On a trip to Boston a few years ago I visited Walden Pond, made famous by philosopher Henry Thoreau. Only the ruins of his cabin remain, but the pond is a popular swimming attraction for residents. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to think and to write. He famously said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them."
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, likewise, wished to retreat to ponder the plight of his nation. He wrote "Oh, that I could go away and forget them and live in some wayside shack in the desert, for they are all adulterous, treacherous men" (Jeremiah 9:2).
The prophet preached God's word, but his words fell on deaf ears. The people were fearful since the Babylonian army was nearby, but in their fear they turned to idols rather than to the living God who had power to deliver.
Judah's "ace in the hole" was Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. They reasoned that they were invulnerable since God lived there. The prophet taught that religion is more than a building and they couldn't mask their rebellion with a structure.
During the church burnings in Alabama a few years ago we came to a new understanding. We began to think about our faith and our congregations if we lost our buildings. We concluded that faith is a matter of the heart and not so much a matter of structure.
The people of Judah saw disaster in 586 B.C. when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Jeremiah walked through the smoldering ruins of the city and recorded his thoughts in the book of Lamentations.
Thoreau's words are yet true. People all around live in desperation, fearing terror, financial ruin and family breakdown. But the ancient message rings true today. Jeremiah told his countrymen to repent and return to the Lord.
Repentance is akin to the military term "about face." It means we turn from a life of disobedience to a life of obedience. It means we move in a new direction as we seek to serve the Lord. Repentance brings us to Christ for salvation, but repentance isn't a once-for-all event. We repent daily of actions and thoughts displeasing to the Lord.
Pastor Don Moomaw visited with President Reagan in the hospital after the assassination attempt in 1981, asking the president if he was ready to meet God. Reagan replied that he had things to accomplish first. Moomaw said that he didn't mean this, but if Reagan stepped into eternity, would he be ready to meet God. The president replied, "I have a savior."
We can recover from desperation when we turn from disobedience and call on the Savior.