For the past few years I’ve attended a series of Christian teaching retreats and worship gatherings in the mountains near Colorado Springs. There have been few spiritual teachings that are as influential in my life as those I receive with the friends who host these events. One of the most instructive aspects of these gatherings is less in the content and more in how we actually respond to good teaching. We repent … a lot.
I’ve grown up mostly in church, hearing sermon after sermon. For all the sermons I heard, I never had a teacher teach me how to respond to good teaching. So I grew up doing my duty, sitting in a pew, and letting someone talk at me, without any sense of engaging in an active relationship with God.
If you’re like me, you find it all too easy for a good word to go in one ear and out the other. Here is a brief and non-comprehensive list of some of the ways I fail to really own good teaching when I receive it:
- I get hungry, and the good word gets replaced by visions of bacon cheeseburgers as soon as I’m out the door.
- I let cynicism, pride, sarcasm or a general sense of jadedness take over my inner narrative.
- I choose to believe lies of the enemy and of my flesh over what God has just spoken to me.
- I get all bent out of shape about some point the teacher/preacher made that I disagree with, and I focus entirely on that instead of asking God what He wants to say to me.
- I get generally distracted. My reaction to a good word might be, “Yeah! Right on!” but nothing ever comes from it.
The list goes on. It’s easy to get used to hearing good instruction that we can get a little desensitized to what that instruction is intended to do — it’s meant to change our hearts, to make us fall more in love with Jesus, to replace lies with truth, to call us out on our sin, and to exhort us in righteousness.
So how can we be more active as participants in a teaching setting? There are lots of answers to this question, but the most effective thing for me has been repentance. At the mountain gatherings I told you about above, I was delighted when we were led in corporate repentance at the end of pretty much every teaching session. It almost became a formula (and I mean that in a very good way):
A: Someone teaches and dialogues with us.
B: Wow! That was a timely word; let’s repent!
The awesome thing for me was the joyful attitude everyone had about repentance. No one tried to work us into an emotional state of grief. No one felt the need to create a somber atmosphere before the repenting could begin. Instead, we got excited. It’s hard not to get excited when God is speaking to you and inviting you into His best. Every step forward we make in our faith is necessarily accompanied by some act of repentance, some act of changing your mind.
Slowly, I’m beginning to see every teaching experience as an invitation to repent. And I can’t stress enough that repentance is not just making apologies — it’s turning from something and toward something better:
- Replacing lies with truth
- Taking us out of something small into something big
- Letting go of words, thoughts and deeds that separate us from the family of God and from God himself
My encouragement to you is that you make this gift of repentance a regular part of your church experience. Repentance is a way of participating in a worship environment, of owning a good word when you hear it, and of growing closer to your Father. Don’t forget that listening to sermons should not be about hearing someone else talk about God so much as a chance for you to dialogue with God.
So, if you’re picking up what I’m putting down, try it out now. Here’s a sample prayer that applies to me. Feel free to pray along if it applies to you as well:
Father, I repent of approaching times of teaching with the perspective of a consumer. Instead, I acknowledge Your deeply relational heart and invite You to actually speak to me, to change my heart, to show me where repentance is offered. I repent of the lack of repentance in my life, and I thank You that You’re pursuing me and drawing me deeper into You and Your best.