Last Sunday we made our way through Joel 2.1-27 in our congregational worship. In so doing, we addressed the nature of biblical repentance (specifically, vv12-17). Perhaps you may benefit from a particular aspect of repentance that reverberates through my soul.
Repentance is a corporate responsibility (vv15-17). So important is this that God said it twice (cf. Joel 1.14). For Joel, the act of repentance was not primarily an individual call of returning to God. He didn’t tell everyone to go home and repent. He called God’s people to get together and repent. So important was the gathering that no one had an excuse. No one was exempt from the call for corporate contrition—elders, children, nursing infants (and by implication, their mothers), consummating newlyweds and priests (v16).
How desperately we need the church to live repentantly! We hate sin, return to God and enjoy God’s mercy much more effectively in community. We are not simply individual, cavalier repenters running around in church clothes. We are a community of repentance that relishes and returns to God together. We gather to help one another through our sin, to God in Christ, and to the enjoyment of God’s mercy in Christ.
Let’s be specific in light of this text: if repentance means anything to the Christian (church) then congregational prayer must be a priority of every Christian (church member). “Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians” (Spurgeon). (It’s strangely comforting to know that Spurgeon struggled to motivate the church to prayer!)
The Lord’s Prayer is a corporate prayer (Mt 6.9-13). The earliest church was constantly together in prayer (Acts 1.14; 2.42; 4.24). And the earliest church constantly experienced the power of God in miraculous ways.
Let’s be honest. We all like the church praying for us, but very few value praying with the church. We think there is value in the church praying for us, but we see no value in gathering with the church to pray for others. And we limp along, struggle with sin, grow distant from God, worship apathetically, our souls grow bone dry and we wonder why. Are you gathering with God’s people to cry out to God?
Most church folk have no problem attending 7 Bible studies during the week. We certainly have no problem gathering for fellowship and meals. We do have a glaring problem gathering to pray and to pray repentantly. And if we are not gathering to pray, we are not taking repentance seriously.
America doesn’t need the church to point fingers at elected officials and lobby Congress and litigate morality. America needs the church to hit her knees in true repentance—taking seriously the gravity of our sin, our devotion to God’s glory and dependence on God’s mercy (1 Pt 4.17).
Dear church, let us proclaim a solemn assembly. Let us gather the people. Let us sanctify the congregation. Gather the children and the new parents. Let the newlyweds come back from their honeymoon. Let the teachers come out of their rooms. Let the coaches come off their fields. Let the soldiers come out of their posts. Let the mechanics come out of their shops. Let the executives come out of their offices. Let the retirees come out of their retirement. Let the teenagers come out of their silliness. Let the pastors come out of their books. Let the sinners come out of their sin.
And let us say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make us a disgrace, a byword among the nations. Why should they say, ‘Where is their God? For your name’s sake, O God, act in your own self-interest that we would be saved!’ Amen.