I have been awake since 3:30am. Finally at 5 o’clock I decided to just go with it. There is now a fresh loaf of banana bread cooling on the counter, a sink of dishes washed, laundry rolling around in the dryer, a blog post nearly ready to publish, and it’s not even 7 o’clock yet. Maybe it’s excitement that disturbed my sleep. Today is the day! Our church is gathering this morning in person to worship together for the first time since March. After 28 weeks of online services, even my introverted self is excited to worship with a crowd.
It was fun to sit down at the piano yesterday and practice some songs for today. As I sat there singing and playing alone, it brought tears to my eyes to imagine what it will be like to sing our praises to God together again! I knew that the first song I wanted us to sing this morning is “Great Things.” It was a song I chose at the very beginning of 2020 sort of as a theme song for our congregation at the outset of a new year. Little did I know back in January just what kind of a year 2020 would turn out to be. But you know what? I can sing that song with even more assurance and gusto now than I could then. Despite this pandemic, God has been doing great things. He is indeed “faithful through every storm”. And He will “be faithful forevermore” as the song says.
I could probably fill volumes if I were to write about all the things God has done in my own heart this year and in the life of our family. And I know I’m not the only one who has felt His touch in incredible ways. I have talked to so many people who, despite significant struggles and trials this year, have chosen to see with eyes of faith and press in closer than ever to their Heavenly Father. Hearts more in tune to the beat of His! Spirits more alive with the breath of His! I call these things “great things.” And there’s no way my God is finished yet. If you’re sensing Him nudging you in your spirit to seek Him, do it with all your heart.
There’s a “churchy” word Christians use a lot — repentance. It’s often described as a 180 degree turn…turning from ourselves, back to God. I noticed as I was reading my Bible this week that the Hebrew word for “repentance” (השיב) is also the word for “reply”. That’s what our repentance is — a reply to God’s invitation! This idea is not as obvious in English. It’s easy to think that repentance originates within us. But Hebrew brings out the idea of God as the initiator. We are simply turning back to Him, replying to His invitation. Our repentance is a response! This immediately makes me think of what I wrote about last week and the opportunity that Jesus gave to those religious leaders who challenged His authority. He gave them the chance to “reply” to His question, which in essence was an invitation to “repent.” But they were unwilling. Repentance is always a response to God’s invitation to not just know His will, but to do His will!
In Matthew’s account of this same conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders in the Temple, Jesus immediately continues by telling these haughty, jealous men two parables about repentance. In the first story, a father asks his two sons to work for him in his vineyard. There’s the invitation; the father is reaching out. One son flatly refuses, then later changes his mind and gets to work. The other one flippantly says, “Sure, you bet,” but doesn’t follow through with his commitment. The parable is all about changing our minds. We are changeable creatures, aren’t we?
The prostitutes and tax collectors that John was baptizing were like the brother who first refused his father’s request but later went to work. The chief priests and elders and scribes were like the other brother who seemed eager enough at the outset but selfishly changed his mind against his father’s request. And what is worse, they wouldn’t change their minds back again, even after seeing the incredible transformation in such calloused sinners!
The next story Jesus told was obviously casting these religious men in a very harsh light. He basically accused them and their predecessors of murdering God’s prophets and messengers, showing them that He knew exactly what they were up to in plotting His murder as well. Being the amazing teacher that He was, Jesus prompted His listeners to predict certain outcomes as His parables unfolded. And you can almost picture the religious leaders here, despite themselves, hanging on His every word. They were smart enough to know these parables were about them but not smart enough to respond to Christ’s invitation to the Kingdom of God. How very tragic!
Repentance is not always a once-and-done thing though. At least, it’s not for me. But I’ve discovered that as I experience God’s gifts of joy and peace and rest deep in my spirit, it draws me more quickly to Him when I stumble. In the Hebrew Scriptures you’ll often see the word “turn” used in conjunction with “repent.” And I take great comfort in the fact that the word for “turn” (שוב) also means “again.” Don’t be discouraged on your journey if repentance is something you need to do over and over and over again. And be encouraged by the fact that repentance is not our idea. It’s not something we have to try to convince God to help us with if He can possibly squeeze us into His busy schedule. Repentance is His idea! And because it’s at His invitation, we can be assured that He will show up in our lives and help us to do what He wants us to — when we trust Him enough to just do it! We need to stop procrastinating like the religious leaders who were faking ignorance to buy themselves time. We need to repent — no matter the cost. There are things we’ll never discover about the sufficiency of Jesus until we do. The joy of His pleasure and the intimacy of His love and care will remain hypothetical and theoretical until we do.
Popular culture talks a lot about “choosing” joy, but true joy will never settle in a disobedient, unrepentant heart, no matter how deliberate one is in choosing it. Joy quite literally chooses us when we position ourselves through repentance to receive it. As long as we reserve a corner of our heart for sin to camp in, we are anything but joyful. Only when we trust the Lord with our whole heart do we discover that He really is all we need.