Lent involves three things: Repentance, Forgiveness and Renewal.
“Return to the Lord, your God . . .” We are invited to bring our sins, those actions and attitudes that separate us from God and each other and lay them before the throne of God. Have you ever really stopped to think about what a marvelous gift that invitation is?
Some of us carry around SO MUCH guilt. Immediately after the last Los Angeles earthquake, a number of children were seen in a counseling center. One child’s problem was that he absolutely refused to close any door whatsoever. He had been told many times by his mother not to slam doors, a maneuver which had been very successful in gaining her attention. The last time he had slammed a door, the earthquake struck and the ground began to shake beneath him. The door-slamming habit was broken forever but he thought the earthquake was his fault. (1)
His guilt is irrational. But it’s real. Not long ago, the newspaper carried a story about a man who walked into the police station to confess a crime he had committed fifteen years before. The reason for his confession?: “I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.” He was willing to subject himself to punishment in order to restore his peace of mind. (2) Some of us are troubled and we don’t even know why. The issue is unresolved guilt. Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time for confession of our sins and the beginning of a new life.
“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love . . . .” It does no good for us to confess our sins if we keep beating up on ourselves. That may be the chief reason why so many people fail to truly repent and begin new lives. They never experience the absolution of God or accept the assurance that their sins are forgiven. An old Scottish preacher once said that the devil has two lies he uses at two different stages. Before we commit a sin, he tells us that one little sin doesn’t matter; no one will know. The second lie is after we’ve sinned when he tells us we’re hopeless. (3)
Max Lucado puts the meaning of forgiveness very succinctly. “God wants you to fly. God wants you to fly free of yesterday’s guilt. God wants you to fly free of today’s fears. God wants you to fly free of tomorrow’s grave. Sin, fear, and death. These are the mountains God has moved. These are the prayers God will answer. That is the fruit God will grant. This is what God longs to do: God longs to set you free so you can fly . . . home.” (4)
Lent is a time of both repentance and forgiveness.
“Who knows,” wrote the prophet, “whether he will not relent, and leave a blessing behind him . . . ?” Lent is also a time of renewal and refreshment. It is a time of turning our burdens over to Christ and allowing him to carry them on our behalf.
That’s a theme that we need to return to again and again in the season of Lent. If we have repented of our sins, we can experience the forgiveness of God, we can experience the assurance that we are forgiven AND we can turn over all the things that burden our hearts to Christ. He is better at bearing them than we are.
So, return to God this night. Lay your sins at God’s altar. Experience God’s forgiveness. Turn your burdens over to the Lord and begin a new life. In the words of the prophet Joel, “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Dr. Ernst G. Beier and Evans G. Valens, PEOPLE READING, (New York: Stein and Day, Publishers, 1975).
2. Robert Conklin, THINK YOURSELF TO THE RICHES OF LIFE (Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1992), p. 5.
3. Billy Graham, HOPE FOR THE TROUBLED HEART (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), p. 54.
4. Max Lucado, AND THE ANGELS WERE SILENT (Multnomah Books), p. 72.