When John the Baptist first appeared in the desert of Judea, this was his message: “Repent, prepare the way of the Lord.” (Matthew 3:2) Later, when Jesus began his ministry, he led with this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This is today’s difficult teaching.
It is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 4, verse 17.
Repent is a powerful word. But what does it mean for you and me, here and now, more than two thousand years later? It means the same as it did to the people walking around the dusty pathways in their sandals, trying to inch closer to Jesus as he passed through their town or village. Repent means “to turn back to God.”
I find myself needing to turn back to God many times a day, in ways small and large. It is not a matter of guilt, and it is not a shameful thing. It is simply that at his side I am a better person—a better son, husband, father, brother, friend, colleague, employer, neighbor and citizen. Over time, I have also come to realize, quite painfully, that when I turn away from God, I am also turning my back on my true self.
Do you need to turn back to God today? Do you need to repent?
If we are honest with ourselves, if we can stomach a moment of truth, if we are willing to give truth a place in our lives above all our excuses and justifications, I think we each discover for ourselves that we need to turn back to God. We often turn away from God, sometimes in small ways, just for a moment, and at other times in much larger ways. Turning our backs on God is an inner action. It is quite possible for people to turn their backs on God and still go to church every Sunday. The external actions don’t guarantee the internal disposition. Have you turned your back on God?
Very few people turn their backs to God completely. Most of us just turn our backs on him in one or two areas of our lives. Most of us turn our backs on God in one corner of our hearts. In what area of your life have you turned your back on God?
Every journey toward something is a journey away from something. If we need to turn back to God at this moment in our lives, we also need to turn away from whatever led us away from God and keeps us away. It may be that certain people have led you to stray from God—perhaps possessions have distracted you from your true and authentic self, or maybe pleasure has seduced you into walking a wayward path. Whatever has distracted you, it is important to realize that you cannot journey to a new place and at the same time stay where you are.
Walking with God demands that we bring order to our lives and put first things first. Sometimes it is just as important to know what you are journeying away from as it is to know what you are journeying toward.
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