Thinking Clearly About My Behavior
“I need time to think about how to think about it.”
My wife wasn’t ready to respond regarding the subject we were discussing. It wasn’t the first time I had heard her make that statement.
Her desire to think on a subject before responding is an admirable quality. She understands the value of giving thoughtful consideration before “jumping in.”
Pausing to reflect — before speaking — seems to be a lost quality today. Don’t believe me? Check out social media, or watch the evening news.
People are quick to criticize, spew hateful comments, and make unwarranted accusations — without thinking. It’s much more convenient to unleash demeaning and spiteful criticism toward those we don’t like and blame others for our predicament than to examine ourselves.
Set aside political, ideological, religious, and lifestyle differences for a moment. Stop and consider that those we differ with, those we dislike, and those we resent are also created in the image of God — just like you are — like I am.
The season of Lent is 40 days of preparation before we celebrate Easter. This season of prayer, repentance, penance, almsgiving, self-denial, and simple living helps us stop and “think about how we need to think.”
Although others will participate in the Lenten season, this time isn’t about them; it’s about us, you, me, and God. Lent offers us the opportunity to reflect on our behavior and identify things that create distance between God and others. It’s an invitation to repent (change our attitude and turn from our sins) and return to God.
Ezekiel was a prophet who shared the early years of exile with God’s people in Babylon. His message reminded them that God is with them — even in exile.
He wants them to remember God has not abandoned them; He has a purpose and the power to restore them to their homeland, nationhood, and covenant faith. Although, for that to happen, a change of behavior is required.
It was convenient for these exiles to complain that they didn’t deserve their punishment. It was easier for them to blame their plight on others. The Israelites would often quote a familiar proverb:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” - Ezekiel 18:2.
In other words: we’re in this mess, and we don’t want to acknowledge that it’s our fault. Our parents are to blame. It was more convenient for them to accuse a previous generation than take responsibility themselves. God uses Ezekiel to speak to the people:
“As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” - Ezekiel 18:3-4 [Emphasis mine].
The message is clear: It’s time to quit assigning blame to others and take responsibility for your actions.
True repentance requires a change in our thinking and attitude toward sin and God. It begins with sincere remorse for our behavior that displeases God.
When Ezra and the Israelites confessed their sins to God, they wept bitterly (Ezra 10:1). Joel confronts the ministers to put on sackcloth (an uncomfortable material worn while grieving to show repentance for sin) and lament (express grief and sorrow). [See Joel 1:13).
King David and his people were facing a plague. He asks Oman to sell him the threshing floor to build an altar to the Lord so that the epidemic would be stayed (1 Chronicles 21:22-26).
Oman says: Here, take it, I’ll give it to you for no cost. I’ll even provide the oxen, wood, and grain for the offering to the Lord. But David insists that he must purchase the property, oxen, wood, and grain:
“No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (vs. 24).
True repentance is costly. We must take sin seriously. Our misbehavior is not trivial to God, nor should it be to us.
The old hymn reminds us: “It’s me, O Lord, standing in need of prayer. Not my brother or sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in need of prayer.”
Until we are willing to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our actions, we will always delay repenting.
Ezekiel reminds his compatriots (and us): “…the soul who sins shall die.” He also lets us see that God takes no pleasure in our destruction:
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).
During this season of Lent, we remember God’s invitation for us to repent and return and how the Lord is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful. He’s quick to forgive all our iniquities.
It might be more convenient for me to blame others for my predicament and excuse my misbehavior. However, it’s essential that I acknowledge and confess my sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and remember:
God does not abandon me. He has the power to save me!