“Return to Me, and I Will Return to You”
THE family was enjoying a delightful outing in the woods. Then, Peter, the youngest, strayed away, chasing down a hill after a squirrel. Suddenly, the sky filled with clouds, and rain began to fall. At first it was a gentle shower, but gradually it became a downpour. The family hurriedly gathered their belongings and ran for their vehicle. And everyone wondered where Peter was.
Peter, meantime, was trying to get back to the family. It was difficult to see ahead, and the path up the hill was slippery in the rain. Unexpectedly, the ground seemed to disappear under his feet as he stumbled into a deep, hidden hole. He tried to climb out, but the sides were too slippery.
Rainwater poured down the hill and was filling the hole with mud. Peter was in real danger of drowning. But then his father found him and pulled him out with a rope. Later, Peter was severely scolded for wandering away. Yet, wrapped up in blankets in the arms of his mother, a scolding was very easy to accept.
This experience well illustrates what happens to some who used to be among God’s people. They have fallen into the deep hole of this system of things and are desperately trying to crawl out and return to the haven of Jehovah’s organization. How pleasing it is to know that Jehovah is merciful and ready to ‘lower a rope’ and help them back to safety!
Jehovah’s Merciful Dealings
Back in the days of Israel, at the completion of the building of the temple, Solomon offered a prayer of dedication in which he begged Jehovah to listen to petitions directed toward the temple. He then said: “In case they [the Israelites] sin against you (for there is no man that does not sin), and you have to be incensed at them and abandon them to the enemy, . . . and they indeed come to their senses in the land where they have been carried off captive, and they actually return and make request to you for favor in the land of their captors, . . . you must also hear from the heavens, your established place of dwelling, their prayer and their request for favor.”—1 Kings 8:46-49.
Solomon’s request was fulfilled on many occasions during the history of Israel. Time and again, God’s people turned aside and abandoned him. Then they recognized their error and returned, seeking him. And Jehovah forgave them. (Deuteronomy 4:31; Isaiah 44:21, 22; 2 Corinthians 1:3; James 5:11) Through Malachi, Jehovah summed up a thousand years of dealing with His people when He said: “From the days of your forefathers you have turned aside from my regulations and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you.”—Malachi 3:7.
Causes for Stumbling
As with the Israelites, a number of God’s people today turn aside and separate themselves from Jehovah’s organization. Why? Some go after something that appears innocent at first, like Peter chasing the squirrel. This is what happened with Ada. She reports: “It was a custom for all of us workmates to go to lunch together at some nearby restaurant at noontime. So when they invited me to have a cup of coffee at the end of the day, it was not difficult to accept. I reasoned that I was not using time that should be used for meetings or for preaching. I did not realize that this might be a failure to observe the principle at 1 Corinthians 15:33.
“Soon, I was going horseback riding with them on Saturdays. Then I was going to the movies and the theater with them. That led to my missing some meetings. Finally, I was not going to any meetings nor sharing in the preaching work. When I realized what was happening, I was no longer associating with the organization.”
In other cases the reason might be a serious hidden sin that makes the person feel unworthy of serving God. (Psalm 32:3-5) Or an individual might stumble over something that was said or done by Christian companions, not understanding, as Solomon said, that “there is no man that does not sin.”—1 Kings 8:46; James 3:2.
Still others get discouraged when they receive discipline. (Hebrews 12:7, 11) The attraction of materialistic life-styles has led many to cease serving God. Often, in the search for worldly success, they have immersed themselves so thoroughly in secular work that there has been no room in their lives for God’s service. (Matthew 13:4-9; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Is the situation of such ones hopeless?
Will You Respond to Jehovah’s Invitation?
On one occasion Jesus said something that was hard to understand, and some were stumbled. The record says: “Many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him.” But not all were stumbled. The Bible account continues: “Jesus said to the twelve: ‘You do not want to go also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him: ‘Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.’” (John 6:66-68) Jesus’ apostles wisely perceived that it would be disastrous to leave Jesus.
Some who fall away eventually come to a similar conclusion. They realize that leaving God’s organization was a disastrous step to take and that only with Jehovah and Christ will they find the sayings that lead to life. Once they come to such a realization, they should also realize that it is never too late to reconsider, ask Jehovah for forgiveness, and come back to him. It was Jehovah himself who gave the invitation: “Return to me, and I will return to you.”—Malachi 3:7.
Really, where can a sincere Christian find happiness if it is not in serving Jehovah? If a person drifts away after having been a part of God’s organization for some time, what awaits him in the world outside? He will quickly realize that he is now part of a world that is getting more and more violent. He will find himself involved in a system of things full of hypocrisy, lies, fraud, and immorality, a world as dangerous and unpleasant as the mudhole that threatened the life of young Peter. When he comes to his senses and realizes that his eternal life is in jeopardy, he should lose no time in seeking help to extricate himself from the situation. Still, returning may not be easy.
Are you one who has tried to return to Jehovah but found it difficult? Then know that you need help. And believe that your brothers and sisters in God’s organization are willing to offer you help. But you have to make an effort to show Jehovah your desire. It is time to ‘come to your senses’ and ‘actually return to Jehovah.’—1 Kings 8:47.
Helped to Return
Ada explains what helped her to return to Jehovah: “At just the right moment, the sister who had conducted the study with me invited me to attend a circuit assembly with her. She was so sweet! And she did not reproach me at all! She showed so much love. A year had gone by since I attended my last meeting, but I had been meditating on the emptiness of the world and on the fact that, behind the glitter, there was only sadness, frustration, and immorality. So I decided to attend the assembly. Once at the theater where it was held, I went to the last row of seats and hid myself in a dark corner. I did not want the brothers to see me and ask questions.
“However, the program gave counsel that I badly needed. When it was over, I was determined not only to return to Jehovah’s people but also to devote myself to him with all my heart. The brothers received me with open arms and the ‘prodigal’ returned.” (Luke 15:11-24) All that happened some time ago, and Ada has now been in full-time service for more than 25 years.
The case of another individual who wandered away had a similar happy outcome. Some elders gave José counsel that reflected more their own thinking than Bible principles. José, discouraged and resentful, eventually fell into inactivity. For eight years he was separated from God’s people, and during that time he married an unbeliever and became father to children, one of whom he allowed to be baptized in the Catholic Church.
Finally, he was helped when the circuit overseer made shepherding calls on him and encouraged the elders to do the same. He was restored and was happy to see his wife take an interest in the truth. José is at present serving as an elder in the congregation. As these two experiences show, Jehovah does not withhold blessings from those who respond to his loving invitation to return.
In order to enjoy such blessings, though, one first has to appreciate the help offered and respond to it. In most congregations the brothers remember those who have become inactive and visit them from time to time, trying to help them. Responding to such help shows appreciation for Jehovah’s mercy.—James 5:19, 20.
In truth, this is the time to respond to Jehovah’s invitation: “Return to me.” (Malachi 3:7; Isaiah 1:18) Do not wait any longer. World events are moving with remarkable swiftness. The best place to be during the stormy times that lie ahead is within Jehovah’s organization, safe under his protection. Only those who take refuge in Jehovah have a firm hope of being hidden from his wrath on the great day of his anger.—Zephaniah 2:2, 3.
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Will you respond to Jehovah’s invitation, “Return to me”?