Sometimes our prayers of confession tend to become superficial.
Benevolent and easy-going Parent: We have occasionally had some minor errors of judgment, but they’re not our fault. Due to forces beyond our control, we have sometimes failed to act in accordance with our own best interests. Under the circumstances, we did the best we could. We are glad to say that we’re doing okay, perhaps even slightly above average. Be your sweet Self with those who know they are not perfect. Grant us that we may continue to live a simple and happy life and keep our self-respect. And we ask all these things according to the unlimited tolerances which we have a right to expect from you. Amen.
Okay, perhaps we don’t go that far, but it is easy for us as believers to neglect the work of repentance in our lives. After all, didn’t we do that when we came to Christ? But repentance, just like faith, is not a one-time deal. It is an ongoing action and event in our lives.
If we want to live, we have to breathe. We inhale oxygen that our bodies need. But as necessary as inhaling is, it’s also essential that we exhale! We have to get rid of the carbon dioxide from our bodies. If we apply this to our life with Christ, faith is like inhaling, and repentance is like exhaling. Both are essential if we are to have a healthy Christian walk.
Prayers of repentance brought about an immediate response from God.
As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.Daniel 9:23a (NIV)
Daniel repented for the sins of his people when he realized the exile of seventy years, was drawing to a close. As he turned to God in repentance, the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to him:
The call to repent was the message of John the Baptist, and it was the message of Jesus when he first began to preach, and it was the repeated message of the Old Testament prophets. The prophet Joel writing to the nations of Judah challenges them:
“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.Joel 2:12–13
As I read those words the other day, the phrase “rend your heart and not your garments” stood out. In that culture, acts of repentance were accompanied by visible expressions like the ripping and tearing of one’s clothes and then putting on sackcloth as a way to demonstrate regret, sorrow and repentant attitude.
The problem, however, was that it was easy to put on a show, to act out, to perform the task of ripping and tearing clothes without being genuinely repentant. They would go through the motions, but they were not serious. The prophet warned and challenged his listeners to rend their hearts, not just their garments, to make sure their motives were genuine.
We need to hear that challenge for our own lives. Do we go through the motions of repentance when we come before the Lord? Do we need to take seriously the call to “rend our hearts?”
We can come to God in confidence that as we get serious with God about the brokenness and struggles in our lives, God will be “Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (psalm 103:8). So let us come to the Lord not with a superficial prayer but with a real prayer of repentance. Let us “rend our hearts.”