Return to Me – God!

Although most cat owners are pretty accustomed to their pet’s aloofness, dog owners generally expect a higher level of obedience, especially when you want them to “come.” One morning I was confronted with some canine independence when I called my dog. As usual, he found the neighbor’s activities a lot more intriguing than anything he thought I had to offer. Standing his ground firmly, almost as if his feet were welded in place, he looked at me over his shoulder. It was clear that he had no concern for my schedule or my need that he come, NOW!

It may seem far-fetched to some, but there was a spiritual lesson I gleaned from my pooch’s self-centeredness. What struck me that morning was how God has been calling out to people in much the same way that I called to my dog, and just like my dog ignored me, for the most part people have ignored Him. One of the first stories in Scripture tells of God walking in the Garden, calling out to Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8). God’s repeated plea to people throughout human history has been, “Return to Me!” He has always sought those who will serve Him with more than mere words.

Zechariah 1:3
Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Joel 2:12
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

There are consequences for how people respond to God’s call
It is easy to see that most people go about their daily lives with little thought or concern for God or His ways. Sadly, few understand that God has told mankind that there are very clear and definite consequences for how people respond to God’s call.

There are great benefits for all those who obey God, so much so, that their obedience can actually affect their weather, the fruitfulness of the harvest, and the safety of their countries. God expresses this spiritual reality in a number of sections of Scripture, and the essence of this truth is captured in Leviticus.

Leviticus 26:3-5
(3) ” ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,
(4) I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit.
(5) Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

The lesson seems pretty clear: honor God and He will provide for and protect those who love and obey Him. But, just as obedience brings about God’s benevolence, so too, disobedience can produce great disaster.

Leviticus 26: 21
“‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve.

This promise of reward or calamity applies to both individuals and nations as a whole. The following section is not just about God’s chosen people, Israel. Some read it thinking it applies only to Israel, however it says, “… if a country…” meaning any country.

Ezekiel 14:13-14
(13) “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals,
(14) even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD.

We cannot dismiss this section of Scripture as archaic or something that does not concern us today. I have heard some people say, “But that only applies to Israel because they had a covenant with God.” But the record makes it clear that he is speaking unconditionally to any country. There are severe consequences for any country that turns its back on God. God’s hope would have been that He got people’s attention by naming the four judgments mentioned: famine, wild beasts, sword, and plague, since they were the four main causes of death among the ancient civilizations. We Christians want to live under the blessing of God, but far too frequently fail to see that many of His blessings in this life are conditioned upon our obedience to Him. Any nation that honors Him will be blessed, and “any” that does not will suffer for it.

Understanding the shifting balance in the spiritual battle
Throughout time God has demonstrated His great love for people by His providence, that is, His provision and His protection. But sin always produces a separation between man and God, and because of His holiness and righteousness, it limits Him in His ability to come to our aid in the spiritual battle.

It may help to think of God’s favor by seeing it as a hand placed over us. Our sin causes Him to lift His hand, which allows the enemy to slip in under it and harm us. The lifting of God’s hand, the withdrawing of His favor happens on both a personal and national scale. Although the following verse is specifically directed towards the people of Jerusalem, the principle seems clear: when people sin deliberately and grievously by rejecting God and His ways, He withdraws His favor.

Ezekiel 5:11
Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you.

There is a “tipping point” in the spiritual battle
The spiritual battle raging around us is a cosmic war between good and evil, and like any war, there is a constant shifting in who is winning between the two combatants at any given time. When people act righteously, honoring God, and doing what He says to do, it causes a shift in the heavenly realms. Our acting in holy ways increases His ability to intervene on our behalf. Conversely, when people deliberately reject Him the enemy increases in his ability to do evil. He rushes in, taking over more spiritual territory and causing evil to increase.

Unlike the game of chess where there can be a stalemate between the two players, a standoff between good and evil rarely occurs. At any given time one side is always increasing while the other decreases. And, when one side gains enough movement in their favor they can reach a “tipping point,” the time when they have tremendous advantage and momentum.

An easy way to understand the “tipping point” is to picture an object like a book or a brick standing upright. When you push against the top it will begin to lean, and eventually, if you keep pushing, it will fall over on its own because it has passed the “tipping point.” In the spiritual realm there is a point when enough of a shift in one direction has occurred that good or evil will increase exponentially. In the case of a nation, when this happens with evil, great calamity occurs. The tipping point has been passed and God’s ability to intervene is severely limited. Many times it is the dire state of events that helps people to see their need for God, and this in turn drives them right back into His arms.

How does this apply to us?
There is much to learn from the story of Israel’s numerous rises and falls. The ups and downs are directly connected to how they waxed and waned in their service to God. He was clear with them when He called them as a nation. In essence He said, “Bless Me and I will bless you—ignore me and you will suffer!”

“God Bless America” is a very common maxim in this country, but in the spiritual battle, pithy platitudes are never enough. It is delusional to think we can have God’s blessing when we live in a way that dishonors Him. It is arrogant to think that we as a nation can ban God from the schools, padlock Him from our public institutions, ignore Him in the justice system, and reject Him through our immoral behavior and then still think that He will “Bless America.” This is like waxing a rusted car fender, thinking that it will fix the problem. The issue is decay, and it cannot be fixed with cosmetics. It is prideful to think that a country can ignore God’s directions and commands and not suffer for it.

