Today’s Readings: Jeremiah 2:1-13, Romans 1:16-25
Jeremiah is told by God to proclaim to Jerusalem, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest.” That’s a fine picture, one full of youth, and energy, and trust, and love, and abundance, and promise. Over time, and having much, Israel had wandered away from God. God, in sending Old Testament prophets to his people, showed them he wanted them back in relationship.
Paul has some of the same spin in his story from Romans. “For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
Both stories, old and new, point to having a relationship with God, and being awakened to the distance that had grown in that relationship.
In thinking about distance in person-to-person relationships, about longing for a return to closeness, and about finding a road back to a better place, the Spinners’ tune “Working My Way Back to You” came to mind. Go ahead, listen, I want the tune to rattle around in your head, too, so click here.
These words stuck to me:
Hey, I’m working my way back to you, babe,
And the happiness that died.
I let it get away…
(Been paying every day)
See, I’m down and out
But I ain’t about to go living my life without you
The singer tells some of the things he did wrong – “playing around like I was free,” “used to love to make you cry.” He tells of his loneliness, “how I cried over losing you,” “now my nights are long and lonely and I can’t go on living my life without you.” The singer, knowing what he did, feeling what he lost, set about to get it back through apology and work.
Let’s contrast that person-to-person way-back-to-you path in the Spinners’ song with a God’s way-back path in the New Testament. God’s return path for us is quite different – it does not hinge on fickle human forgiveness, or on hard human work. Instead, it’s a path of repentance and faith in Jesus, with an assuring message: He always wants us, no rejection. The yearning inside us for God is fulfilled through His Son Jesus, who forever brings us close.
I celebrate that God wants me, and that through Jesus I am redeemed and forever can be with Him, and that through faith I don’t have to keep “working my way back” to God! I really DO celebrate that, and graciously acknowledge God’s redemption! But….
Sometimes I still seem so far away from Him. I’m redeemed, and I know it, but sometimes I’m distant. Sometimes I’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling. Sometimes I’ve lost that close relationship that Jeremiah described, the one so full of promise and love, so passionate for God’s work that I head out to make fields from a wilderness. And sometimes, I wake up and remember how much I enjoyed being that kind of loving, passionate Christian. Sometimes, I wonder how I got so far away.
For me, this yo-yo distance between me and God seems to happen when either I am not actively serving Him, or when I let my feelings overtake me – feelings like anger, frustration, indifference, self-centeredness. If I could just stay motivated, stay active, and keep eating good Christian food, would my active faith give me a better perspective on my feelings? Would I be able to stick closer to God? And would I be less of a yo-yo?
I don’t want to leave you singing along with the Spinners today, but if you do, remember it’s not God’s plan for us to work our way back to Him, but to accept that faith in Jesus gets us back to God. Instead, I think the song I prefer to be stuck in your head is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” This is a soft, contemporary version, and its wanderlust words in the second verse absolutely nails my reflection on being a yo-yo:
Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise His name! I’m fixed upon it,
Name of God’s redeeming love.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
I want to be close to the gracious God who lets me wander and calls me and welcomes me back.
Author: Susan Kleinwechter