Joel 2:12-14 – “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?
Are you good at putting on a show for people around you to see? The people to whom Joel was writing were. Notice that, in God’s command for the people to repent, he tells them to rend their hearts and not their garments. That is because they were very good at making outward signs of repentance while having no inwardly changed hearts.
In the old days, people would tear their clothing as a sign of deep sorrow and despair. For example, if a man found out his child had died, he would tear his clothing as a part of displaying his grief. People also tore their garments as a sign of outrage, such as when they heard blasphemy spoken. So, the idea of rending your clothing was a way to outwardly display for people something that was supposed to be true in your heart.
God, in his dealing with Israel, tells them to tear their hearts instead of their garments. He knows how easy it is for people to put on a show. It takes nothing to tear your clothes and wear the appropriate garments of a mourner. It takes nothing to attend the right religious services, make the proper sacrifices, and mouth the right words. But God is not interested in an outward form of obedience that lacks heart. Thus, he commands the people to make their repentance inward before it is displayed outward.
The temptation to do the right things outwardly without having the heart to back it up is still strong today. It is very easy to go and attend the right services, drop money in an offering basket, sing the songs, and listen quietly without having the least interest in what you are doing. God is not impressed by this. He sees deep within your heart, weighing your thoughts and motives. He knows whether or not your heart is with him. He knows if your attendance at worship is from the heart more than simply from your culture. And, while he does not call you to stop coming to the services of worship, he does call you to come with your heart and not merely with your body. God wants your heart, and not simply your outward obedience.
Today, ask yourself where you are simply going through the motions. Is your quiet time something you do out of a desire to know God, or is it merely something you do because Christians are “supposed to?” Is your giving, your worship attendance, your religious life something you do from the heart or not? If not, the answer is not to stop doing everything. The answer, rather, is to rend your heart instead of your garments. The answer is to change from the inside. Seek God from the heart. Look into his word that penetrates deep into the hearts of people (Hebrews 4:12). Work out the truth of your salvation with acts of true obedience that come from a changed heart. Take your heart to God, and plead with him to work with you as you work to make your heart new and right before him.
Dear Lord, I pray that you will help me to avoid all false outward forms of religion. No, I do not ask that you will stop me from worshiping you, but I do ask that my worship would be genuine. Show me the dark places in my heart where it is not beating for your will. Renew my heart within me that I might follow you with all that I have and all that I am. Help me to turn from all false actions to acts of genuine love for you. May I never be false again. May all my actions and all my words be true before you. I know that you know my heart. I ask that you will make my heart yours in truth.