All of us have experienced times when we take a wrong turn, get lost and have to find our way back.  That does not necessarily imply a return to the beginning, but getting back on track so we can find our way to our ultimate destination. Similarly, there are times in life when we make wrong choices or are misled by others and we can become lost, disoriented and confused.  The only solution is to turn back to God, restore our relationship with him, and renew our hearts and minds in his presence.  That UTURN is what the bible calls repentance.  It gets us back on track with God and helps us move forward in the right direction towards his purposes for our life.  It can also open up our hearts to new creative possibilities in God that we have not yet explored.

Repentance in the Bible

In the Old Testament repentance simply means turning towards God (Zechariah 1:3; 
2 Chronicles 7:14).  It is not just about dealing with our sins, it is a relationship restoration process.  It is about returning to God to restore our covenant relationship with him; and then, out of that UTURN, experiencing again the fullness of life he always wants us to have.

The New Testament word translated repentance is Metanoia.  This literally means a complete change of mind often accompanied by regret for past actions.  It is more than just mental assent.  It expresses a new way of thinking that engages our will, passions and actions.  Often the word is linked with the concept of turning towards God and forgiveness of sins (see Acts 3:19; and Acts 26:20). It is profoundly linked with the hope we find in Jesus as our saviour (see Matthew 4:17). So repentance involves both turning towards God and a radical change of heart (minds will and emotions) that brings us into closer relationship with Jesus and a renewed life in him.

Seasons of Repentance

Repentance is not just something we do when we first come to Christ. Many of the verses in the Bible that talk about repentance are addressed to God’s people not just unbelievers.  God calls King Solomon and the people of Israel to prayers of repentance so their land will be healed (2 Chronicles 7:14).  The Apostle John calls believers to confess their sins one to the other (1 John 1:8-9).

So through-out our life as a Christian there will be seasons of repentance—that is times when we turn towards God asking him to change our hearts and lives.   These seasons can be compared to the regular agricultural cycle of breaking up unploughed land that has lain fallow for a season.  Before seed is sown or the crops begin to grow and bear fruit, there is a necessary process of breaking up the soil to prepare for what it is to come.  This is the picture of repentance the prophet Hosea is speaking of when he says:

“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12).

Since the beginning of the Christian church, a regular period of prayer and fasting has been practiced just before Easter in a season many church traditions call Lent.  Some church traditions pray and fast intermittently for 40 days from the middle of February right up until Easter.  In our church in the last few years we have called our church to a 21 day of prayer and fasting beginning in March.  The aim is not to create a religious ritual but to earnestly call us to TURN towards God, break up our fallow ground and ask him to rain his righteousness and grace upon us both individually and as a church. It is a time of repentance.

Repentance as a Community Practice

Repentance is not simply something we do individually, it is a corporate practice.  Both in the Old and New Testament, those who follow God are called to repent of their sins and change their minds and hearts both individually and as a community.  God’s tells Solomon to call the whole of Israel to prayer in times of crisis and calamity (2 Chronicles 7:14).  In the prophetic revelation of John, Jesus is pictured calling the seven churches of the ancient Roman province of Asia to corporate repentance (Revelation 2:5; 3:3; 3:19).  Such corporate repentance can involve seeking forgiveness for the sins of a community or a nation; but it can also be a time of asking God to break down mind-sets and traditions that prevent us from fully seeing the possibilities he has for us.

As CityLife Church, our 21 days of prayer and fasting is an opportunity for us to come together and pray for our church. In particular in this period of profound testing and change for the world and the church, let’s pray that God will help us discern what we should be putting aside, and what are creative possibilities we need to embrace for the future?  Let’s pray for soft hearts to discern God’s leading and purposes as a church as we seek to become a healthy missional movement that continually grows and multiplies in creative ways that respond to the issues of our times.

A Window on Our Minds and Hearts

One way of practically picturing various aspects of repentance is using the Johari Window.   The Johari window is a diagram which maps out who knows what about an individual.  First there is shared knowledge that we know about ourselves and we share with others.  Then there are hidden areas we know about ourselves but which we keep hidden from others.  There are also blind spots where people know things about us of which we are unaware.   Finally there are unknown areas deep in our subconscious or soul which nobody knows about including ourselves.  I call these areas God Knows.   These four areas of self-knowledge are mapped out in four window panes as in the diagram below

THE JOHARI WINDOW

Known to Others    Not Known to Others
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Known to Me            Shared         Hidden

-------------------Unploughed Ground-----------------

Not Known toMe   Blind Spots         God Knows

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have added a dotted line between the upper and low window panes which I call “unploughed ground.”  This is that layer of self-protection in our hearts and minds that prevents us being open to the feedback of others and the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.   Similarly, the vertical line between what we share with others and what is hidden can be likened to walls we build around our lives to protect ourselves.  Repentance is a process of breaking down walls as we turn towards God and trusted others in confession.  But it is also a process of breaking up the unploughed ground of our hearts in prayer, and in that way learning more about ourselves from God and those we trust.  That can include areas of unacknowledged sin and hurt.  On a positive note, it can be allowing God to reveal to us unknown plans and creative purposes he has for us.

Turning to God with heart-felt prayer and fasting are powerful ways of engaging with the negative and positive areas of our life which only God knows about.  Repentance breaks up the ground around our hardened hearts and allows God to plant seeds of faith and creative possibilities deep in our spirit.  As we water these unseen seeds in prayer, they have unlimited potential to grow and bring forth fruit.

Conclusion

So let’s embrace every season of prayer and fasting whole-heartedly.  Let’s break up the unploughed ground and ask God to rain his righteousness upon us.  We can use such seasons to turn towards God corporately and individually and ask him to change our hearts, minds, will and passions.  As we do, let’s also pray for restoration, and renewal as together we explore new creative possibilities in God.  Creativity begins with God.

Discussion Questions

1. Share some stories about when you have had to make a UTURN in life or change your mind about a situation.
2. When you hear the word “repentance” what immediately comes to mind?
3. How does the biblical understanding of repentance presented in these notes change your thinking about this important topic?
4. In what ways is repentance more than just managing our sins?
5. How can we practice repentance individually?
6. How can we practice repentance corporately?

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