Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13, ESV)
Repentance runs deep. Joel describes returning to the Lord as rending your heart and not your garments. He is saying that repentance is more than superficial change. Repentance is a shifting of your attitudes, affections, and priorities.
When we face challenges, we look for a quick and easy fix. We often seek technical solutions for problems that are mired in complexity. Our problems are often bigger than our solutions. We have affections that should not be affections. We have priorities that should not be priorities. We have attitudes that should not be attitudes. If we are to experience true and lasting change the repentance will cut deep. Changes that are easy to make will likely have little impact.
Repentance is not something that comes naturally. Repentance is the working of God in us. It is the dwelling of the Holy Spirit that gives us a clean heart and renews within us a right spirit. (See Psalm 51:10). Repentance is having God perform spiritual heart surgery upon you.
There are two things that make repentance a work that goes beyond human will-power or wisdom. The first is our lack of desire to repent. The second is our lack of understanding of our need to repent. We need God to overcome both of these obstacles.
Lack of Desire to Repent
Repentance involves loss. That loss may hurt. The loss may be things that make us feel good but are ultimately harmful to us. It may be giving up a sense of control over things we can’t control. It may be pride and position that we need to forsaken because they are no advantage to us. Significant change will hurt. But there is greater pain if we do not change.
I often help people who know from an intellectual point of view that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and others. If knowledge was enough, there would be no problem. But there is a tremendous pull upon our spirits against what we know is best for us. We become stubborn and resistant to the new things God wants to do in and through us.
It is not will-power, it is the Spirit’s power that will overcome. Ask him for the courage and the help to make the change.
Lack of Understanding to Repent
Repentance is also hard because Satan works hard to convince us of the goodness of things that are not good for us. Without the mind of the Spirit, we are blind to the truth. We all have things about which we need to repent but don’t recognize.
Sometimes, we don’t want to see the need because we don’t want to see. Sometimes, the good I think I do is not good. Sometimes, the words I share that I think are helpful, are not helpful.
If I am confronted with the truth, I easily become defensive. The reason this happens is that I have an inward mindset that measures my words and actions by how they positively affect me. But if we turn to an outward mindset, we might see differently how our words and actions negatively impact others.
We pray for God to give us eyes to see what we cannot see even if it may be hard to see.
- Where do you need repentance in your life?
- Where do you struggle to make the change you know you need to make?
- How might you open your eyes and heart to things you need to change?
Lord, I want to do what is right and what is best. But I am constantly pulled away by desires and affections that hold me captive. I want to let them go. I have tried to let them go. And sometimes I can push them away for a time, but they come back stronger. I know things need to change. But I do not have the strength over my fleshly ambitions. I need your Spirit. Cut deeply into my heart. Adjust my attitude and make it godly. Give me the discernment to pursue your abundant grace. Amen.