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Repentance Doesn’t Have To Be Emotional

In seminary, I was a youth pastor. Every summer during this time, I served as a volunteer at high school church camp. Those were halcyon days spent in small groups, worshipping under the stars, eating junk food with no regret and climbing  “The Mountain,” a cedar-cloaked bluff topped with a gleaming cross.

On Friday night, we’d gather at an amphitheater by a gurgling river for a closing rally. After guitar-led worship, we’d open the floor for testimonies. Many of the youth tearfully confessed that they had not been following God with their whole hearts and vowed to do better. They would make outlandish, but sincere promises to attend church every time the door opened, convert all their godless classmates and write a sequel to the Bible (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much).

Finally, the last teens would return to their seats, where they were smothered by their sobbing friends. Sometimes this session would last an hour or so. Then we’d wrap things up with a camp classic like Kum Ba Yah or Lord, I Lift Your Name On High and trundle off to bed, our hearts aglow.

A lot of people believe repentance is an emotional experience like the one I just described: divulging personal sins, shedding a deluge of tears, and promising to turn over a new leaf. Indeed, the Bible even records such incidents, such as the time that the Jews, attending a revival led by Nehemiah and Ezra, began to bitterly mourn. 

But tears and gnashing of teeth don’t have to accompany repentance. The biblical word simply means a change of mind that results in a different course of action. Peter dropped his nets and Matthew left his tax booth to follow Jesus, but the scriptures describe these events in the sparest of terms. No crying, no tearing of robes — simply determined movement from one life to another.

Lent has begun, the 40-day season that encourages penitence, fasting, and self-reflection. By all means, study your words and behavior and repent of those things that keep you from a full relationship with God and others. If tears come, fine. But tears only prove that our hearts have been touched. A consistent change of direction shows that our lives have been changed. That is true repentance.

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Winter Wonderings” is a blogger grid member of Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway is a searchable online Bible in more than 200 versions and 70 languages that you can freely read, research, and reference anywhere. With a library of audio Bibles, a mobile app, devotionals, email newsletters, and other free resources, Bible Gateway equips you not only to read the Bible, but to understand it. Visit them HERE.

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