Articles

The Response that God Requires, September 10, 2010
 

 *III. THE RESPONSE THAT GOD REQUIRES: SOLEMN ASSEMBLIES*

*By Mike Bickle*

* *

*“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with
fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” 13 So rend your heart, and not
your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. 14 Who
knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him ...? 15
Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; 16
gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather
the children and nursing babes ... 17 Let the priests ... weep between the
porch and the altar; let them say, “spare Your people, O LORD...” (Joel
2:12-17)*

A. God’s primary call to a people in crisis is to gather together for solemn
assemblies, that is, for prayer, worship, fasting, and to repent of our
sins, asking God to release His great power and mercy on our behalf. In Joel
2:12-17, God tells us exactly what we are to do to receive His mercy and
deliverance—we are to turn to Him in wholeheartedness.

B. A solemn assembly or a sacred assembly involves leaders and people
joining together to repent, fast, and pray for the intervention of God’s
power and mercy. In the next chapter we will study this assembly in detail.

C. Crying out to Jesus in a solemn assembly is a practical thing to do
before and during a crisis. Jesus will release His favor and protection in
response to our wholeheartedness and intercession.

D. His answer for today’s crisis is the same as what He spoke in Joel’s
generation when a Babylonian invasion was imminent. This is the clearest
passage in the Word that describes what God desires of us in times of local
or national crisis. As the global drama unfolds at the end of the age, the
Body of Christ has a plain road map. God is asking His people for a specific
response. He does not leave us guessing as to what He desires from us. What
a holy confidence this brings! We can act with certainty in times of crisis.
God will shake all that can be shaken. This will back the whole world into a
corner of desperation where they cannot find any solution except in Him. He
will remove all our false hopes so that we hope only in Him.

E. Earlier Joel enjoined the people to “Come, lie all night in sackcloth” as
they did two things—fast and call a solemn assembly. They were to gather the
elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord to cry
out in prayer (Joel 1:13-14). This was to be their response to the
devastating effects of a locust plague and drought. In Joel 2, he calls them
to the same response of fasting and prayer in light of a coming military
invasion by the Babylonians. This passage doubles as a call to Israel during
the future time of the Antichrist’s reign of terror.

* *

*IV. TURN TO GOD WITH WHOLEHEARTEDNESS*

* *

*Now therefore, says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with
fasting, with weeping and with mourning. 13 Rend your heart, and not your
garments; return to the LORD...’ (Joel 2:12-13)*

A. God wants our hearts and our love (Mt. 22:37). This reveals His heart. He
requires that we respond to His love for us by loving Him in return. He
delivers us as we give our hearts to Him as an offering of love. What does
it look like to turn to Him with all our heart? Turning to God in
wholeheartedness involves repenting, fasting, and praying.

B. The very existence of mankind is because God loves us and desires a deep
relationship with us.

C. The place of safety in the time of judgment is in the midst of a company
of people living in long- term, corporate wholeheartedness. As we respond to
Jesus’ work on the cross with a response of wholeheartedness, we walk in
God’s favor in a time of judgment.

D. *I want to be in the midst of a people who are developing a corporate,
long-term history in wholeheartedness. *I believe that corporate
wholeheartedness is the safest place on the earth.

E. Joel defined what turning to God looks like. Turning to God with all our
hearts involves fasting, weeping, and mourning before the Lord.

F. Joel 2:12-17 and Joel 1:13-14 exhort God’s people to take action and
change their lifestyles.

* *

*V. REND YOUR HEART AND NOT YOUR GARMENTS*

*So rend your heart and not your garments; return to the Lord your God...
(Joel 2:13)*

A. Traditionally, in the generation that Joel prophesied, the people would
tear their garment to show their grief and desperation. However, what God
desires is the tearing of the heart, which speaks of dealing radically with
the matters of the heart.

