6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. 7 As they danced, they sang:“Saul has slain his thousands,8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
and David his tens of thousands.”—The words of the History of King David from 1 Samuel 18:6-8
In the my last blog post, I introduced a new series of posts using these words:
Recently, on this blog site, I’ve written quite a bit about confession, repentance, restitution, and reconciliation. These four individual elements form an interdependent and interlocking, life-sustaining process that some have called “The Circle of Forgiveness.” This process becomes a very important part of the pathway for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—that is to say a “Christian” or “Christ-one”—to develop into a fully obedient citizen of the Kingdom of God.
At the same time, each of these elements offers its own set of challenges to our normal understanding. While the basis for the fundamental morality of the United States has deep roots into the Judeo-Christian values, time has tended to soften or distort some of the directness of certain of those values. As a result, people end up with a skewed or distorted view of what these values really mean.
“Repentance” is one such value.
It’s amazing how many times jealousy plants a seed that will grow into a significant sin. In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, we learn how words of deserved praise can turn the heart of a leader against his underling. The result of such jealousy is truly tragic.
Today, I want to move on to a discussion of “repentance.” Repentance means to “turn one’s back on one’s sin.” It’s as simple as that. You just turn and walk away from a sin you’ve confessed.
To flesh this out a bit more, I want to share some wise words I recently received in a newsletter from my spiritual mentor, Dr. David R. Mains. In this communication with his friends and the supporters of his ministry, David writes:
I have a close friend with whom I’ve made a mutual spiritual journey. We have breakfast together once a month and have been doing so for over ten years.
One morning he told me he had been challenged in his church to go for 30 days without saying anything negative about another person. He was tracking his progress by keeping a coin in his pocket and every time he caught himself saying something negative about someone else, he moved the coin from one side pocket to the other, and then he had to start all over—Day 1, Day 2 ... His goal was to make it through 30 consecutive days without having to move the coin.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Well it’s been hard,” he responded. “I haven’t made it through a single day yet.”
“Tell you what,” I offered. ”I’ll do it with you. Let’s try to do it for 50 days. That’s seven weeks plus a day. We’ll kind of keep each other accountable.”
Not too smart on my part. Not too smart to think this wouldn’t be tough for me, just like it was for him, and NOT too smart to say 50 days instead of 30 days. It took me over seven months before I could report to my friend, “I made it!”
There were many times I wanted so much to say something negative about this person or that one. Even when I drove with my wife, Karen, I wrestled with keeping my big mouth shut when certain names of people came up in conversation—all because I didn’t want to have to start over again after 26 good days, or 39, or 47.
What I discovered (again) is that a good habit can be as hard to break as a bad habit.
Here’s something else I discovered. After 50 days of trying with God’s help to be circumspect in an area like this, you become very conscious about your words. Everything you say becomes highly sensitized. All in all, though a struggle, my coin-in-the-pocket exercise was a good experience—so good, in fact, that I’ve tried it with other temptations. The problem with most Christians is that when they confess a sin, they don't really mean it—at least, not in doing the hard work of overcoming that sin.
The Bible gives an excellent example of a man who repented from his sins, but didn’t really mean it because his life never changed. If l had been there and heard his confession, my response would have been, “The man was deeply sorry for his actions. He wept loudly in front of everyone.” I would have predicted we’d see a major change in his life. However, King Saul was setting up a pattern of unrepentant remorse. He said the words, but his life didn't change.
The green-eyed monster of jealousy begins to gnaw in his soul when he hears the crowds singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” The refrain galled him, Scripture says, Saul kept a jealous eye on David. (1 Samuel 18:9)
Later, near the Crags of the Wild Goats, while hunting to take David’s life, Saul chooses a cave for a restroom stop and unknown to him, but known to God, it is the very place where his prey is hiding! David refuses the urging of his men to slay the hunter, but as evidence of his restraint, he does cut off a piece of the King’s robe. “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to the Lord’s anointed or lift my hand against him ... ”
In a little while, after Saul leaves the cave, David calls to the king, tells him what has happened, holds up the sliced material, and Saul, struck with this commendable act calls back, “Is that your voice, David, my son?” He weeps aloud and says, “You are more righteous than I am. You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly ... the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me.” (1 Samuel 24:3,4)
It is here that I would have thought Saul’s confession was one of penitent remorse. I would have been wrong.
The only problem is that Saul doesn’t change his actions! You see, to truly confess to God a wrong should carry with it the assumption that you intend to change your behavior. David again spares Saul’s life when he and Abashai sneak into Saul’s camp. Replay: David shows that he has refrained from killing the king. The king repents aloud. But now David is canny enough to realize he must flee. Saul says the words, but he is not willing to change his actions.
Confession is all about wanting to be forgiven for a wrong that has been done PLUS the intention not to do it again.
We all need to think more seriously about the prayer of confession. Saul is, unfortunately, a good illustration of so many of us who admit we are doing something wrong—we have a habit of bad-mouthing others, for instance—but we are not all that serious about changing our ways. Sound all too familiar?
I have this great idea for you. Find a coin, any coin (but preferably one you cannot spend). Put it in a pocket and vow that you will work toward a goal of not changing that coin from one pocket to another for 30 (or 50) days. When you fail, start again—Day One. You may discover, as I did, that you are not really sorry (at least sorry enough to change your behavior) about that prevailing sin you find yourself confessing ... and confessing ... and confessing again.
This great prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer incorporates elements I mentioned above. As you are working with repentance in your own life that changes your actions, this may be of help.Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against You
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved You with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name. Amen.Copyright © 2011 by Mainstay Ministries. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
God desires our obedience. And, He graciously provides ways for us to learn to become obedient. I believe and declare that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to overcome our besetting sins, one sin at a time. We can promptly confess each sin. And then, we can turn away from that sin. In other words, we can “repent” of that sin.
Will you pray with me?
Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. Thank you for giving us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
We ask Your Holy Spirit to help us become aware of the besetting sins that have plagued our lives. More than anything, we desire to overcome these sins. We invite Your Spirit to sound an alarm when we begin to experience a besetting temptation. Help us to refuse the enticement that Satan puts in our pathway. Give us the courage and strength to tell the Evil One, “Be gone!”
Please continue to help us become faithful, obedient citizens of the Kingdom of God. Thank You for your mercy, grace, and love. And, thank you for hearing our prayer, in and through the precious Name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.