CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Restoring Wasted Years

May 30, 2020

Do you feel that so much of your life has been wasted? There is hope if you do:

I stayed up till 2 this morning watching the first two hours of the three-hour live stream memorial service for the great Christian evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias. I just now watched the final hour of it. No true follower of Christ cannot be deeply touched by it.

The inspiring and moving service featured so many terrific Christian reflections, including from US Vice President Mike Pence, footballer Tim Tebow, and hip hop artist Lecrae. Even though it first aired just a half day ago, it has already been viewed a half million times. It can be found here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBZxZG9nkC0

Would that we all lived a life so pleasing to God and so devoted to the Kingdom. Ravi of course greatly loved God and he greatly loved others. He is now enjoying his eternal rest, and he certainly has heard from the Lord those words we all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

His life and recent death, along with some other things of late, have caused me to reflect on my own life. I don’t know about you, but I often look back at my life with some regret, thinking about how much of it has been wasted. I sometimes even wonder how I might have done things differently had I a chance to do it all over.

But that of course is not going to happen, so one cannot dwell on the past. But what a person can dwell on is what he or she will do with the years that we still have left. We cannot undo what has gone before. But we can perhaps learn from the past, and seek by God’s grace to more wisely and faithfully live out the rest of the days that God gives us on earth.

We cannot change what has gone before, but with God’s help we can see some things redeemed or restored. That is certainly the great hope that we read about in passages like Joel 2:25. The book of Joel is quite short, with only 73 verses found in 3 chapters.

It speaks about the Day of the Lord and divine judgment on Judah and the nations. The book contains the famous word about a locust plague which speaks to both judgment and future restoration. It also has the grand promise of God’s spirit being poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32) which Peter runs with in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21).

Verse 25 of the second chapter says this:

 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.

While the verse’s primary interpretation has to do with Israel’s restoration, its secondary application has been used by believers for millennia. What has been lost can somehow be restored. Of course that is not just a blank cheque, but in many ways is dependent upon the repentance of God’s people.

We too may have lost so many years due to sin or disobedience or sloth or carelessness or selfishness, and so on. But if we turn back to God and ask him to help us in the days ahead to honour him and glorify him, he will hear our prayers and he will bring restoration.

That is good news. It sure is for me. I feel so much of my life has been wasted. I did not become a believer till I was 18 ½. Yes, God even then was building into me what he wanted me to run with as a believer. But so much of my near half century of being a Christian has been spent on self. I grieve often when I look back on my life.

So I need to cling to a passage like Joel 2:25. And other verses can be appealed to here as well – at least in terms of secondary application. Think of the book of Haggai, which is about encouragement to rebuild the temple. In Hag. 2: 9 we read this: “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”

That is also quite encouraging. But let me return to Joel 2:25. Just one commentator will suffice here, and he is worth quoting from at length. David Prior says this about this passage:

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The locusts had brought devastation over a lengthy period… Those years had been utterly and completely negative – wasted years, lost time, nothing but misery and deprivation, erosion of potential. A natural human tendency, once they have finally been concluded, is to consign them to the past as a particularly bad memory: better not even to think about them, let alone speak about them.

But God says, I will restore those years. The meaning of the Hebrew word is ‘repay’, ‘pay back’, ‘make up for’. It has legal connotations, meaning ‘compensation’. God, in acknowledging all the damage done to the land and to the people, promises to provide ample compensation for all they have suffered.

He goes on to speak about legal compensation, big payouts, and the like that we find in places like present day America. He notes that for, say, a grieving parent, no amount of money can make up for the lost loved one or take away the hurt and loss. He continues:

That is probably how the people felt in Joel’s time about the years devoured by the locusts. But God declares: ‘They are not lost; they are not wasted; they are not irredeemably negative. I want to make them up to you. I was ultimately responsible for them in the first place, and, if you can now accept the painful and perplexing truth in that – indeed, if you can see them, in retrospect, as my gift to you – then you are in the best place for me to restore them to you. If you choose to write them off and to wipe them out of your memory, then what I am going to do in restoration will probably pass you by. It will certainly not be the time of full re-creation which I have in mind for you.’

Because the historical origins of the word ‘restore’ or ‘repay’ are in the lawcourt, it is easy to think of God’s relationship with his people in legalistic terms, and to interpret this verse accordingly. Indeed, the first use of the word is in a chapter dealing with making restitution for various injuries, insults and damages acquired in everyday life (Ex. 22). It is not in the Lord’s nature to pay us back in a tit-for-tat fashion. He is just and righteous, certainly, but he does not treat us as we deserve. If for a moment he were to behave like that, we would be annihilated.

The steadfast love and compassion of our Father God drives him in all his dealings with his people. This is, at once, both within our comprehension (because we know such stirrings in our own human relationships) and beyond our comprehension (and therefore we oscillate in our reactions between awe at over-the-top magnificence and resignation at such inscrutable purposes, neither of which seems just or fair).

God has, then, declared what he is about to do by way of unrestrained blessing. Now (26-27) he spells out what this will mean for his people, and they will realize afresh that he has dealt wondrously with them.

