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"If my People who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked way, then will I hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land. "

Repentance is preliminary to prayer. I do not deny that God may answer the prayer of someone who is still in rebellion against Him. I am certainly not in control over what God chooses to do. But the great problem is with what that person desires. Such persons may ask, even demand that God leave them alone. And He may ultimately answer that prayer. C.S. Lewis noted that the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

Frankly, I am relieved that God can be trusted not to answer prayers that are against His will. All joy, all peace and all blessings are in God's will. Note the word of repentance in this verse. It does not call us to repent of wicked deeds. That is an important part of repentance. But this verse calls us to turn from our wicked way. This is talking about the direction of our prayers and our entire lives.

In this light repentance is also a process. The more time I spend in God's presence, praying, prayerfully saturating myself in His word and obeying what He tells me, the more He turns my heart in His direction. He implants Himself in my heart and mind and will. He changes what I hunger for Him to do in my life and in the world around me.

 

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Comment by Vicki Normoyle on November 28, 2015 at 8:35am
I agree that there is a lack of repentance in the Church. And I believe that confession and repentance are two very different things. Confession agrees with God that something is sinful, and when forgives is requested God in His mercy grants it. However repentance takes the next step and chooses to walk in a different way, in the way of Christ. For example, I can tell a lie, recognize it as sin, ask for forgiveness and be forgiven. Repentance doesn't transpire until I choose, with God's help, to walk in truth. Repentance leads to purity, holiness and lives that God can use.
Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on November 27, 2015 at 3:09pm

Agreed, Vicki.  I think one of the great lacks in today's church is a lack of repentance.  Part of the problem is that we think of repentance in the abstract.  It's safe to speak of "repenting of our sinful ways" - as long as we're not asked to name any specific sins.  Naming those sins can subject us to accountability, and that's more than we want to sign up for.  But real life-change isn't going to happen as long as we keep repentance in the abstract.  We need to obey James' command to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16).  Sins - that is specific acts or thoughts or attitudes - not just "sin" in general. 

Comment by Vicki Normoyle on November 27, 2015 at 8:28am
Thank you for the post and examples. And yes, repentance is preliminary to prayer as it requires surrender and submission. Trust is another necessary component. May God grant the Church a spirit of repentance.
Comment by David Young on November 26, 2015 at 10:32pm

Thank you, Andrew. These are powerful examples. Another that comes to mind is the prayer of our Lord in the garden. 

Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on November 26, 2015 at 5:40pm

Two examples come to mind of prayers that were against God's will, and two different responses from God.

God made it clear through Samuel that Israel's request for a king was not pleasing to God and was not in the country's best interest.  He even predicted some of the things they would suffer under the rule of an earthly king.  But Israel's stubborn, unrepentant heart refused to hear or heed God's warning and they got exactly what they asked for - they did indeed become like all the countries around them.

Contrast that with Paul's request for God to remove his thorn in the flesh.  God knew Paul's heart just like he knew Israel's heart.  The difference was that Paul's heart was one that sought only God's glory and honor.  His individual request may not have been exactly in line with God's will, but his heart was teachable.  Paul came to not just recognize that God's answer was the correct one, but to be thankful for that answer and to understand its purpose in his life (to keep him from becoming conceited). 

Two different hearts - two different responses from God - two very different results.  What I take heart from in all of this is that my individual requests may be "wrong", but if my heart is in the place of honoring God, he will bring about his best in response to prayer.

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