B. To rend means to tear something violently or forcibly. When we violently
tear our heart away from areas of sin, we line up with what God requires.
Joel cried out, “Tear your heart open! Spare not!” We must remove every area
in our life that quenches the Holy Spirit! Speaking symbolically of this
radical tearing, Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it
out” (Mt. 5:29). This refers to a radical pursuit of obedience that tears
the heart in the process.

* *

*If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out ... for it is more
profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body
to be cast into hell. (Mt. 5:29)*

C. *Tearing the heart is the part that is most overlooked in the process.*

* *

* *It is intensely personal and painful. The Lord will help us in this. Yet
we must cooperate with Him, by tearing open the inner places of our heart to
Him. Some want the Lord to cause their problems to evaporate without any
cost, struggle, or pain in tearing their hearts.

D. We cannot pursue wholeheartedness in a casual way. Some hope for a
wholeheartedness that is gentle, easy, and tame. Our hearts must be torn
from areas in which we live in persistent compromise.

E. Jesus tore His heart when He went to the cross. God the Father’s heart
was torn when He gave Jesus’ life away and it continues to be torn in His
patient longsuffering with His people as they refuse Him. He tears His own
heart in His pursuit after us. He has proved that He does not love us in a
detached, distant way. To fully enter into this love, our own hearts must be
torn.

* *

*VI. REPENTING WITH CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S TENDER HEART: A 5 FOLD REVELATION*

*Return to the Lord ... for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and
of great kindness; He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and
relent...? (Joel 2:13-14)*

A. Joel summons the people to return to the Lord, giving *five reasons *why
this is doable and wise. God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, of great
kindness, and He relents from doing harm. He desires to make a way of
deliverance. The knowledge of God’s heart for us gives us courage to tear
our hearts in repentance. If we take one step toward Him, He will take ten
steps toward us.

B. First, the Lord is gracious in that He evaluates us differently than
anyone else does. He remembers our frailty and that we are but dust (Ps.
103:14). He is not a harsh leader. He is not like the angry coach or parent
who rejects weakness. God’s style of relating is human-friendly. The grace
of God puts His requirements within the reach of the weak (1 Jn. 5:4; Mt.
11:30). Some do not turn to the Lord because they do not understand that He
is gracious and kind and that He will make a way of deliverance for us. He
will help us like the shepherd helped the lost sheep, carrying us to the
place of breakthrough and victory (Lk. 15).

*He has not dealt with ... nor punished us according to our iniquities. (Ps.
103:10)*

*For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:14)*

C. Second, the Lord delights in mercy. He enjoys what is awakened in us when
we understand that He gives us a new start after each failure. We soon
realize that there is no one like Him!

*Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity ... because He delights in mercy.
(Mic. 7:18)*

D. Third, the Lord is slow to anger and takes no pleasure in the death of
the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). God is not easily provoked with our weakness. He
longs to forgive all who ask for it.

*Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I have no pleasure in the
death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezek.
33:11)*

E. Jesus spoke of His great patience to the church in Thyatira. He gave them
time to repent of their immorality, and He does the same for us.

*Because you allow ... Jezebel ... to teach ... My servants to commit sexual
immorality ... 21 I gave her time to repent of her immorality ... 22 indeed
I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into
great tribulation, unless they repent... (Rev. 2:20-22)*

F. Fourth, the Lord has great kindness. When we believe in God’s kindness,
we have confidence to press into full repentance. We can ask Him to help us
repent. Our repentance will never be met with rejection. This gives us the
courage to tear our hearts, knowing that God desires to restore our
fellowship with Him.

*Do you despise the riches of His goodness **[kindness], forbearance, and
longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness [kindness] of God leads you to
repentance? (Rom. 2:4)*

*Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. (Ps.
18:35)*

G. The Lord is so kind that He will forgive and forget our sin if we will
repent of it.

H. Fifth, the Lord relents from doing harm. God desires to relent from the
judgment that the nations deserve. When a people repent, He sends blessing
to that region.

