Spend the night in sackcloth!

Few things ache like a guilty conscience. From childhood to old age, the pain of shame and guilt that follow doing wrong are as common as a cold. In a moment when our resolve is weak, we make a fateful choice. A cruel word can be uttered, an immoral choice made in just a moment’s time, but the memory is indelibly burned into our mind. “Why did I do it?” we ask; “What was I thinking?” Not far behind those thoughts comes the fear of discovery. “If I’m found out, what then?” Have you ever experienced that kind of torment? It takes away sleep at night, robs us of the ability to appreciate the most beautiful day, makes song like scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard in our ears.

King David, a man who loved God and yet sinned in the most egregious ways, describes the feelings that followed his sin. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4, NIV)

All guilt is not bad! Guilty pain is God’s gift that calls on us to come back to right living. Sure, there is false guilt. Our conscience can be damaged, made too sensitive by constant criticism or scarred into uselessness by constant abuse. But, if our conscience is functioning in a healthy way, responsive to the Holy Spirit of God and informed by the truth, we should thank the Lord for the ache that comes when we cross the line from right to wrong.

That ache that David felt was assuaged when he made another important decision. Take a look. “Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.” (Psalm 32:5-6, The Message) Confession is so hard, yet so liberating! It allows us to experience God’s forgiveness. Often sincere confession will also win the forgiveness of another person, even those we have wronged in the most serious way.

Confession must be followed by something that seems largely absent in our culture of tolerance and relative standards: repentance. In my experience, I find that many desire the release from guilt and even regret their actions because of the negative consequences, but they feel little need to change their ways! The ancient people of God disobeyed the Lord, knew they were estranged from Him, confessed, but often failed to turn back to Him! They only wanted release from the consequences of their sins. They had no hunger for righteousness, no appetite for real holiness.

The prophet Joel tells us that we need to let ourselves feel sorrow for our sins and then to make real change in our lives. Read his call. “Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; … (Joel 1:13, NIV) “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV)

Is guilt over sins past plaguing you?
Are you alienated from the Lord who gives you peace, from His church that is your home?

Spend some time truly mourning your disobedience, but do not stay there! Go and own up to your sins, without excuse, without self-justification. Accept forgiveness, then take the steps that will produce real change of repentance. “God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: “Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me. “ (Isaiah 30:15, The Message)

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