What is your least favorite word? I just took more time than I should have to look at a list of the “Most Disliked Words of 2021.” The usual suspects made the list: phlegm, moist, crevice, and giblets. I’ll save you the pain of hearing the entire list.
If I had to guess a most-disliked word for Christians, I’d guess repentance is pretty high. It’s an extremely religious-sounding word. And many of us at some point have pictured an apocalyptic sandwich board guy yelling, “Repent!” at us.
While repentance is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, we don’t see many people actually do it. Repent means “to rethink and turn around.” Repentance does not feel natural. In fact, it seems that what comes naturally to us is everything but repentance. What seems to come naturally is blaming others, being defensive, avoiding, denying, or just being hard-headed, stubborn, and defiant.
The other day I was watching a volleyball game when one of the players corrected a referee. The ref called a ball inbounds that all the parents in the stands could clearly see was out of bounds. The player sternly told the ref that he was wrong and then the ref got this puzzled look on his face, turned to the coaches, reversed the call, and apologized. All of us parents looked at each other in amazement! Who does that these days?
Repentance is like that. It’s strange, highly unnatural, catches people off guard, but my, is it beautiful!
Jesus shares with us that there is a big party in heaven when someone repents. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). With the offer of a party whenever one repents, why then is repentance so rare?
In Psalm 51 we get to see King David’s repentant heart as he turns to God after being caught in adultery and murder. David says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Real repentance is rare and life-transforming. King David shows us that repentance comes with a broken spirit, but let’s be honest — when was the last time you had a broken spirit? The world tells us to have a free spirit, to be strong, to be proudly unbroken, to do whatever we want, whenever we want!
Yet a broken and repentant heart is what God desires. This is what it means to repent, and nothing less: God, I give up. I’m yours. I’m giving up control. I’m giving up the selfish agenda and the self-protection games I play. I’m only fit to serve in your Kingdom if you’ll let me.
Repentance means finally coming to grips with the fact that you need God… like a once untamed horse giving into the Master. Our Master is smart, kind, and very, very good. And He throws the best parties!