Yesterday, we talked about how Kent Dobson‘s 12 Words sermon series helped me look at ‘sorry’ a new way when it comes to apology. Now, let’s look at the other kind of sorry – the R-word.
First, let’s remind ourselves that sin merely means ‘to miss the target’ and repentance simply means ‘to turn around’. The weighty guilt and shame we associate with these terms are probably not biblical, and they’re definitely not helpful.
Now, I’m not trying to downplay the significance of sin – on the contrary, if the target we’re aiming for is a life that is wholly holy, the list of areas where we fall short gets pretty long, pretty fast, doesn’t it? And yet, if – thanks to the Cross – repentance is as simple as ‘turning around’ so you’re no longer focused on sin, but instead focused on God, sin almost becomes a paper tiger; a plastic sword, and therefore unworthy of our fear. Not that it’s OK to keep on sinning knowing we can repent anytime we want to and get off scot-free, by any means.
Repentance shouldn’t be wielded cynically, tossed around flippantly or chosen lightly, but neither is it something we should dread or fear: it’s an invitation that’s about liberation, not an obligation that’s about retribution.
Anyway, as I said yesterday, ‘sorry’ is a cornerstone of my prayer life. My prayers aren’t the same every day, but they’re always divided into three sections: ThanksWow, Sorry and Please. (Thanks and wow tend to blend together for me, so I merged the categories a while back. Not that I’m OCD or nuthin’.)
My Sorry Section used to sound more or less like this:
I’m sorry, Lord, that every day and in a thousand ways, I fall short of being the man you made me to be. I’m sorry that I’m quick to anger and slow to think; quick to judge and slow to change; quick to repent but slow to return; quick to talk and slow to listen; quick to rebuke and slow to praise; quick to react and slow to respond; quick to make do and slow to plan.
I’m sorry that I’m undisciplined and easily distracted – easily distracted in my prayer life, undisciplined with my finances (I’m not generous enough and I’m not frugal enough) and undisciplined with my body: I eat too much, I drink too much, I swear too much, I speed too much. I don’t rest enough and I don’t exercise enough.
I’m sorry that I’m strong-willed about doing my will, weak-willed about doing Yours and I’m sorry there’s a difference.
I’m sorry that I don’t do enough for other people.
I’m sorry that I don’t truly put You at the centre of my life, and I don’t put other people high enough on my priority list.
At this point, I’d try to rattle off the overt sins I remember committing that day, and then I’d put a bow on the Sorry Section by reciting an approximation of the Confession from the Anglican prayer books:
Lord, I confess that I’ve sinned against you, in thought, word and deed. By what I’ve done, and by what I’ve left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbours as myself. I’m truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Pardon and deliver me from all my sin and wickedness, confirm and strengthen me in all goodness that I may walk in your will and delight in your ways, to the glory of your name, amen.
I’ve been doing things that way, more or less, for the past five years or so, but Dobson’s Sorry series illuminated a glaring flaw: The overwhelming majority of that confession time is not about what I’ve done, but what I’m prone to do and what I am, thereby cloaking my sin in my character flaws, as if to say: ‘I’d love to stop sinning, except that I’m a sinner – so my hands are tied. Remove temptations from me and I’ll stop giving into them. Until then, what can you really expect, Jesus?’
Not exactly ‘owning my stuff’, is it?
That’s why, a few weeks ago, I decided to turn over a new leaf in this area, and confess only what I did wrong, or failed to do right – and own the stuff today that I’m actually guilty of today. No more, and no less.
It was liberating at first, but unfortunately, it didn’t take long before things started to feel a bit legalistic. ‘Hmm, today’s list of rule violations is pretty short. I must be really close to the heart of God today!’ (Or vice-versa in both categories.)
The emphasis of my striving, therefore, was beginning to drift toward ‘not doing the don’ts’, rather than ‘doing the do’s’ – let alone ‘being the be’s’. As if living the Christian life fits neatly inside the box that is rule-keeping, and required very little creativity, imagination or discernment on my part.
I think for me, at least, a regular look at the bigger picture of who I am, who I’m not and who I’d like to be, is a necessary part of repentance.
That’s why I’ve decided to try focusing on the stuff I did wrong or failed to do right today, for six days. Then, on the seventh day I back up to the macro level, to take stock of those areas of my ‘sinful nature’ where what is required is ongoing growth, not merely day-to-day compliance.
This more balanced approach seems helpful so far, but the most important lesson I’ve learned in this Sorry experience is not to get too set in my ways when it comes to my prayer life – particularly in the area of repentance. Just because something was on-target a year ago, doesn’t mean it’s still on-target today.
Not that the target moves. We can be certain that God doesn’t change. But we do, and as we move – either closer to Him or further away – we need to adjust our aim accordingly.
Peace be with you.
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