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I would say that the process of returning to God begins with recognition of the fact of having previously departed from Him (normally through the commission of sin), and acknowledging that that departure was a wrongful action. After that recogntion and acknowledgment, the process of returning to Him then involves asking for His forgiveness, and resolving (with His help) to do whatever is necessary to repair the damage caused by past sins, as well as to avoid similar departures from God in the future. Examples of this process that occur to me from Scripture are the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and the declaration by Zacchaeus that he would return four times the amount of any money that he had unjustly taken in his prior activity as a tax collector, which Jesus said was an indication that salvation had come to Zacchaeus' household (Luke 19:8-9). (The question also reminds me of the saying, "If you're not as close to God as you once were, guess who moved.")
Here are God's exact words in his call to repentance in this book of Joel. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. “Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations.’ Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17) Here are some important truths we can "learn" and "apply" in order to return to the Lord (repent of our sins). 1. Return with all our hearts Take our sin seriously, demonstrate our sorrow with fasting, weeping and mourning. 2. Superficial confession is insulting to God Rend our hearts. Our sin should tear our hearts with grief and sorrow over how we have harmed our relationship with God. 3. If we don't repent God will punish us God is slow to get angry, but he will get angry if we don't turn from our sin. God will send calamity to punish (discipline) us, so we will take our sin seriously and return to him. If we see our sin and repent right away, we can avoid the punishment. 4. Repentance leads to blessing Each time we repent, we experience the wonder of God's grace in forgiving us, cleansing us and restoring us to himself. God is so compassionate towards us and abounding in love. We experience the breathless awe and wonder of His love each time we repent from the heart. God will always bless our repentance with good things in our lives. 5. Repentance is individual and corporate We need to blow the trumpet, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, consecrate the assembly, bring the elders, gather the children and babies. We need to corporately confess our sins as a church, because sin always divides us as the people of God, and God wants to unite us again through confession and repentance. As we confess our sins to other trusted Christian friends, the truth comes out, the power of lies and deceptions are broken, the light of God's truth destroys the darkness and breaks the power of evil and wicked forces. God will respond to our individual and corporate repentance by pouring out his Holy Spirit. God will make us pure and holy - us individually and his church corporately. Our individual lives will radiate holiness, our faces will be shining with the presence of God. Our churches will be dangerous places to visit, because the holiness of God will expose every sin and transform every life. In my view, the weakness of our faith as individual Christians and our lack of impact as local churches, is directly proportional to the superficiality of our confession and repentance. When we get serious with God, then God gets serious with us and will use us in mighty ways to build his kingdom on earth.
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