The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.
God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it. (Common English Bible)
Anyone can turn around, even the nastiest of people.
Lent (the Christian season lasting six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday) is the ideal time of year to change, to turn around, to repent — to return to God and re-focus our lives.
The season of Lent is something like a forty-day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. Repentance is the key that unlocks the soul’s ability to connect with God. To repent means to stop going in one direction and start going in another one. It makes all the difference in the orientation of our souls.
Repentance leads to a real change of direction, a complete re-orientation of life. The evidence of such a change is this:
- Owning up to the problem and confronting it
- An eagerness to make things right
- Indignation over what has been done or said
- A desire and energy to do what is best for those we have wronged
- A willingness to accept whatever consequences that might result from the offense
There’s nothing romantic about repentance; it’s typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful. Yet, there must be suffering before glory. Trying to take repentance out of the equation is to eviscerate life and leave our souls vacuous and empty.
Sometimes, we may not even realize we need to repent because we get caught up in the drama of whatever we’re doing – school, relationships, family, church, or work. Our lives can become filled with distractions that take us away from the spiritual life and the need to change.
But our soul knows it’s empty. And so, often unaware, we try to fill the vacuum with meaningless stuff, busywork, and mindless activities. What we’re really doing is running from real life and from God.
We need to connect with the Divine; we need repentance. The Ninevites instinctively knew what to do; they fasted, prayed, and changed their ways. If a group of people who were experts at human torture and abuse could know this and intentionally pay attention to God, then how much more ought we to connect with what is most important?
Throughout Holy Scripture, whenever people were confronted with divine realities, they were completely undone; they began to see their own sin for what it truly is.
When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8)
When the Apostle John had a vision of Jesus Christ in all his glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:12-17)
When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown. (Ezekiel 1:25-28)
Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet and person of all time, saw a vision of God in all his glory, he fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and human sinfulness. (Daniel 8:15-18)
We must put ourselves in a position to hear God so that we can turn from all the obstacles that prevents us from experiencing life as it is meant to be lived. And the all the things which hinder us from repenting are legion:
- inattention to God’s words and God’s creation
- constant and prolonged preoccupations and daydreams that prevents availability to God
- lack of sleep and good health habits that dulls the spiritual senses and prevents awareness of God
- a paucity of spiritual practices and disciplines that would put us in a position to experience God
Let us, then, take a lesson from the repenting Ninevites and pay attention to God. For God is calling, yet we do not hear him. So, let’s put ourselves in a position to hear the message of God; identify the things that grieve God’s heart; and repent.
God has gone out of the way to reach us so that we can change for the better. And anyone, no matter who they are, can experience it – even a terribly sinful nation of people.
What will you do with this grace?
Almighty and everlasting God, the One who freely pardons all who repent: Redeem and renew every penitent heart with your infinite mercy and grace, forgiving all our sins, and cleansing us from an evil conscience. Amen.