Hardship and Worship

In the book of Joel, the people of Judah are suffering. The prophet blends into his telling of the nation’s hardships a few different images. There has been a locust plague that has laid waste to the land. There has been drought and food shortage. And, there is also the horror of the army from the north who are threatening the survival of the nation.

As I was reading through this text, something struck me. It has to do with one of the first problems that the Lord lists as a result of the destruction faced in the land.

Joel 1:9 and 13

9 The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the Lord.
13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.

The land is desolate. The people are suffering. On the one hand, Joel calls on the drunkards of Judah to weep at their loss of wine. But on the other, what stands out to me, is that Joel calls on the priests to mourn over the lack of offerings available to give to the worship of God.

Then, in chapter 2, God calls the nation to repentance. In that call, God suggests that, if they repent, he will restore them. And in that restoration, we again see that restoring their ability to worship him is at the center. The healing of the land will lead to the people’s ability of again offering to the Lord their produce.

Joel 2:12-14

12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 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.
14 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?

I wonder, when we hurt, do we consider more than our own physical loss? Do we see that the worship of our God is still of utmost priority? Would we, were we to lose all our physical resources and financial stability mourn, not merely what we personally lack, but what we cannot give to the glory of God?

I do not have a great deal of clear, particular, concrete application here. But I think it is worth noticing that the Lord, in his explanation of what is wrong in Judah, points out that the judgment that they have brought upon themselves has robbed them of the ability to worship the Lord as he should be worshipped. The hardship that the people face is not simply personal or even national. The hardship they face impacts their response to God.

Here, I think, we can give thanks to God for the gospel. Christ has fulfilled all righteousness for us. No grain offering is necessary for us to please the Lord. Our ability to worship is not impacted by our material wealth.

At the same time, we should have hearts that are so God-focused that, when we lack in life, we think about how even this is connected to our spiritual lives. We should not become so self-minded that we forget that all that we have and all that we are belongs to the Lord our God.

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