*Return to the Lord ... for He is gracious ... He relents from doing harm.
(Joel 2:13)*

* *

*VII. THE LORD RELENTS FROM SENDING JUDGMENT*

*Return to the Lord ... for He is gracious ... He relents from doing harm.
(Joel 2:13)*

*I sought for a man ... who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before
Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.
(Ezek. 22:30)*

A. God desires to relent, or to cancel the decree of judgment, instead of
issuing it.

B. There are two stages in God’s decrees: First, the decree is established
in the heavenly court. Second, it is issued as God releases angels to
execute the judgment, or else the decree is canceled.

*Gather yourselves together ... 2 before the decree is issued ... before the
LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you ... 3 Seek the LORD, all you meek of the
earth ... it may be that you will be hidden **[protected from judgment] in
the day of the LORD’s anger. (Zeph. 2:1-3)*

C. In response to our prayer, God changes what He releases in our lives. The
end result of a coming disaster can be changed (Gen. 18:22-32; Ex. 32: 9-14;
2 Sam. 12:15-23; 24:10-14; 2 Chr. 34:22- 28; Jer. 18:7-10; 51:6-8; Ezek.
18:21, 22, 28; 33:10-14; Dan. 4:29; Amos 5:1-3,14-15; 7:1–6; Zeph. 2:1-3;
Hab. 3:16-19; Jon. 3:4-10; Mal. 3:16-4:6).

D. One of the great examples of God’s willingness to relent is found in the
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon learning of God’s intentions to
judge the city, Abraham asked the Lord if He would relent and save it if
there were only fifty righteous people in it. The Lord told Abraham that He
would, so Abraham pressed the question to forty-five people, then forty,
then thirty, then twenty. Finally, Abraham said, “If there were only ten
righteous in the city, would You spare them?” Again the Lord told Abraham
that if He found as few as ten people who would agree with His heart, that
would be enough to relent and save the city (Gen. 18:22-33).

**

E. There are three steps in our partnership with God. First, *God initiates
*what He wants by declaring it in His Word and stirring our hearts. Second,
*we respond *in obedience and prayer to God’s initiative. Third, *God
answers *our responses by releasing more blessing that He would otherwise
have withheld if He had not heard our cry. Our prayers matter, even when we
do not feel their power.

F. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we receive the gift of
righteousness. We respond to this with a commitment to walk in
righteousness. Therefore, we can receive God’s favor (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

**

*VIII. WHO KNOWS?: THE “PERHAPS OF GOD”*

*So rend your heart ... for He is gracious ... and He relents from doing
harm. 14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind
Him...? (Joel 2:13-14)*

*Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth ... seek righteousness, seek
humility. It may be **[perhaps] that you will be hidden [protected] in the
day of the LORD’s anger. (Zeph. 2:3)*

A. There is what I refer to as “the perhaps of God” in God’s plans. Perhaps
God may respond to our prayers in such a way that He will not send the
judgment that has been decreed.

B. God desires to turn from judgment and leave a blessing. He prefers to
transform a would-be *disaster zone into a revival center*. The Lord relents
from judgment in geographic areas according to the response of His people.
He invites us to trust His heart, press into Him in prayer, and rest in the
assurance that He is far more merciful than we could imagine.

C. In Joel’s day, in light of the Babylonian invasion that Israel faced, God
invited them to cry out to Him that perhaps He would provide pockets of
mercy in the midst of the invasion.

D. Joel spoke of the blessing that the Lord might leave behind in the grain
and drink offerings. He was saying in essence that if the Babylonian
invasion happened the crops would be utterly destroyed. Then, there would be
no grain or wine for the offerings to the Lord.

E. David knew about this “perhaps” of God after he sinned with Bathsheba.
She bore a son. Nathan prophesied to David that the baby would die because
of his sin. David knew the baby might die, but he also knew that God has
such mercy that “perhaps” He would spare the child.

