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Is true repentance evidenced by weeping?
God asked for displays of weeping from Israel to show the
genuineness of their repentance. But what about today for you and me?
By Malcolm B Heap, Midnight Ministries
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A good friend recently made a statement that made me think more deeply. He said that repentance is not necessarily evidenced by weeping. You can repent without shedding tears. That is true, because repentance is essentially about change – turning your life around, and ceasing to sin.
But, verses came to my mind such as these:
"Now, therefore," says the Lord, "turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning." (Joel 2:12.)
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel and Ephraim is My firstborn (Jer 31:9).
My friend’s statement was not untrue. It was ‘technically’ correct, but there was an inadequacy to it. It was incomplete.
When Joel wrote:
Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar... (2:17),
was he suggesting that weeping is an essential part of approaching God?
Certainly, Hebrew culture was probably more demonstrative than our laid back, ‘cool’, unemotional, stiff-upper-lip British culture. Outbursts of emotion were more acceptable and even expected. Because demonstrations of emotion were an integral part of their genuineness, God expected those people to exhibit them. It was not the outward exhibition that was important, but why it was evident:
Rend your heart and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm (Joel 2:13).
The underlined words convey the essence of what God seeks.
‘Displays’ of Weeping
But, if God asked for displays of weeping from Israel to show the genuineness of their repentance, what about today for you and me? Was such an expectation a paradigm for us to emulate?
Not if it is not from the heart, but, yes, if it is an exhibit of inner remorse, generating change.
The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, was showing something that few others did – great depth of feeling and great depth of gratitude. She was criticised by the hard-hearted and unfeeling (Lk 7:38-40), but she was not criticised by Jesus. He commented:
Her many sins are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little (Lk 7:47).
Mary was broken by the realisation of how wrong her past had been. Her depth of repentance WAS demonstrated by weeping, and it illustrates something we can all learn from.
While repentance does mean change, change without remorse is merely intellectual and lacking a vital element that God still awaits. While your changed life is based on an intellectual repentance only, your fellowship with God will be hindered, for He only dwells with the contrite (Is 66:2).
Depth of fellowship with the Spirit is predicated upon depth of repentance of the heart. And if you have never shed a tear in relation to what God has done for you, and about your unworthiness to receive what God has bought for you through Jesus’ death, you should seriously question the genuineness of your repentance.
When Mary wept over Jesus’ feet, her sense of unworthiness was acute. It is that brokenness that characterises true repentance, and I find it hard to believe that no tears would characterise such realisation.
When God spoke to me one day as I prayed alone, and told me that He had appointed me as a prophet to the nation, I wept. His Spirit came over me and I felt so unworthy. I am not one given to outbursts of grief or similar emotional demonstrations, but for that short space of time, not to have wept would have been a betrayal of all that was right. It was a natural response to what was within. God was within.
And that is the point about repentance. It is not humanly generated. It is divinely given, and humanly accepted. But people tend to resist the Spirit.
Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom 2:4).
Tragically, many do.
But in accordance with your hardness and impenitent heart, you are treasuring up for yourself wrath... (Rom 2:5).
It is God who grants repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). But what He offers, we must not resist. It can begin as a very subliminal thing. It is of the spirit, offered by the greater Spirit.
Emotions are very much part of the spirit, and a prompt to feel remorse – which is humbling – must be accepted by the emotions, not resisted. Otherwise we are being hard-hearted, impenitent, and refusing to humble ourselves.
If you want to reserve God for your intellect, and keep Him out of your emotions, you are denying Him refashioning your spirit in His spiritual image. Although God has nothing to repent of, His nature is so humble that He would immediately feel remorse for any wrongdoing. I know that, because His Spirit in us responds that way. It is our duty to ‘run’ with it too, not to resist it.
