Repentance is not a very popular topic. Personally, I’d rather write about worship or grace. Yet, since the pandemic, a lot of preachers and speakers are telling Americans to repent. I struggled with this at first. Do we need to?
This sent me to my knees asking God to show me what repentance really is and what He wants us do. I perceived some speakers as truly speaking from the Lord, so I have been praying about what that looks like for us. (Check out how to discern the modern day prophets.)
And God answered as He always does. While writing a Bible study on Esther this summer, I found myself writing about repentance and fasting. Here’s an excerpt:
Esther Called a Fast
. . . . If a pandemic and this strange weather were not enough, America faces lawlessness and social unrest with the call to defund the police. It’s pretty insane. And frightening. I wonder what people will think when they read these words decades later. I hesitated to begin this lesson this way; an author needs to keep her writing evergreen and pertinent to the next generations, but today’s lesson is on repentance, and that’s been a big topic among the spiritual leaders as we watch our country being torn apart naturally, spiritually, and politically.
We live on the other side of the Cross where grace abounds. Beyond the need to come to God with a repenting heart when we first surrender to Jesus, we don’t focus on this action. I’ve shied away from it myself. Grace is much easier to preach, but there would be no need for grace if there weren’t a holy God who demands justice and holiness. They go together like the double-stuff sugary filling and the chocolate cookie of the Oreo. I must be hungry. I better close this introduction, but I’m hoping today’s topic will stir some heart searching and good discussion with your group. The bottom line is that God loves us, yet we could learn from Mordecai and the Jewish people how to respond when the battle wages for our lives.”Radiant Influence: How an ordinary girl changed her world, coming 2021!
A Day for Repentance
In the book of Esther, she instructs Mordecai to ask everyone to pray and fast for three days as she prepares to go to the king uninvited to try to save her people. This isn’t anything new to the Jewish people. Prayer and fasting were part of their faith. It still is.
Every year as Jews prepare for their New Year, they prepare their hearts and mind with a day of fasting and prayer that culminates on Yom Kippur, a day of repentance. This year, Yom Kippur is September 27-28 a day after our National Day of Prayer, September 26. They have called this the national day of prayer and repentance.
I don’t doubt God’s hand in this timing. How powerful will it be in the heavenlies if both the Christian Church and Jews all over the world repent, pray, and fast at the same time? So, back to my earlier question, what does it mean to repent?
What “Repent” Means and Involves
The Hebrew word translated as “repent” means to turn back. Repentance means to turn back to God. Our English word “repent” is defined: “to change the way you think.” It’s a mind shift, a turning back to God, away from our selfishness, greed, pride, and unforgiveness. A turning away from our own control, our idols of power and money, or maybe children or jobs. Good things can become idols in our lives.
Repentance also involves prayer and confession. It’s good to confess our sins to God and our sisters. It’s freeing. Jesus died for our sins; we are forgiven, but we do live in the middle of the now and the not yet. That’s why James writes:
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16).
I want to be effective. Don’t you? What a powerful promise this verse holds. Finally, repentance often (not always) includes fasting. Many times in the Bible the people of God were called to fast when they faced grave situations.
Fasting for the Battle
This story in 2 Chronicles describes King Jehoshaphat and the people seeking God by fasting. Seeking God often meant to worship Him and experience His presence. The people did not fast only to petition for help, but they fasted to receive wisdom and knowledge from the Lord concerning the situation.
Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him . . . “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
. . . . Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.2 Chronicles 20: 3-4, 12-15 ESV
I love everything about that passage. It is so powerful. They fasted and prayed to seek God’s counsel and assistance. Fasting doesn’t change God’s mind. It opens up our hearts and minds to better hear His voice and know how to fight. It makes way for our awareness of Him. I have to show you the rest of the story. It gets better.
Repentance Involves Worship
Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.2 Chronicles 20: 18-22 ESV
A Method of Worship
Oh my goodness, do you have chill bumps too? I’ve never thought of fasting and repenting as a method of worship, but they definitely played a role in the worship of God in this story, and it culminated in God’s victory. The battle belonged to the Lord, and all they had to do was believe and sing songs of thanksgiving about God’s steadfast love. By the way, “steadfast love” is really chesed (khes-ed)—His merciful covenant of acts of loving-kindness.
Maybe you need a reading plan on worship, first. If you missed last months, it’s here.
The Bite of Bread
This month’s reading plan contains twenty-eight days of scripture on repentance and confession. I pray they will speak to you and encourage you as we prepare our hearts for the important months ahead.
Repentance Heals Us with God and Others
Remember repentance prepares our heart to be right with God. But repentance also applies in other relationships too. As you spend this month repenting, fasting, and praying, ask the Lord if there are any relationships that need repairing. We cannot be right with God until we are right with our fellow man. Who do you need to forgive or ask forgiveness?
I pray this will be a very special month with the Lord. As we focus on repentance, we certainly look first within ourselves, but we are also called to petition for our country to come back to God. Ask the Lord to show you how to pray. Fast to hear Him better, and confess with a confiding sister. Your prayers matter.
Leave a comment on your thoughts on repentance or let me know how your 30 days of worship went! Share with us what you might choose to fast during these 28 days. I’m giving up my wine. I like to have a glass when I cook supper. Maybe that’s a confession to everybody! Anyway, fizzy water will be my drink of choice as I cook in September. I also plan on doing a Yom Kippur fast for 24 hours on September 26 if anyone wants to join me. Here’s an article explaining Yom Kippur.
Here’s this week’s printable if you’d like to use it during your quiet time.
Baby On His Way!
I am really ready to resume and Wednesday night Live studies, but my grandson is due any day! As soon as he is born, and I’m not travelling to help, the Bite of Bread videos will resume. Thanks for understanding! I miss you!