*David pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay
all night on the ground ... 18 On the seventh day ... the child died. David
... anointed himself ... and he went into the house of the LORD and
worshiped. His servants said, “What is this that you have done? You fasted
and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you
arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and
wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me,
that the child may live?’” (2 Sam. 12:16-22)*

* *

*IX. GATHER THE PEOPLE AND SANCTIFY THE CONGREGATION*

*Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; 16
gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather
the children and nursing babes... (Joel 2:15-16)*

A. How should we respond to the danger that we see arising in the earth? The
Lord has given us a clear and effective plan through the prophet Joel. It
will take faith to carry it out.

B. We are to blow the trumpet in Zion to call a solemn assembly. We assemble
the elders who will then gather the people to pray and fast. Fasting
positions our hearts to experience the grace of God in a greater way.

C. *Blow the trumpet in Zion – *boldly proclaim the coming judgment and the
solemn assembly.

D. *Consecrate a fast *– fasting positions our hearts to experience the
grace of God in a greater way.

E. *Call a sacred or solemn assembly **– *gatherings that are *sacred *in
their priority to our schedules. It is no time for business as usual in the
way that the leaders conduct their ministries.

F. *Gather the people and children and assemble the elders *– the children
are to be part of this gathering. God’s exhortation is that no one be exempt
from crying out to Him, since none of these will be exempt from the coming
crisis and judgment.

G. *Sanctify the congregation **– *when we sanctify people under our
leadership, we lay aside ministry programs to make seeking God the top
priority in terms of time, money, and work force.

H. Joel used three different words to emphasize the sacredness of
prioritizing them. He urged them to consecrate times of fasting, to see the
gathering or assemblies as sacred, and to sanctify the congregation. To
sanctify a congregation means to present it as a top priority to the people
in that congregation. Joel called the people to see the meetings as sacred
(Joel 2:12-15). This refers to both having a sacred attitude in the prayer
meetings and to it being sacred in prioritizing of our time to attend. In
other words, they were to approach them with a serious attitude—an attitude
of it being important to their schedule.

I. One dictionary defines *sacred *as referring to something dedicated to
God for religious purposes, or to reverently dedicate it exclusively to a
single use because it is worthy of great respect, or is something a person
holds to be important and, thus, has a transformative effect on their lives
and destinies. To be sacred is in contrast to being secular (such as sacred
music). It is to reverently dedicate.

J. Seeing an activity as sacred can be applied in two ways—first, seeing it
as holy in the sense of being directly connected to God in a unique way such
as the sacred Scriptures; and second, to see it as very important to us
instead of being optional or casual. We follow through on our commitments to
God when we see them as important to God. Thus, they are sacred or important
to us.

* *

*X. GIVE YOURSELF TO EARNEST PRAYER*

*Let the priests who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the
altar. Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your
heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should
they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:17)*

A. Joel continues to describe the wholehearted response that God desires by
emphasizing the necessity of earnest prayer. We cry out for His visitation
of mercy with earnestness of heart.

B. Joel calls the priests (the leadership) to actively lead the people in
earnest prayer and then gives them two specific prayers to bring to God.

1. First, “Spare Your people, O God!” This is a prayer that God would
release protection, provision, and direction that His people might be helped
in light of the crisis.

2. Second, “Do not give Your heritage to reproach that the nations should
rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is your God?’”
Joel urged them to pray to stop the Babylonian military invasion so that the
nations would not rule over Israel. The prayer was that God would spare
Israel from Babylon. One reason Joel gave to pray was so that other Gentile
nations would not mock Israel because God was no longer in their midst to
bless and protect them.

3. Some commentaries see the military invasion of Joel 2:1-9 as merely a
reiteration of the locust invasion of Joel 1. However, in this prayer, Joel
points to a crisis involving a military invasion rather than a natural
disaster brought on by locusts. This prayer was not asking God to stop
locusts from devouring their crops. This prayer helps us to know the context
of Joel 2:1-9.