Job’s Stalwart Stand Repelled God
When Job was being prepared for repentance, he resisted. He tried to assert his own righteousness. He maintained his integrity. He refused to humble himself and accept this subliminal ‘thing’ in his spirit. But as long as he asserted his good standing by his own efforts, God was pushed away.
God is not the God of the righteous-by-their-own-efforts. He’s the God of the needy. It is the one who is poor in spirit who is blessed, not the one who is staunchly resolute in his determination to prove his worthiness by his own efforts.
Knowing your need for God is the beginning of conversion. Maintaining your own uprightness is the beginning of your downfall.
Better to go down, really, because you’ve got to go down to go up.
Mary felt so unworthy as she fell at Jesus’ feet. By contrast, Job didn’t. He was careful with his words (Job 1:22), and careful of his conduct, so much so that he even interceded for his less than upright children (1:5). Naturally, he thought all this disaster that had befallen him (chps 1-2) was unmerited. But God allowed it to bring him to repentance.
You see, his conduct was intellectually generated. He obeyed God from the head, not from the heart. After he had suffered, for reasons only God can fully explain, Job was able to perceive God in a much deeper way. It now involved his emotions – his ‘heart’. Consequently he declared:
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear [his appreciation was intellectual]; but now my [spiritual] eye SEES you. [He perceived God in his spirit, which involved his whole being, not just his mind.] Therefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5,6.)
He didn’t have to do the dust and ashes stuff, that was merely an outward expression of the truth that was now in his heart. God was able to dwell within him because, for the first time in Job’s life, he was contrite, humble, and had a very low opinion of himself. His self-esteem had gone.
He was no longer trying to ‘prove himself’, or maintain ‘his integrity’ before God, to try to gain His favour. He realised his complete unworthiness, and that, ironically, made him ‘worthy’ to receive God’s acceptance and presence.
The old self-righteous Job went out, and God came in. All the while he lived by his own efforts at doing this, that, and the other, ‘to please God’, he actually pushed God away. He was self-deluded, because his real unseen motives were not ‘to please God’, but to ‘prove himself’, both to him and to others.
This self-righteousness is very subtle and goes unseen by many Christians. It’s the reason they don’t move on. Many don’t progress to accept the baptism in the Spirit. "Why should they? After all, they don’t really need it; they are doing very nicely on their own, thank you." That is the mentality of the believer who knows the truth, lives by it religiously, and has not been through a deep conversion experience like Job went through.
A Broken Spirit
Something has to give way in your psyche for God to come in and claim His home. The ego, the self, or whatever you call it, must give way. But it never goes without a real struggle. You don’t want to die. Of course you don’t. That’s natural. But for God to live in you, you must die (Jn 12:24; Gal 2:20).
It can be a painful process. It was for Job. And there are other references to various characters in the Bible, showing that their demise was achieved no less painlessly.
David rued his folly in lusting after Bathsheba, and going so low as to have her lawful husband killed in battle so he could wed her. But when God brought him to repentance, (notice that He let the situation run the whole way first, to evoke the right response), David’s remorse was genuine. It was not centred on himself. He deeply regretted what he had done to God. He had hurt and wounded Him deeply.
Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight... (Ps 51:4).
That is the crux of true repentance, and is why David was extolled as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
David’s self-loathing is now evident to all (Ps 51:3,5). How would we like our sins hung up to dry?!
Thankfully, God is gracious. We deserve more than God metes out. This is what God awaits in us:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart... (Ps 51:17).
When Israel returns to God after the horror and suffering of the Great Tribulation, they will loathe themselves for the sins, iniquities and abominations which they have perpetrated (Ezek 36:31).
Then God will be able to give them a new heart and live in them by His Spirit (Ezek 36:25-27).
Our prayer must be as David’s: Wash me... (Ps 51:7).
Don’t try and wash yourself in your diligence. You must crave God’s cleansing. And when His Spirit washes over you and through you, it will generate the weeping from time to time that will let you know that He IS within, and has accepted you and loved you.
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