Restoring the years


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There’s a powerful statement in Joel 2:25: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” It’s a reference to the produce of food from the years the locusts destroyed the harvest. That may mean consecutive years or, more likely, the knock-on effect of one devastating invasion. Think about it.  When locusts destroyed a crop, they wiped out the seed saved from the previous year, the harvest of the current year, and the seed that would be used the next year. The grape vines and fruit trees would take years to redevelop (Joel 1:12).

In John 10, Jesus describes the devil as a “thief” that comes to “steal, kill and destroy.” Sin has a devastating effect on our lives. One extra-marital affair can poison years of trust,  wreck a happy marriage, and create untold consequences for any children involved. Think of the effects of alcohol or drugs, or a single act of impulsive violence. During my time working in prison I met a man who had raped his daughter when he was drunk. I met one who had murdered his wife with a single angry blow. They were remorseful, but the damage was done.

And there are many things not seen but equally powerful agents of destruction: the habit of lying, criticism, deceit, hypocrisy. These are sins that can steal, kill and destroy too.

Sin is a swarm of locusts that can take out your past reserves, your present provision and your future prospects.

But God can restore that which is lost.

In Luke 15, Jesus told three interweaving stories about things that have gotten lost: a sheep, a coin, a son. If the sheep got lost through stupidity, and the coin through carelessness, the son got lost through sheer, stubborn wilfulness!

But whatever the reason, Jesus underlined both the fact of the lost being found and the joy of that restoration.

In Psalm 23, the Lord is described as a “shepherd.”  And what does he do? “He restores my soul.” Piece by piece, like a broken pot, I am being carefully reassembled, restored, made new….

But this is not an instant nor an easy process. That’s what makes the analogy of a locust infestation so scarily powerful. The thief has stolen. The assassin has killed. The Destroyer has annihilated. And we broken people pick our way gingerly through the wreckage.

That’s why this verse is so important. He restores the years that have been lost!

Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned, with her sister Betsie,  in a German concentration camp at Ravensbruck during the Second World War for helping Jews escape.  After the war she came face to face with one of her guards, Here’s her story:

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

Do you see how God is restoring the years? And not just for Corrie, but for the guard too.

No one is saying this is going to be easy, but if the devastation in your life has taken the shape of unforgiveness, then you need to be restored, and given back the stolen years.

God wants to give you a glorious new life. And in Jesus Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed away and all things become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

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