"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Week 3: "Repent!," Part 2

How to repent? That was the question. I'm not sure that I have an answer, but I'll tell you about my experience of this week. I started with fasting and prayer. I spent some time with Psalm 51, asking God to give me a "broken and contrite heart" about sin in my life. Right away, I realized that I needed to get specific about the sin issue. There was no point in asking God to break my heart about the rather vague idea that I had sinned.

In Richard Foster's wonderful book, Celebration of Discipline, he devotes a chapter to the topic of confession and describes how he got specific about his own sin. Following Foster's example, I divided my life into three time periods: pre-conversion (birth to age 17); post conversion but pre-marriage (18 to 25), and marriage to present (26 to 35). I then dedicated about ten minutes of prayer to each part of my life, asking God to bring to my mind whatever sins he wanted me to repent of and confess. I wrote down everything that came to mind.

Then, several times this week, I went back to God in prayer about the things on the list. I prayed for God to give me sorrow about my list of sins---to give me a broken and contrite heart. Then, I waited to receive my flogging---the flogging that would make me feel so bad that I would break down and cry. And, I waited. And, it didn't come.

I was praying about this all again Friday morning as I drove to work, and an image came into my mind. I believe it was God's answer to my prayers. The image was of me and my three year old son, Ethan. Let me explain. Often after Ethan is punished for some infraction or offense, he is still upset after the punishment is over. I always remind him that he would feel much better if he would just say "sorry." Sometimes, he gives me a huffy "sorry" and runs off still in a pout. Pride has gotten the better of him. But, sometimes, something wonderful happens. He comes into my arms, gives me a hug, tells me that he's sorry, and cries a few tears. I say, "I love you. I forgive you. It's OK." Then, it's over. I wipe away the tears and hold a tissue while he blows his nose. He goes back to his play and adventures like nothing ever happened. That was the image that came to my mind, and I felt that God was saying it was a picture of repentance. As I began to grasp the meaning of this image, I felt that the still small voice of God was saying, "Just come into my arms, Nathan. I forgive you. It's OK." Yes, I finally shed a few tears. Tears of sorrow. But, they were also tears of joy and relief and freedom.

Looking back now, it seems so obvious that this is exactly what repentance would be. Father calls us into His arms so that we can say, "sorry." He doesn't need to hear us say it. He knows that we need to say it for ourselves, before we can move on from the guilt and weight of our mistakes. This is the first part of repentance---sincerely telling Father that we're sorry and receiving his forgiveness. It releases us to do what remains of repentance. What remains is to make a sincere commitment to walk in obedience. That commitment is, I hope, what this project is about.

"What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it---we're called children of God! That's who we really are." ~ 1 John 3:1 (The Message)