Preach the Word

Toward True Joy

What do we think about when we hear the word “repentance”? What things do we associate with repentance? What synonyms would we use for repentance?

Perhaps the most important question is, when was the last time we repented? Do we repent on a weekly, or even daily basis? Is repentance something we do only once, when we get saved? Is repentance something we do only when we’ve committed a major sin?

The word repentance is closely connected with the Bible, or at least it used to be. Prophets preached repentance in the Old Testament and apostles preached repentance in the New Testament. Certain cities and nations were spared for repenting (Ninevah). Other cities and peoples were dramatically destroyed for failing to repent (Sodom and Gommorah, as well as Jerusalem). John the Baptist came preaching repentance. Peter preached repentance on the day of Pentecost. Jesus revealed that His earthly mission was aimed not to serve the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.

Yet repentance has largely disappeared from our culture’s vocabulary (along with a lot of other biblical language), including our Christian conversation. The people who seem to use it most are usually those that come across as angry. They stand in front of football stadiums wearing sandwich board signs and shouting, “Repent or die!” and, “Turn or burn!” We might use the word repentance as a last resort, keeping it in the bag until the last possible moment, fearing that any talk of repentance might turn people away from Jesus.

In our daily spiritual walk we rarely refer to, let alone practice, repentance. When we encounter God’s discipline or when we’re feeling guilty over sin, we talk about change, or maybe we talk about doing better next time. But it’s shamefully rare to hear someone come out and say, “I had to, or need to, repent.”

To be fair, there exists a small community of “grunge” Christians who have responded to the goody-two-shoes, Sunday-best Christians, who know that no one can be perfectly righteous, and who run the other direction. It seems like these brothers and sisters can only talk about how wicked, vile, and sinful they are. They write songs and blogs divulging their nasty, sinful secrets and demand that all Christians do the same in order to be “real.” But ironically, this group doesn’t understand repentance any better. It is as if they think being bad and wallowing in sin is more authentic than confessing sin and then moving away from it.

So what is repentance? Our goal is to answer that question in a mini-theology of repentance, and hopefully it will have very practical and immediate benefit. We’ll try to unravel the biblical teaching on repentance by asking three simple questions: What is repentance? What is repentance from? And, What keeps us from repentance?

Devoted to Prayer



verb — [pros-kar-te-reh-oh]

definition: to stick by or be close at hand; attach oneself to, wait on, be faithful to; to persist in something; to be busy with, be busily engaged in, be devoted to.

example usage:

Τῇ προσευχῇ προσκαρτερεῖτε, γρηγοροῦντες ἐν αὐτῇ ἐν εὐχαριστίᾳ (Colossians 4:2)

“Devote yourselves to prayer.” (Colossians 4:2, NAS, NIV, NRSV) Or the ESV, “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (“continue earnestly” NKJV).

Paul likewise urges devotion to prayer in Romans 12:12. The disciples of Christ, in the days following Christ’s ascension, were “devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). They “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

To “devote” oneself means to give oneself to something with such dogged commitment that one becomes known, even identified, by that devotion. A husband devoted to his wife has eyes and time for no other woman. A teacher devoted to his or her students is committed, in and out of the classroom, that the students would learn and flourish. A fan devoted to his favorite college or professional team wears his team colors on game day, loves to talk about his team, and senses the joys of winning and the pain of defeat along with the players.

Christians are called to devote themselves to prayer. To be devoted to prayer means to commit ourselves to prayer in such a way that our lives (not merely our pre-meal rituals) are defined by prayer. Being devoted to prayer means that our eyes are on God and the moments in our days are filled with prayer. Being devoted to prayer means that we make every effort to battle for souls, our own and those of others, asking, knocking, and seeking God’s work. Being devoted to prayer means that we will be marked by an obvious, fanatical, intense, and unwavering practice of prayer.

—Devoted to Prayer

Every Thumb's Width

Ten for Ten

This year, rather than making resolutions proper, I’m going to answer Don Whitney’s Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. It’s free, it’s fresh (to me), and should be spiritually fruitful.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

Taking my cue from 1 Peter 1:13, I want to build up my “hope on the grace that will brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The blueprint has two pages. First, I intend to “gird up the loins of my mind” by my answer/approach to #5 below. Second, I plan to put up walls over in the eschatology district so that hope can play happily.

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

Prudence advises that I keep this answer in my prayers and out of the post.

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

Maybe it isn’t “the single most important thing,” but in order to improve the quality of our family (worship) life, I’m going to explore and establish our sabbath dinner liturgy. If that isn’t enough, see also #10.

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

Journaling has always been more miss than hit for me. Though it isn’t as crucial as Bible reading and prayer, most books on spiritual disciplines include it, and I’ve benefited from doing it. So to make progress in this discipline I’ll give it shot at least three times a week in 2010. I have also decided to read the Bible chronologically for my first time.

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

The Internet.

In order to lay aside every weight, not get entangled in civilian pursuits, and [gird up the loins of my mind][1pe1], I’m going on an Internet diet for the year. I will imbibe from the Internet only three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). That includes all email, tweets, news, and blogs. On the other four days I will send (update, post, etc.), but won’t receive. With email, I’ll triage twice a day in case of emergencies, but otherwise it’s days with less dings for me.

I already removed Safari and Tweetie from my Dock, and I’m thinking about changing the shortcuts on my iPhone’s home page.

Also, to kick start the diet, and for more focused preparation for snow retreat, I’m taking another total Google Reader fast until January 30.

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

This isn’t only up to me, but GBC has the opportunity to start supporting a new missionary this year, and I’ve been given the go ahead to begin that research.

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

I figure she reads my blog. That’s great; I want her to know. I have been praying for my sister’s salvation for a while, but I’ve arranged to keep it near the center of my prayer radar this year.

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

I came late to the celebration table in 2009. It’s taken quite a while for me to realize how dishonoring I’ve been to the good Giver, so I hope to make 2010 an entire year of knowing the time to mourn and time to dance. Sometimes fearing is learned in feasting (Deuteronomy 14), and to whom much has been given, much rejoicing is required.

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

My prayer program is as tight as ever. I even taught a seminar on prayer last year, and tried some new things myself. But there is always room to excel still more. I’ve heard excellent things about A Praying Life, so I Amazoned a copy and will start reading in February.

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Paperwork. We don’t have an abundance of free moments at our end of the cul-de-sac, but taking time to fill in these blanks may matter more than many other things. Mo and I have in hand the initial go-round of forms to get the adoption process started through Antioch Adoptions.

A Shot of Encouragement

An Empty Barrel

Profess men may, and make a noise, as the empty barrel maketh the biggest sound; but prove them, and they are full of air, full of emptiness, and that is all.

—John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice, 719. Regarding those who perform religious duties without a broken heart.