My time in Bible college turned out to be very brief, mainly because of my overall lack of discipline, and quite possibly, because God had other plans. My experience wasn’t a bad one though. I had good friends, mostly kind and Christ-centered professors, and got plenty of hours of ultimate Frisbee in. On top of that, there were many opportunities for prayer and mission trips through the school to serve people around the world. One thing that could become quite repetitive though was the chapel, day by day, week by week. I didn’t hate chapel. I loved to sing and worship, but 5 days a week could get fairly boring. We did have times that were of greater emphasis and more impactful.
One of the chapel experiences that was by far most striking happened in my last semester. Now I will have to be honest and say, I didn’t actually show up to the chapel time on this particular day (shocking), but people came talking through the hallways that something crazy was happening and classes were being canceled. So I walked down to the auditorium to find a line of people wrapped around the whole room, waiting to confess their sins and repent in front of the whole student body. I had heard of stuff like this happening, but this was a first for me. I sat down and listened as people talked openly about things that would even be difficult to say in a one-on-one meeting, much less in front of a thousand people. It seemed the more people shared the more other people became comfortable sharing. There were lots of guys admitting to looking at pornography, people sharing of lies they had lived out, times they cheated on their girlfriend/boyfriend, and some things that were significant, painful childhood traumas.
While I am a person that is genuinely open and always trying to discern what God is doing in a situation, I remember thinking that the time and honesty was really powerful, but also that the gravity of their confessions needed some significant follow-up…and maybe some discretion as to whether a group of a thousand people was the best place for them to initially process these places of pain. But regardless of the thoughts that crossed my mind and the reality of the situation, the real issue wasn’t the present moment of baring all, but the after effects.
Sin, pain, trauma being shared and getting stuff off our chests is needed, but how we respond when we bring to light our places of brokenness is crucial. I think the altar calls, the confessions, the accountability groups that I grew up with, which were all helpful at times, did maybe reinforce a lie…the lie that repentance is a sort of transactional act. God is a God capable and willing to work miracles instantaneously, but so often – as we see in the stories of scripture – He chooses to work through a long, very relational journey.
Here is where I have come to learn: Repentance is not a transactional act, but a relational journey. This good Father of lights, is aiming to draw every place of light, goodness, beauty in us and around us to the surface of our lives so that we can manifest His presence in every sphere of life. He is also confronting us on our places of brokenness, not as an appeal to our worthlessness, but as an appeal to our essential goodness found in Christ.
You see, there are two really big problems with transactional repentance:
1. God’s goal in reshaping/transforming is walking with us as friends, not just fixing a problem. The beauty and brokenness within us become the context of how God is crafting us into something of goodness. We can miss the reality that it isn’t about us being a better Christian, but about us knowing and trusting Him in a deeper way in the process of yielding to his transforming work.
2. When we have a purely alter call/single confession/transactional approach to repentance, we fail to actually have the focus of seeing the spirit leading us day by day out of darkness into light. Life is a journey of repentance, a day-by-day revealing of God and His kingdom, that, as we become exposed to Him, reworks the entirety of our thinking. Paul made it his aim to present every man “complete” in Christ. While being made new in Christ happens in an instant, the complete comes in seed form, daily receiving the nurturing, correcting and wooing of the spirit, as He draws us up into maturity, up into completeness.
So this year, as a pastor for the first time, I participated in Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is about our repentance; it’s a reminder that we are made of dust and will return to dust and that God calls beyond the flesh into the fullness of His Spirit working within us. So I came into this day aware…aware that I’m still in process and asking Him to search me and reveal in me if there are wicked ways in me, those ways that draw me away from fullness in Him, away from love, away from the completeness that He is so lovingly and carefully preparing in me.
I invite you into the same journey, to take this time, to reflect and be reminded of God’s holiness and the holiness He is calling us to. You don’t have to have it figured out, just stay in the journey, this journey of repentance, from darkness to light…”