The LORD Will Restore the Wasted Years

"I will restore to you the years 
that the swarming locust has eaten, 
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, 
my great army, which I sent among you."
—Joel 2:25

I am a worrier by nature.  I know I shouldn't be, but I struggle to keep my head up when things aren't going so well—either for my family and myself or in the world around me.  It is common to see the future as merely an extension of the present, and I sometimes succumb to this common error.  In times like these, I need someone to come alongside me and remind me that reality is not contained by the little frame around my window of vision into the world and into the continuum of time we call History.

The Scriptures are full of such reminders:

  • Matt. 6:25, 33 - "Do not be anxious about your life... your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
  • Matt. 10:19 - "do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour."
  • Matt. 13:22 - "...but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."

James teaches us the value of hardship in developing our character and the importance of such character:
"Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas. 1:2-4). 
"Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him" (Jas. 1:12).
Likewise, Yahweh spoke to His people, Israel, through the Old Testament prophet Joel:
"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you" (Joel 2:25).
This verse speaks to a fear I have faced in recent years as the Lord diverted me from the path of vocational ministry for a time.  For more than a year, I didn't know that the detour was only "for a time".  I had pretty much decided that He was done using me as a pastor and that I was going to have to start from scratch to rebuild my vocational identity and a viable career.  Given that I had put virtually all of my eggs in the vocational ministry basket, I despaired of how to move forward.  I was especially bitter toward God for leading me so far down the path I had been on, only to bring me to what I thought was a dead end.

"How could you, God?" I asked.  For me, this experience not only did violence to my self identity, but it also set my family pretty far back financially—a setback from which it may take us a decade to recover.  Again, I protested, "How could you, God? We set out to serve you with our whole lives, took risks for your sake, sacrificed opportunities that would likely have set us on a financially sure path... and this is what you're giving us in return?!"  Even now, as our home in Kansas City sits unsold on the market, I have to fight off the cynicism with a stick.  With no offers yet and none likely until Spring warms things (including the housing market) back up, we're facing a loss of up to 80% of our substantial investment in the home.

I have a good friend who is in a similar situation.  He went from serving in full-time, vocational ministry after seminary to being un- or under-employed for two years and counting.  He is hurting.  With financial strain comes psychological strain.

In the midst of situations like these, the LORD graciously reminds us of two things:
  1. He will restore to us the "wasted" years.  All the progress we have lost (financial and otherwise), He is able and willing to give back to us as soon as He is—and we are—ready.  If not in this life, then we will certainly be rewarded richly in the life to come—if we pass the test of faith (Jas. 1:12).
  2. He is sovereign over our losses and setbacks.  He told Israel: "the swarming locust, the hopper, the destroyer, the cutter—that's My great army, doing My bidding." This reminds me of the fact that God uses trials (even ones He doesn't directly instigate) in order to refine our character and teach us things we would not otherwise have learned.  I know this was the case with my "detour" and I believe it is still the case with our financial setbacks.  He is trying to teach us something.  He is shaping our character.
My encouragement to you is: lean into your trials.  Don't be afraid to lament before God.  But be reminded that there is always something to be learned in the midst of them.  As long as the trial persists, He is not done stretching you.  Let Him do His work.  Press into Him.  Don't withdraw.  

Humble yourself before His mighty hand and He will lift you up (Jas. 4:10).

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