I have a huge confession. There have been times (and quite recently) that I have given up in prayer. That’s right. I have looked at a situation that seemed insurmountable, observed the timeline of events surrounding the circumstance, and the length of time spent praying, and thrown in the towel. In essence, I have chosen to play God, assuming that all hope was lost and nothing could or would be done.
I didn’t give up because of doubt in God’s ability (at least I don’t think that was the case). But rather, my mindset was that I had not been praying His perfect will in that situation.
But here’s the thing, I didn’t ask God this question. I didn’t say in my prayers,
“Lord, do you want me to change the way I’m praying about this, and if You do, will you please change my heart and lead me into what I should pray?”
Instead, I simply stopped praying for that particular circumstance.
Recently a dear friend and spiritual mentor shared this passage of Scripture with me from Joel 2:12-15.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and 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.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
This passage is a prophecy to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, warning the people to repent before further judgment would come. In Joel 1 they had experienced judgement—a plague of locusts, with its destructive and deadly result. In Joel 2 the prophet is saying repent now before further judgment comes because of the wickedness of the land and its rulers.
As I read Joel chapters 1 and 2, I pictured our world today, with its plague, not of locusts, but a viral plague. I also thought of the wickedness of the world and its leaders. I don’t want to get political here, so I’m not going to do so, but I believe we can all agree, politics aside, that there is tremendous wickedness, deceit, and depravity in our nation and our world.
Let me be clear, I pray—a lot. But regarding the state of our world and this virus that I am weary of dealing with, I had come to a place of throwing my hands up in defeat. In essence, I stopped fighting in prayer for these particular victories. I had resigned myself to this “way of life,” rather than continuing to battle through these issues with the Lord in prayer. When I prayed about these circumstances, the prayer was ineffectual because of my resignation and indignation.
So, you may be wondering, how does Joel 2:12-15 relate to me giving up in prayer?
These verses from Joel caused me to think, to reflect, and ultimately to repent.
Let’s begin with the first phrase …
Yet even now …
It was as though the Lord was saying, “Jacqueline, even now you are to pray. Even when you don’t see progress. Even when victory is not in sight. You, my daughter, must persevere in prayer. Even now I, the Lord, can and will move in power. You must be patient and you must continue to pray in faith, even when.”
Return to me …
“Return to me with all your heart.” No, I hadn’t departed from the Lord, but my heart had become numb. I had embraced what I felt was the inevitable—the sin and evil, the virus. My faith had faltered, and rather than being resolute in my prayers, I had become resigned.
I also love that this passage says, “and rend your heart, not your garments.” Don’t tear your clothes and shout woe is me, instead, let your grief over this sin in our world rip your heart in two. Grieve over this sin and destruction. Mourn over the tragedy of the day. Remember who the Lord is. He is—gracious, merciful, abounding in love, the One who relents over disaster.
Who knows if he will not turn and relent …
Not me. I don’t know the plans of the Father. I am not sovereign, He is. The Lord is in charge. I don’t know His purpose and plan. I don’t know His timetable and strategy.
“Yet, even now … In the midst of the mess, do not lose hope! Return and remember. The Lord can and will redeem and relent.
My job is to be steadfast in prayer, listening, fighting, boldly going to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in time of need. I am to turn away from evil and seek good, even when evil is all around. I am to battle in prayer even when I don’t see a victory in sight. I am to believe and to hope in God. I am to resign myself not to the seeming “inevitable,” but rather, resign myself to the power of Christ displayed in His resurrection, being resolute with faith and fortitude.
That’s hard. But steadfastness in prayer is the calling of those who are in Christ. And let’s again be clear. Prayer is not a last resort, a hope so, or a maybe so. God hears the prayers of His people, and He does relent—in His timing, in His way, and in His mercy. But we must return to Him with all our hearts in repentance. We are to mourn and grieve, fast and pray.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him? We don’t know, but we must obey and remember …
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. –Isaiah 55:8-9
But right here, right now what are we to do? Joel 2:12 reminds us that repentance is the first step.
So, let me ask you …
Where in your life have you given up in prayer?
In what areas of life may you need to turn back to God with all of your heart?
A blessing maybe just on the other side …
Who knows, my friend … Who knows?