C. We may use a secondary application of this prayer by asking the Lord to
spare the Church from spiritual barrenness and powerlessness so that
unbelievers would not mock God’s people, as if God was not real to us. We
beseech God to vindicate His people for the sake of His name! He delights in
bringing glory to Jesus’ name by answering the prayers of the saints,
showing Himself to be active in their midst.

D. Unbelievers reason that if there is no power in the Church, then God is
not listening to our prayers. Therefore, if God does not listen to us then
why should they? We cry out that God would take away reproach for us by
empowering us. The nations will be provoked in seeing an anointed victorious
Church.

* *

*XI. THE RESPONSE GOD REQUIRES*

A. The central idea of Joel 2:12-17 is that God wants to deliver His people.
He desires to show compassion and to release His power. Therefore, He has
given us clear instruction. Joel 2 offers us the clearest direction in the
Scripture as to how we receive God’s mercy amidst a crisis. He wants us to
have faith or confidence in the time of crisis.

B. God is looking for a specific response from His people in time of
trouble. He does not leave us guessing as to what this response looks like
that He desires. Joel 2:12-17 tells us exactly what we are to do to receive
His mercy and deliverance.

* *

*XII. EXAMPLES OF RESPONDING TO GOD IN HUMILITY AND AVOIDING JUDGMENT*

A. In the days of the young King Josiah, a prophetess named Huldah worked in
the king’s court as a keeper of his wardrobe. Josiah learned that she had a
prophetic anointing. Therefore, he sent word to her, asking her to inquire
of the Lord for him. She pointed out to him that God promised through Moses
to destroy Israel if they rejected God (Deut. 28:47-64). Josiah humbled
himself when he received Huldah’s word. Josiah’s humility was further seen
in that he, as the most powerful man in the nation, asked for spiritual help
from a keeper of his wardrobe.

*Thus says the Lord God, “Tell the man **[King Josiah]... Behold, I will
bring calamity on this place ... all the curses that are written in the book
[Deut. 28:47-52] ... because they have forsaken Me ... therefore My wrath
will be poured out on this place ... but as for the king ... speak to him,
Thus says the LORD, ... because your heart was tender ... and you humbled
yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I have
heard you. Surely ... you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your
eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place
[Jerusalem]
and its inhabitants.” (2 Chr. 34:23-28)*

1. The primary prophet in Josiah’s day was Jeremiah who prophesied of the
Babylonian invasion of Israel. Josiah received his ministry. The Lord had
been prophesying of the Babylonian military invasion for several decades
through prophets like Joel, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and even as far back as
Isaiah (over 100 years earlier).

2. Josiah responded to these prophecies in a deep way. He led a partial
spiritual reform before the Babylonian captivity. God saw his tenderness and
wholeheartedness. The Lord answered because his heart was tender and because
he humbled himself before God (2 Chr. 34:27). The Lord decided to delay the
judgment of the Babylonian invasion until after Josiah’s lifetime. Josiah
died in 609 BC, around the time of Joel’s ministry. The invasion began in
606 BC.

B. Ahab was one of the most evil kings in Israel’s history. He humbled
himself in a time of judgment and received mercy. This is an amazing example
of how far God’s mercy will reach.

*There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness ... 26 He
behaved very abominably in following idols ... 27 So it was, when Ahab heard
those words, that he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and
fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. 28 The word of the
LORD came to Elijah saying, 29 “See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?
Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in
his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.” (1
Kgs. 21: 25-29)*

C. Manasseh was also one of the evil kings in Israel’s history. He humbled
himself and received God’s mercy during a time of judgment (2 Chr. 33:9-13).
Earlier in Manasseh’s life, the Scripture described him as being under God’s
judgment (2 Kgs. 23:26).

*When he was in affliction, he implored the LORD his God, and humbled
himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed to Him; and He
received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to
Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2
Chr. 33:12-13)*


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