Far from being unpleasant, this practice brings to us a beautiful sense of closeness to God...repent.
"For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly
sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death."
2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT (emphasis by author)
Pilgrims. That is what we usually call them, and we imagine them dressed in black and white with big buckles on their shoes. But they called themselves saints or separatists, and they didn't dress like the illustrations we have in old books. They left behind all they knew, boarded the Mayflower, and moved to the wilderness in order to worship God. Seriously. I am fascinated by this rare faithfulness.
The Mayflower Compact, which every member of the community signed, tells us all we need to know about the intentions of their community and the character of the people involved. Their diaries, still available, reveal the Christ like hearts of those long ago saints. The Separatists really leaned in and took Jesus at His word. I admire this very small group of people more than any other in all of history.
Lest you confuse these settlers with the Puritans that came later, the company that traveled on the Mayflower under the leadership of Miles Standish and William Bradford developed deep and abiding friendships with the indigenous people of the Massachusetts Bay area, the Wampanoag. Squanto became a particular friend.
This is a historical fact: as long as William Bradford, leader of the immigrants, and Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag, were alive the two groups lived in cooperation and friendship. There was a treaty of peace and mutual aid between them which was honored to the full for decades. Later generations of both groups failed to continue in this spirit, but the earliest settlers lived in peace.
One of the practices that the Separatists engaged in regularly goes a long way to explain their remarkable faith as individuals and their success as a community. They were faithful in prayer and praise and studying the Holy Word, but they did something that we very rarely do anymore. They repented of their sins regularly.
When the Separatists were faced with a community wide hardship, they agreed to fast and repent until the will of God was made clear to them. They understood that God desires our hearts to be humble. They repented of their sins. Their neighbors' sins were none of their business. Each searched their own heart and asked God to help them navigate the problem in a way that glorified Jesus. We can do this too.
If we really stopped and asked God, "Lord, what would you have me learn from Covid-19 and all the surrounding circumstances?" We might find that the answer is in an ancient practice that modern American Christians typically find difficult: repentance. Far from being disagreeable or unpleasant, it is actually a gentle habit that gives us true humility and closeness to God...Repent
I am aware that most of you stopped reading at the "r" word, so if you are still hanging in there, good for you! You are clearly open to the heart of God. The concept of repentance is so purposefully ignored by most Christians at this point in history that many of us don't even know what it means. Just the word puts a lot of church goers into defensive mode. We are happy to point out our neighbors' sins, but that is about the extent of our willingness.
Jesus would have us look our own sin squarely in the eye, name it, confess it, repent of it and accept the perfect forgiveness that is offered. The way of repentance is a way which is very rarely taken, but it leads to peace and joy. It is kind of like getting regular outdoor exercise. Most of us dread it, but once we get started we find that we feel great and wonder why we didn't start sooner.
Repentance bears fruit which is unmistakable in terms of reward for the one who repents as well as for the community around them. It is a private practice which is then witnessed by all around. Think about Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. No one knew what had happened, but everyone was glad. Especially Scrooge. That kind of total heart change is what repentance looks like.
Repentance and forgiveness are like gears in a finely tuned watch. The two are eternally entwined, and one without the other is a lesser form of spiritual practice. Repentance is the parent of forgiveness. For quite a long time, Christians have been skipping repentance and want to move right on to forgiveness. It reminds me of wrapping a box without putting the present inside. It looks great, but it is empty.
Repentance is being convicted of and then confessing your own sin, determining to follow Christ, turning away from your sins then moving on with your life. The process is not ridden with guilt or shame or heaviness. It is stating clearly what you already know in your heart. I am a sinner. I have sinned with words, with actions, with inaction, with attitudes, with a lack of charity. Take this to God. Tell Him that you want to set these sins aside. Ask Him for strength.
I believe that William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, gave us a prophetic word when he said,
"The chief danger that confronts the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”
Let us move forward together in a fresh desire for repentance and forgiveness.