“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Some version of this statement is attributed to Edmund Burke (1729-1797), George Santayana (1863-1952), and Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). I think this statement is so often repeated because it’s based in truth; and it still resonates. Those words echo the heart of the Old Testament prophets, who continually warned God’s people against repeating the mistakes of previous generations. I became greatly burdened while reading the thoughts of one of those prophets in the book of Joel. I see a few lessons from Israel’s history that we desperately need to learn today.
First, we need to replace spiritual apathy with a sense of urgency. Joel was overwhelmed by the condition of his country. He mourned the devastation caused by a plague of locusts; which was made even worse by severe drought. So much so, that Joel asked, “Has anything like this happened in your days or in your fathers’ day?”
Although he was grieved by the immediate physical needs of his countrymen, Joel recognized that their spiritual needs were far greater. He cried out in urgency because the Day of the Lord was coming. In his mind, the total desolation of the land perfectly pictured God’s pending judgment. But no one else seemed to be convicted about Israel’s wicked behavior. They were spiritually apathetic.
The coming judgment of the Lord is something rarely heard in mainstream Christianity today. In my opinion, far too many pulpits preach people-centered sermons. Messages often sound more like a twelve-step group meeting than Spirit-filled and Christ-exalting preaching. As a result, we’ve lost our urgency. American churches seem to be apathetic to the spiritual condition of our lost neighbors.
Community ministry and mission trips around the world are wonderful and greatly needed. But if providing food, digging wells, and building projects are not accompanied by a clear presentation of the Gospel, then we’re blind to the greater need. When a gut-wrenching conviction about the souls of others is our priority we’ll naturally have compassion for their physical needs as well.
Next, we need to replace regret with genuine repentance. Joel instructs the people, “rend your heart and not your garment.” This is a challenge to avoid outward, superficial displays of regret and fully embrace whole-hearted repentance. Joel knew that God is compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness. So, repentance not only grabs His attention, it also opens the windows of Heaven to release rains of revival and redemption.
While regret focuses on how we feel about our actions, repentance understands that we’ve offended a holy God. I believe that regret is so rampant today because repentance is so rare. The news is full of voices expressing regret over cycles of addiction or abuse. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a cycle of sin find its end in sincere and humble repentance.
So like Joel, I mourn the condition of my nation. Our culture is entrenched by the lies of the enemy, and it’s killing the American church at a rapid rate. I fear that too many cling to religious symbols and sayings without a genuine desire to know God’s grace and love. Even numerous believers fail to call on the name of the Lord outside of a personal crisis.
We need to seriously consider Joel’s question, “Has anything like this happened in your days or in your fathers’ day?” The answer is, “Yes!” God’s chosen nation didn’t recognize the dryness of their souls. Are we like those who fail to learn from history? I’m deeply concerned that if Christians don’t wake up, then we doom our nation to repeat the mistakes of the past. Will you join me in praying for our country? Specifically, pray for spiritual apathy to be replaced with an urgency for the souls of others; and for genuine repentance to replace mere outward shows of regret.