Whoever said repentance was an easy one-time turn away (accompanied by punching one’s golden ticket to heaven) from one’s old life was a liar.
A Georgia friend, Josh Brown explores this. To put it simply, we all live in terrifying hypocrisy, and it is becoming more and more clear to me that we are called to a lifestyle, an attitude of repentance and humility in the pursuit of God.
When I think of the process of change, the picture seems pretty clear, if I (we) want to grow.
1) I recognize what I have been thinking/speaking/doing is against the expectations of God
2) I repent and seek to turn from my former way of thinking/speaking/doing.
This is where most folks stop in description…this is nothing more than behavior modification, though, in my view. We need;
3) Learning to love the way of thinking/speaking/doing God expects so we get to the place we really WANT what God wants.
And honesty demands that I insert
4) Wash, rinse, and repeat steps 1-3 until we die…because while we will see growth, we will not see the sort of growth that eliminates the possibility of falling right back into our old ways, most deeply because we haven’t made the transition to running freely after God’s desires.
This is messy. Messy doesn’t even hint at the difficulty. Menno Simons, a giant in the faith, wrote in his Meditation on the 25th Psalm a personal confession;
“I find day by day that my righteousness is as filthy rags. When I think I walk, I fall; when I imagine that I stand, I am down; and when I think to be something, then I am nothing. O dear Lord, keep me, for the fear of my heart is very great, greater than I can write or say. At times I am as a woman in travail…the dangers of hell surround me, the marrow of my bones is dried up. For here neither money nor possessions are involved, neither flesh nor blood, but my poor naked soul, eternal life or eternal death.”
This sort of thought wasn’t unique in Menno’s life. He wrote over and over again of the need for one’s will and mind to be completely committed to Christ; that there was no price he would not have paid in obedience, but his heart was deeply troubled. He had grown to the point where he hated his old way of being, but found in his struggle to leave it behind that in many ways the battle had just begun…because this blackness of rebellion coursed through his veins and the only way he could emerge from that reality was a ruthless trust in and deep desire for the power of God to give him the power to stand. There’s a confession in his thoughts here too, I think, in his understanding that in the presence of God he stands naked, with nothing covering his heart, the essence of his being. And he quaked in the presence of God and maintained a healthy fear of him that drove him to action.
Sufjan Stevens tries to put words to this struggle, I think, in his song “He Woke Me Up Again”;
“And I hope, I hope you are tired out.
And I know, I know there is joy endowed.
But I was asleep,
And he woke me up again,
And he woke me up again to say…
Hold on, hold on to your old ways
Or put off, put off every old face.
And I know, I know you are changed out.
And I hope, I hope you’re arranged out.
But I’m still asleep
And you woke me up again.
And I’m still asleep
But you woke me up to leave”
There’s an interplay there; First, “he woke me up again,” then “but I’m still asleep.”
I have found in my life this happening time and again. I am woken up to the painfulness of the results of my separation from God, and it drives me to weeping and anger that I could be so hurtful to myself and others. So I commit myself to leave the specific thought/word/action behind, only to find it seeks to justify its existence, provides good arguments that pull at both my brain and my emotions, and woos me back time and again. “When I think I walk, I fall; when I imagine that I stand, I am down; and when I think to be something, then I am nothing.” I keep thinking I woke up, only to come to my senses some days and in honesty confess I continue to sleep…
So where is my hope?
In the one addressed in Romans 8:12-17 and the life he has freed me to pursue…
And in never giving up.
God is easily pleased but never satisfied…how could I dare to suggest I could get to a point, believe I’ve traveled far enough, and sit down and wait for the sweet by and by? I know enough of God’s character in Scripture to know if I do this, the by and by won’t be so sweet.
Menno also said this;
“For we prefer to endure misery, poverty, tribulation, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, bonds, and death, in our mortal bodies, and continue in the Word of the Lord, rather than to lead secure, easy lives with the world, and for the sake of a short, transitory life ruin our souls”