The Repentant and Mourning Heart
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
These are the words of John the Baptist as he heralded the coming of Christ in Matthew 3. As he proclaimed, Jesus was preparing for His life changing ministry that continues today. While He is no longer here in bodily form, He continues to work on our behalf for salvation and ushering in the Kingdom of God. Those words of John still apply to us today -- especially to those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. Have you asked the question: Are we truly repenting? Are we repenting as the church in America at large, but also here in our own local church body? What things have we allowed to creep in that subtly distract us, actually harm us, and lead us astray?
We are in mourning because of the recent bill that was passed in New York State. We are in outrage that it can be legal to kill a baby all the way up to his birth… but the sad truth is that this isn’t a new issue. Shouldn’t we mourn as the church that has allowed for abortion at any term to go on for as long as it has? Should we repent of our lack of action, our lack of care, or our apparent apathy that says, “We can’t actually do anything to change this, so let’s just blame our enemies and wait for someone else to fix it.” Is this really our attitude? We need to repent.
The list goes on. Sexual abuse within our churches that are supposed to be a safe haven for the hurting. Self-obsessed leaders and pastors that exploit their churches for their own personal gain. Worship wars. Hurtful theological lies such as the health and wealth prosperity Gospel or moralistic therapeutic deism. Our lack of unity. Our lack of love.
Why is this such a big deal? “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:43). The church is meant to be known for its fruit that points straight to Jesus Christ. This has everything to do with the Gospel and making Jesus known to those who have yet to believe. A bad tree can’t bear good fruit. Apathy is not an option for a healthy church. Lives are at stake.
We can go on to list the multitudes of things the church at large needs to repent of. We can shake our heads in sadness and disbelief and wonder how it got this far. We can be filled with a sense of overwhelming dread at the realization that we are powerless to fix any of this. Or we can play the blame game by pointing fingers at everyone else who made the church this way like some kind of blameless prophet. I believe all of these reactions are real because I feel them. But I believe each of these reactions fall short to the biblical emotional response to a culture of sin.
How must we respond? We must mourn, and we must repent. We repent over our own personal sins, but by and large as a church we must repent on behalf of The Church. Read the prayer of Daniel on behalf of Israel in Daniel 9:
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice…
“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
This is travailing, intercessory, petitioning prayer. Notice how Daniel couples repentance with mourning: he turns to the Lord during fasting in sackcloth and ashes, worn as a sign for mourning for the dead, mourning in personal and natural disaster, repentance for sin, and in praying for deliverance. Daniel is offering repentance on behalf of his people caught in rampant sin that was systemic in nature. Systemic sin means no one is guiltless, even “our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land.” Systemic sin is something only God has the power to change as we cry out to Him asking us to change our hearts.
I am making a cry to us as a church family to enter into this kind of prayer on behalf of this family, our community, and the American church at large. God has given us an incredible gift to be able to enter into His heart for the world through prayer. If your heart is breaking over the recent abortion law passed, you are feeling something right. I dare you to pray the prayer of Daniel. There is a place, an important place, for mourning in the family of God.
Repentance begins on our knees. Start there.