means that, no matter what, we are always casting our vote or shaping our opinion or making up our mind—even when we aren’t doing anything.
In life, there is no such thing as neutrality. Not to decide is to decide.
It’s the same way with our spiritual lives. Joel spoke of it in this way: “Thousands upon thousands are waiting in the valley of decision. There the day of the Lord will soon arrive.” (vs 14) I really liked that image—the valley of decision. We are all in this valley at one time or another. In fact, that’s exactly what this whole universe-wide war is about: Making up our minds about God. What sort of person is He? Does He tell the truth? Can we trust Him?
Every single person will make a decision about God one way or the other. There is no way to remain neutral. There is no way not to decide, because the manner in which God confronts us with His truth is such that we must make a decision. In the face of His loving and relentless pursuit, not to decide is to decide.
I’m not sure we often stop to think about how incredible it is that God has made us in this way. He could have simply filled His universe with wild and wonderful creatures of all shapes and sizes who would have never been able to think for themselves. He could have expressed His creativity in so many ways other than by giving us some of the power of that creativity.
But God decided to make people in His own image—with the power to think, to decide, and to act. In that sense, what God wants more than anything else is for you to decide. That’s right. It’s not so much what you decide (although God loves you and wants you to live with Him forever) but that you decide. The very power to choose is His incredible gift to you, and one way or another, we will all utilize it.
I’m sure God was sorry that Pharaoh (and others in the Bible) decided against Him. I’m sure He would much rather have won Pharaoh’s heart! But the way God revealed Himself to that great king necessitated his decision about what he had learned. Once he had encountered God in that way, he could no longer remain neutral. Not to decide was to decide.
Thousands upon thousands are waiting in the valley of decision. If you and I haven’t yet been there, we will be. We were created to choose, and choose we will. Once we have all decided, the day of the Lord will arrive, and on that day, there will be no middle ground. There will be no neutral option. You will either decide for God or against Him.
Which side will you be on?