Many of us have given up quite a bit to be close to God. We’ve stood between demons and our families, we’ve asked God to demolish besetting sins, we’ve given our time and money to serve Him and His will–all kinds of things.
But really, how many of us are willing to give up Starbucks coffee or Angry Birds to be closer to God? It’s not that those things are bad (although I personally dislike Starbucks and find the taste disgusting). The problem lies allowing anything, ANYTHING, to come between us and Father-God. Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (emphasis mine) I don’t know for sure, but I think He was in part referring to anything, even the good things, getting in the way of our devotion to God.
We had a speaker, Gordon Wright, come to our church last week who comes about once a year. His message to us was, “You Have Need of Repentance.”
Naturally, I squirmed. But then he addressed the idea of repentance in a way I had not considered. He talked of it from the perspective of freedom, of bondage-breaking, of something to embraced rather than something to make us cringe. Because really, if the strongest desire beating in my heart is to bring joy to the heart of my Father-King, what could keep me away? And what wouldn’t I give to stay in His presence?
We don’t just repent of sin. I mean, you could argue that being distracted from God in any way is a sin at its root, but in terms of specific confession, God asks me to turn away from some very good things. An example that comes to mind is when He challenged me to turn away from calling my closest friends and family whenever I had a rough day. It wasn’t that calling them was bad or that getting encouragement from people who love me was inappropriate in those times. Those are both good things. The problem was the availability of those people was distracting me from listening to what God had to say. My knee-jerk reaction was to call someone, not to ask God about it or at least tell Him how I felt. I was settling for something less than Him and so I had to repent.
Repentance is not a guilt-trip by the way. Repentance is looking up from your feet to see you have veered off-course and are heading into dangerous waters (or sometimes heading straight into a whirling vortex of destruction). It is recognizing the future destination of that path as other than God’s will. In that moment of realization, repentance is a sense of loss. The loss of time that could have been spent serving God’s will, the loss of progress that could have been made, the loss of living without recognizing God’s presence, and the loss of opportunities to bring glory to Him. But once that grief is recognized, acknowledged, and accepted, repentance continues to work. Grief is not the end, it is the beginning! After the mourning comes joy! Confessing, speaking aloud in specific terms where you went wrong, exposes that particular aspect which needs to be purified by the grace of God. Then, when your mind is renewed by the words of God and His Spirit at work in you, the way back to Him is made crystal clear. And you are filled with new determination to pursue God wherever He leads.
What really snagged my soul as I listened on Sunday morning was the criteria of those things from which we should repent. Mr. Wright quoted Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. …” Things that hinder and entangling sin are listed seperately. Anything that hinders should be cast off. So the liberties we have by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection are available to us ONLY so far as they do not become distractions.
I’m a fairly open-minded person and I think you can watch R-rated movies and still have a clear conscience as a Christian. But if those movies are in any way an issue for you personally, CUT IT OUT. As Mr. Wright put it, “If you can’t do it in moderation, cut it off.” Either fast from it for a time or completely keep it out of your life. And in doing so, recognize that it is not inherently sinful for everyone!
An example is my issue with wasting time online. I could easily spend (and have spent) literally all day focused on whatever is happening on my favorite websites. My husband is also sometimes distracted by the internet, but it doesn’t have quite the same influence over him as it does over me. For me, I have to fast from it at times and have considered many times just getting rid of it altogether (but that isn’t the answer, according to God). For my husband, it is an occasional need to place higher self-discipline over time management and that’s about it. It can turn into a stronghold for me, but for him it never seems to get worse than a minor distraction. I struggled with this for awhile until I realized it’s a liberty in Christ that is different for me than it is for him. Simple as that.
In a similar way, some people can’t listen to secular music AT ALL or it gets imbedded deep in their minds and sticks there. I don’t have that much of an issue with it, so sometimes I listen to secular radio. It’s not that I’m delving into the work of artists who do nothing but sing about sex or violence or hating God. I steer clear of that stuff. But for some people, even the happy songs are a distraction from God’s presence. It’s just a difference between individuals.
What pulls all of this together is Mr. Wright’s emphasis on moment-by-moment repentance. Instead of saving it all for that prayer before you fall asleep, repent in the moment. It requires heightened awareness of all your choices in the day. You chose to have a sugary coffee for breakfast instead of a banana and water, and you knew better. Is God showing you how that was a choice to depend on cheap sugar to get you through the morning rather than His provision for your health? I know that seems extreme or heavy-handed, but again I ask–what would you give to be close to God?
Listen for His voice, look at what you choose to do, and repent every moment you turn away from Him. He leads us on better paths.