In Need of Penitent Hearts by Austin Johnson
Lawnmowers have the potential of being one of the most frustrating inventions ever! One man experienced this in his backyard with his lawnmower tipped on its side. He was trying to get the blades off to be sharpened. He had his biggest wrench on the bolt but it wouldn’t budge. Immense effort led to sweat and frustration! In his ragged emotion he grabbed a four-foot-long pipe and slipped it over the wrench handle to give more leverage to break the bolt…nothing.
At this point, the grunting and exhaling was next level. So, the man took a large rock and banged on the pipe. Emotions were, edgy, to say the least. The neighbor saw what was happening and walked over and said that he had a lawnmower like this once and that, if he remembered correctly, the threads on the bolt turn the other way. The man reversed his twist and, sure enough, the bolt loosened and came out easily once he twisted the correct direction.
Sometimes we push two or three times as hard, in the wrong direction, simply because we don’t want to admit that we are wrong.
What Saul was in desperate need of was a penitent heart. Penitent means “feeling or showing sorrow or regret for having done wrong.” This heart was not within Saul. It needs to be within us. However, our humanity makes repentance seem to be an obstacle that we seldomly want to face. Why is this?
Admitting we are wrong is miserable for some of us. Our sins are embarrassing, and we don’t want others to know our weaknesses. Confessing sin makes me feel vulnerable. Selfishly, I just want to do things my way. And who honestly likes being told what to do? These, along with other excuses have been used to ensure that one’s heart stays prideful and calloused instead of penitent.
Sometimes amid our sins, we keep pushing “our way” struggling to make things work out instead of owning up to our mistakes. This is exactly what Saul did. Remember, Saul claimed that he feared the people and thus gave in to the pressure they applied on him. (verse 24). His concern was not that he had sinned against a righteous God, but that his public image would be damaged if Samuel refused to work with him. Saul didn’t have a deep conviction concerning the despicability of his sin. He only feared that he would look bad before “the crowd.” Sound familiar? Therefore, he pled for Samuel to go back and worship with him, thus giving the appearance that all was well. He pushed hard in the wrong direction hoping that things would simply look right outwardly, instead of confessing and making his inner relationship with God right first!
Are we guilty of the same thing? Not having a penitent heart while working to make things appear okay on the outside? We may try to get super spiritual instead of confessing the wrongdoing. We know we have messed up, so instead of admitting the wrong and telling parents, friends, Elders, or even God himself, we just ramp up the spiritual stuff. We try to become super Christian and attend all the Bible classes, pray, and read the Bible at home. We may even work to become a golden child and do some extra chores around the house to receive praise from our parents because deep down what we really want is reassurance that we are good, and things are going to be okay despite our mistakes. It is so easy to fall into this trap because we can receive reassurance and validation, without having to go through the pain of admitting fault and owning up to wrongdoing.
Operating in this way, however, steals an opportunity from God to comfort us in the midst of our self-doubt and strengthen us in our sorrow. In 2 Corinthians 7:9, Paul said to the Christians, “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us.” His point? The letter he wrote to them pointed out their sins and made them feel “Godly grief.” Godly grief is the pain and sorrow we feel when we know we’ve done wrong. A hard heart will attempt to avoid this pain by not confessing, through blaming others, or trying to become super Christian/son or daughter. Even though we don’t enjoy the pain a penitent heart produces within us, it is just the emotion God uses to build us up in his love and forgiveness. Scripture goes on to say in 2 Cor 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret”.
We are prideful people who seldomly enjoy admitting we are wrong. I believe pride is why we push two or three times as hard in the wrong direction, because we don’t want to admit our wrong. Humility is the exact opposite of pride. Saul was the poster child for pride, and it was obvious. God eventually condemned him because of it. David, Israel’s next king, was the poster child for humility, and it was obvious. God exalted David because of this personality trait.
To be a disciple of Christ means that we are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus lived with the utmost humility. He said in Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Regardless of how Jesus felt, the burden he had to bear, or what it would have cost him, he was willing to humble himself before the Father and obey His will. A humble heart will follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If that is not you, it may be that you need a penitent heart.