Search me, God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there’s any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24
God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. ~ 1 John 1:5
Even when we know that repentance is important in general, we do not know what to repent of in particular…This is why we begin by seeking the face of God, because we need the bright light of God’s Presence to shine into the dark corners of our soul. ~ Journey to the Cross
Lent and repentance (the call to turn from sin and brokenness to God and the fullness of life found in Him) go hand-in-hand. But what does repentance look like? Well, that’s a multi-facetted question that we can continue to explore in all its nuances in the days and weeks ahead. However, today, let’s ask the more specific question, “how do we become aware of what we need to repent from?” Some would say it’s a matter of introspection, of finding a quiet space and digging around in your heart until you discover the sin inside. But what if we can’t see 90% of the sin in our hearts on our own? Maybe the expression, “blinded by love,” applies here; perhaps our love of self – our need to self-protect, to control our image, to guard our standing in the world – blinds us to the reality of the sin that lurks in every one of our hearts.
Like a Starbucks store that needs secret shoppers to give them an accurate picture of how they’re doing, repentance is, by necessity, a spiritual practice that must begin with an outside party, namely God himself. Sin will remain hidden in the dark until God’s light exposes it. Only then, when He exposes it, when the Spirit pulls back the curtains of the mess of our brokenness, are we made aware of where to even begin our practice of repentance, that holy avenue into the fullness of life in God. Repentance begins in seeking God.
So if God is the One who is able to show us the particulars from which we need to turn, how does He do that? I would argue, namely through his Word in community. This isn’t to say that reading the scriptures on our own isn’t important, it is. But I believe that the combination of God’s revelation of himself in the written Word, and the grace of Christian community is perhaps the most powerful 1-2 punch in exposing the sin in our lives. Reading and studying the Bible in a community with the guidance of the Holy Spirit has a way of drawing sin to the surface, exposing it so we can then do our repentant turning. The cry, “search me, God,” of Psalm 139, finds its answer through Word and community, a space where grace-filled daughters and sons of the Creator, empowered by the Spirit through the Word of God, speak gently and graciously, but openly and honestly, into one another’s lives to reveal the sin we’d be unaware of on our own. Then, once sin is named, as the family of God, we hear confession, speak grace and pray for the Spirit to empower us to faithfully walk in the ways of Jesus.
In a culture that likes to keep “religious stuff” private, where confession is just between me and God, this whole idea of word in community – of a people coming together to call out sin in one another, preach the cross to one another, pray for forgiveness and power to live as God has called us with one another – can seem terribly foreign and even out-of-date. But I’d encourage all of us, in our repentant cries for God to search us (Ps. 139), to press beyond the awkwardness and discomfort and pursue a true repentance available to us in God’s Word and community.