Say You’re Sorry!
Have you ever been in a fight or done something mean to a sibling or friend, only to have your mom demand that you apologize? You don’t necessarily feel sorry, but you say so anyway, with all the sarcasm and eye-rolling you can muster! While your mom definitely had great intentions through this whole process, don’t get mixed up thinking that you actually repented.
Repentance can be explained as a 180-degree turn; like you’re headed one way and then do a complete about-face and move in the opposite direction. This definition describes an intentional action, which is super important, but it’s not a one-time practice.
See, repentance is so much more than feeling bad for doing wrong or saying we’re sorry for hurting someone. Repentance may start with those things, but it doesn’t stop with those things. Repentance is a radical change in direction. Not only do we turn our hearts in the direction of God, we also aim our actions in the direction of God.
David, Israel’s most famous king, was called “a man after God’s own heart.” And this is how he’s remembered, despite the fact that he blatantly committed adultery and murder! How can that be? Well, because David practiced repentance, he was someone who was known for moving in God’s direction. He lived out this habit. So what can we learn from him, his mistakes, and his prayers?
First, we see that repentance involves admitting we’ve messed up:
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Psalm 51:4 NIV
Repentance requires owning up when we screw up, but it’s not just pretending we’re sorry in order to make someone happy. We’ve got to actually recognize the cost and ask for forgiveness. Again, David demonstrates:
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:11-12 NIV
David understood the consequences of his decisions; he had jeopardized his intimate relationship with God by choosing to follow his own desires. But beyond just recognizing his error, David begs God to restore him, to heal their relationship. And he asks for help, for sustaining strength going forward as he commits to doing better. And here’s what his commitment looks like:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
David’s commitment to doing better required consistency and vulnerability. He continually opened himself up to God, allowing the Lord to point out anything that was inconsistent with David’s radical change in direction. And this process—admitting we’ve messed up, asking for forgiveness, and committing to doing better—that’s what real repentance looks like.
Habit 3: Practice repentance. Take a cue from David and start praying Psalm 139:23-24 daily. Pray or journal at the end of the day and start inviting God to show you if there is any offensive way in you, anything that is not holy, anything that is hindering you from living out your calling as a holy person representing your holy God. Along the way, you’ll discover that practicing repentance in the small things makes it so much easier to practice repentance in the big things. It takes vulnerability, but it leads to greater intimacy in your relationship with God and to richer, more meaningful relationships with others.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalms 51:1-19 NIV
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalms 139:1-24 NIV