“Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty.” — Zechariah 1:3
On the Sabbath, observant Jews don’t drive. One Sabbath day, I was walking to a synagogue far from my home because I was invited to attend a bar mitzvah celebration there. Traditionally, when a Jewish boy turns 13, he will read the weekly Torah portion in front of the congregation. That part is the highlight of the celebration, which is why I was incredibly frustrated when I realized that, for about 20 minutes of my journey, I was walking the wrong way. I had gotten lost, and I was seriously concerned that I wouldn’t make it to the synagogue on time.
As I quickly worked my way through Jerusalem’s winding streets, I thought about how my situation was comparable to many people who get lost in their lives. Somehow, without even realizing it, they verge far off the path and end up incredibly distant from their life goals. Suddenly, people wake up and realize that they have been going in the wrong direction; they have made poor decisions; they have strayed far from God. But how will they ever get back? How will they mend all their ways and undo the damage? How will they break the bad habits or the sinful addictions?
Jewish tradition captures these feelings in the following parable: There was once a prince who was living very far from his father. “Return to your father,” his friends told him. “I’m unable to,” he replied. When his father heard what his son had said, he sent him a message. It said: “Travel as far as you can and I will meet you the rest of the way.” This is what God, our Heavenly Father, means when He says in the book of Zechariah, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you . . . ’”
The idea expressed here is that God doesn’t expect us to do this all alone. He knows that we are human and that it is hard to change. But God also knows that we can do something; we can take that first step, we can do one good thing well, we can regret our actions and resolve to avoid future mistakes. God wants us to do what we can, and then He will help us the rest of the way. The Jewish sages teach that God makes the following offer: “Make Me an opening the size of a pinhole, and I will make you an opening broad enough for tens of wagons.”
Let us be encouraged to do what we can and go as far as we can go in our journey toward God, knowing that when we do, He will take us farther than we ever imagined.