St Paul tells us God is making an appeal and Paul begs his readers on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. God also appeals through Joel: return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothes. Why is it important to return to God? The reason is that we have strayed from his plan for us. We have rejected his plan for us because we have rejected him. This rejection of God is sin. Despite what some may think, we have all sinned against God and we will continue to sin against him.
Lent is the season to refocus our lives and get the right bearing on where we want to go. If we so decide to go it on our own, then we are free to do that. But when we do, we will never achieve what God has planned for us. But for those who recognize their failures, their neglect of God, their rejection of God and want to return back to him, God is there, ready to receive them back.
How do I turn back to God? Jesus said in the Gospel: beware of practicing your piety before people in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Turning back to God goes beyond the physical expression of sorrow. The grief I have for rejecting God must first come from the heart. The Psalm leads us through this process:
- I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me, against you, you alone have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight. We admit we have offended him. We take ownership of our sins and admit we have done what is evil in his sight. It is looking at what we have done from God’s perspective. This is the first step: confession of sins.
- Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Restoring the relationship we have broken with God is God’s work. This is possible only when we have a clean heart and a new and right spirit which God will give us when we ask in trust.
- Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. This is to profess our desire to be with God. It is to beg God to give us his spirit, his life.
- Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit; then I will teach transgressors your way, and sinners will return to you. We ask God to heal us and sustain us with a willing spirit. This willing spirit is one that obeys him and submits to him. When we do, we are to proclaim what God has done to us so others may return to him also.
This is what repentance looks like. We come before God, acknowledging our sins. We ask him to heal us and sustain us, then we go and tell others of what God has done for us so they may turn back to God.
Some may ask, will God take me back even if I have done a lot of evil in my life? The truth is, God will take back anyone whose heart cries out to him in humility and repentance. God is greater than our sins. God is greater than our shame and fears. This is why Paul confidently says: For the Lord says “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. God calls us to himself now, at this moment. You do not have to do anything great or good to merit him, because salvation is God’s gift to us. All we need to do is reach out our hand and receive it, in humility and gratitude.
Lord, have mercy on me for I have sinned. I have rejected you, I have fallen short of your plans for me. I have neglected you and I have destroyed my relationship with you. I want to come back to you, yet I do not know how. Yet, I trust you Lord, that you will lead me back to you. A humble and contrite heart you will not despise O Lord. Hear me Lord, I repent of my sins.