Amen. Do you ever feel like you have wasted far too many years of your life? Do you ever wish you could do it all over again? Well, God is able to help us pick up from where we left off, and to carry on for him. God can restore to us what has been lost. The question is, will you let him do this for you? Do you really want to see this restoration? Are you willing to say no to self and yes to God to make it happen?

[1325 words]

20 Responses to Restoring Wasted Years

  • Oh Bill, I hear so much in my spirit of what you are not saying, rather than what you are saying! I see restoration as not as things going BACK to the way they were BEFORE the bad things happened (as i, … a second chance), so much as things becoming what God purposed all along, …. and God using all that has happened along the way mightily.

    Everything is in God’s timing. Someone close to me has struggled through life at a snail’s pace, going down every ditch imaginable, not all through through their own weaknesses, but usually by not having the skills or wisdom to deal with what the world throws their way. They of course see themselves as a failure in so many respects, …. So much wasted time! …. and maybe in the world’s eyes they might be too…. but… not many people could have survived all they have… and God does have a purpose in it all, and every minute will be ultimately used for God’s glory. I have the assurance of the Lord. But only as they work it all through with Him.

    Restoration is a powerful tool of the Lord. Regret and discouragement can often deplete and impede the restoration process. That’s where honesty in Devotion to the Lord, and real repentance shows its mighty Hand. “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”.

  • Hi Bill, what a very timely article. I tick over the age of 71 later in June, and several recent major health issues have caused me to be very “reflective” of where I’ve travelled from, and where I’m going. I too have bitter regrets over the countless wasted opportunities that past me by. And of course the enemy will always seek to fill your head with condemnation if you’ll let him. This covid 19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape we all live in, and, if I had been given a dollar for every “mangled” application of 2 Chron. 7:14 and Ps. 91 that’s lately been bandied about, I would have become a wealthy man (not likely to happen!) What really impressed me with your article Bill, was the “legal connotations” associated with your exegesis of Joel 2:25. God truly is the God of the second chance. HE DOES’NT WASTE ANYTHING, AND HE DOES’NT MAKE MISTAKES. Once again Bill, you are to be commended for your sensitivity to the leadings and promptings of The Holy Spirit. It’s a very timely article. Blessings, Kel.

  • Thank you so much for this Bill. You’re one of those heroes of faith whom I pray God lets me meet on this earth but if he tarries or it doesn’t get to happen then we’ll meet ‘across the river Jordan’

  • Thanks Theo. Yes, a meeting will happen somewhere, some time!

  • Dear Bill
    What another gem you have penned. Likewise Kelvin Nairn, Sue Pollock & Theo Zaky all have my loving heartfelt agreement.
    Peter denied the Saviour three times only hours after expressing willingness to follow Jesus Christ anywhere.
    Look at what was built upon that rock.
    I’ve done so many terribly bad things and shudder, but Our Lord indeed does restore. And I have become more Christ like than I once was – a long, long way to go but I go ahead with His help.
    I love your work Bill and your past (which I have read about through this site) I love also, because it is you.
    Blessings Mark Bryant

  • Many thanks indeed Mark. Bless you.

  • Yes, I can echo all of the previous comments. Some bad and unwise decisions led me down rabbit holes for many years.

    I certainly need this kind of encouragement from the Word Himself.

  • Hi Bill.
    I’m thinking not only of the years & time wasted in the past.
    You have described those well & true.
    What a pity though that some very productive people strive towards pension so that they can do nothing, or just travel around to their hearts desire.
    That is going towárds a waste of time, energy, experience & knowledge.

  • Yes Somerset, as has been said, there is no retirement for the Christian in this life.

  • Thank you Bill, very timely reflection during Pentecost. Much thought on this issue. Faith is such a gift. Thank you. God bless you and your ministry.

  • I’m reminded of what Malcolm Muggeridge called his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time [Originally published in 2 volumes], Morrow, New York, 1973. The “restoration” for Muggeridge gave us his Jesus Rediscovered, Fontana, London, 1969, one of my all-time favourite reads…

  • Thanks John. Yes I usually mention that volume when I speak of wasted years.

  • Thanks Bill, as soon I began to read your article I was reminded of the stone.
    The stone that is either a stumbling stone or stone to step up on.
    The idea of “repay” is similar to redemption i.e. to buy back.
    I believe that God intends to buy back or redeem the wasted years, opportunities etc.
    We no longer should be stumbling over them with regret but expect them to be woven into the fabric of our life, of our character, of who we are, so much so that they become stepping stones for a destiny that was not previously likely or even possible.

  • I have regrets yes BUT I also know I am who I am now because of my life. There is an episode of star trek TNG tapestry that illustrates this best. Picard was shot with an energy weapon a and dying as he had a mechanical heart then Q, a godlike being, offered to send him back to the time when he was a cadet a and got in a fight with an alien and got stabbed in the heart losing his real one. But when he did that his whole life changed and he was totally different. In the end he had A set things back but he lived this time. At the end of the episode he mentioned how when her pulled at the loose threads he ended up unraveling the tapestry of his life.

    I think there are things that had to go a certain way in this life but God will make up for what could have been. Family, friends, a great job so much that hasn’t been, for a reason, will be.

  • Thanks for this, Bill.

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