Repentance begins with a winsome suggestion to the heart—kindness, rather than thunder.
During a season of my younger life, I backslid, essentially trying to pretend I didn’t know Jesus. I heard no threats of loss, received no sense of dread, nor prophetic moments when someone spoke into my life words of dire warning. Neither cancer appeared, nor tragic accidents, nor close calls.
Instead, like a tuft of cottonwood wafting along on a breeze, an impression settled on me. I’ve since recognized it in the following verse:
“Thus says the Lord,
I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown”
Ironically, this verse occurs in Jeremiah, a book that has more commands to return to God than any other in the Bible. And it utilizes every persuasive device to motivate repentance. Through that prophet, God warned in exquisite detail the ruin and pain that would come from not harkening to Him. Then He alternated with promises of blessing that soared to the sky should His people obey.
But His lead-off in this prophetic cornucopia is almost unexpected:
When we’re backsliding we don’t remember. We can’t. What we had with Jesus is now foggy, occluded by our current sin. So God remembers for us. He calls back memories of our initial devotion when faith was still young and trembling, but would have done anything for Him. He retrieves our lost bridal love for Him from those days when, honeymoon-like, we couldn’t read the Bible enough, pray enough, attend enough fellowships.
God recalls the attitude we had of following Him, back when we would have marched, soldier-like into wild and woolly wastelands, overseas missions, or Spartan ministry lifestyles. Or simply to approach and confess our sins to someone we hurt, while considering the humiliation we felt to be worth it. Even if life did fall apart, we figured nothing could work out the wrong way while we followed Him.
A current backsliding attitude encourages us to forget all this. But God remembers. More importantly, He reminds. A large part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “bring to your remembrance” (John 14:26) the words and glories of the Savior—the things that once upon a time made you throw your life at His feet.
That’s what happened to me, right there in the middle of my workday. God remembered, and so I did too, like the prodigal son remembering the riches of his father’s house. Like the church in Ephesus remembering the deep spiritual affections from where it had fallen.
That was enough. I returned to Him, and avoided the painful Jeremiah judgments that inevitably come from wandering. Since that time, I’ve soaked up thirty-four years’ worth of New Covenant blessings instead.
And if He remembered me, I’ll bet He remembers you, too.