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“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6).

EZRA DID NOT DOUBT GOD’S READINESS TO FORGIVE, BUT NEITHER DID HE DOUBT THE REQUIREMENT OF REPENTANCE. His grief was an indication of his deep reverence for God, coupled with a recognition that sin is never a trifling matter. It must be dealt with boldly, bravely, and with a commitment to return to God’s will.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul contrasted “godly sorrow” with the “sorrow of the world” or mere self-pity: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (NKJV). While selfish sorrow will certainly produce misery, it does not produce repentance. Only godly sorrow does that. When we recognize the seriousness of our transgressions against God and how much He loves us, we are strongly moved to lay aside our sin and come back to obeying Him.

A lack of godly sorrow is one reason the “repentance” of many people disappears so quickly. Never having pondered how seriously their sins affected their Heavenly Father and His work in this world, they are not powerfully motivated to repent. If they make any commitment to repentance at all, it is little more than “I guess I’ll give it a try.” But godly sorrow is a more potent force. It produces, as Paul says, “repentance leading to salvation.”

In an age when feeling good is the highest priority, the process of godly sorrow is often short-circuited. Many of us know the value that God places upon “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17), but we rush past that stage pretty quickly. Eager to be happy again, we fail to grieve our sins in a way that would put us on the path to a true and deep reformation of our character.

If repentance is an essential part of God’s plan of salvation (and it certainly is), then the godly sorrow that leads to repentance is critically important. It requires humility, certainly. But if we are willing to bow before God in the honest recognition of our sins’ seriousness, we may be sure that He is ready to help us and heal us.

“It does not need to be a formal prayer: the most stumbling and broken cry — a sigh, a whisper, anything that tells the heart’s loneliness and need and penitence — can find its way to God” (Phillips Brooks).

Gary Henry — +

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