Hosea 7:10
Israel’s arrogance testifies against him,but despite all this he does not return to the LORD his God or search for him.

Hosea 5:4 and 5
(4) “Their deeds do not permit them to returnto their God. A spirit of prostitutionis in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD.
(5) Israel’s arrogance testifies against them;

How is the United States today any different from Israel in Hosea’s day? America, as well as many other nations, is not honoring the Almighty, and at some point our rejection of Him will result in calamity. I am not saying that there are no righteous, God-fearing and God-seeking people in our country. Many ask, “Are these the End Times?” Only time will tell, but one thing we do know for certain is that there has been a worldwide increase of geo-physical disasters, wars, famines, religious upheaval, and economic implosion. These things will increase until people turn their hearts back to God.

America, bless God—then God will bless America
I want God to bless America and I pray for that all the time, but what too few seem to remember is that in order for God to bless any nation, that nation must bless God. God would have to go against His very nature for this not to be the case. The spiritual rules God established tell us that “what one sows he reaps.” When we sow unrighteousness we will reap disaster.

Our nation’s forefathers recognized the role God played in the founding of this country. In his inaugural address George Washington stated,

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency;”[1]

After being sworn into office as the first President he stated the following, much like the prophetic warning Moses issued to Israel.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.[2]

As summarized by Jonathan Cahn in his book The Harbinger, George Washington’s statement can be understood as saying:

“If America upholds God’s eternal standards and follows His unchanging ways, then it will be blessed with His favor…His protection…His prosperity…..But if America should depart from the ways of God, if it should disregard His eternal standards, then the smiles of heaven, the blessings of God, will be withdrawn—its prosperity, it’s protection, and its powers would be taken away.[3]

What about God’s grace and mercy?
Some may ask, “But what about God’s grace and mercy?” Yes, God has shown great grace (favor) and mercy toward mankind throughout history. It was by God’s grace that He warned Israel through numerous prophetic messages calling them back to Him. Yet we must realize that God’s grace in providing for us is conditional, for He even tells us that He only gives grace to the humble, and resists the proud (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Pride is always at the root of rejecting God.

“Grace” is getting something we DON’T deserve, whereas “mercy” is not getting what we DO deserve. Grace never provides for toleration of sin. Not suffering the consequences of sin, that is, not getting what we deserve, happens when God extends His mercy. Thankfully He renews His mercy every day, because we certainly need it. God also says that He will have mercy on those to whom He wants to have mercy….it is always His prerogative and not something anyone is entitled to (Rom. 9:15). God has also told us that He will not be mocked. We should not think that we can reject God in our words and deeds and then not suffer for it. There may not be an immediate or even discernible consequence in our lives when we turn from God, but the nature of the spiritual battle is such that there are consequences for sin.

This is not a time to be discouraged
It is only natural for people to become downhearted and discouraged, and especially so when ungodly behavior and evil increases. God tells us that “when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding” (Prov. 28:28). We can, and must, still pray for God to bless us and our nation even if there is a lot of wickedness in it. It is good to remind ourselves that throughout human history God has never been limited by a majority position.

In the book of 1 Samuel, Saul’s son Jonathan approached a Philistine outpost. He perfectly expressed his position of faith in what he said to his armor bearer:

1Samuel 14:6
Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

No professional gambler would ever consider it wise to accept a bet where the odds were stacked against him a thousand to one. And yet, in God’s spiritual economy, odds like that are irrelevant.

Joshua 23:9 and 10
(9) “The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you.
(10) One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.

We must remind ourselves that our struggle against unrighteousness in our nation is never a matter of “flesh and blood,” but against the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our battle must be waged on a spiritual level. If one righteous person can set a thousand to flee then God is telling us that we have the ability to affect the outcome of the spiritual battle on an exponential scale, but only when people return to God with our whole hearts.

Joel 2:12 and 13
(12) “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
(13) Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

God’s heart to us is always saying, “Return to me!” If we as a nation will humble our hearts and seek God, (2 Chron. 7:14), He will be faithful to His promise to hear from heaven and heal our land.

Endnotes

[1] Avalon Project at Yale law School, “First Inaugural Address of George Washington, The City of New York, Thursday, April 30, 1789.”
[2] Op. Cit., Avalon Project at Yale Law School, “First Inaugural Address of George Washington”.
[3] Jonathan Cahn, The Harbinger, (Lake Mary, FL, Charisma House Book Group, 2011), p. 213.

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5 comments

  1. Great article. Who wrote this

  2. I completely understand how God requires our worship, our trust and our attention to His word. Most of the scriptures you quote are from the Old Testament. However, I am a bit concerned that your article does not mention Jesus Christ, our lord and saviour and the power we have in his name. The great promise God made to the Israelites was the Saviour (but they rejected Jesus Christ). My point is that the only way for the general populace to return to God in the age of grace is to witness the salvation of God’s only begotten son, the one who is risen, Jesus Christ. We cannot force people into going back to God we can only be witnesses of His son, be examples and teach the rightly divided Word of God – and most importantly exercise the greatest commandment, to love one another as Christ loved us. God bless you!

  3. I am doing Malachi 3: 1-10 for my Sunday school but this seems to also fit well with return to me and I will return to you…Thank You

  4. “Rend your heart and not your garments.” That really hit me. Even when we appear to be going through all the right motions, our heart (individually and also collectively) has got to be in the right place too.

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