Monday, we focused on the nature of finding ourselves in great affliction and reproach; or, we know of people and families that are in a position of great affliction and reproach. Wherever we are finding ourselves, we ought to have already taken an honest inventory of ourselves, our attitudes, our perceptions, and how we may have been offended or caused an offense to another person. Today, we are going to delve deeper into the area of what is true repentance and how that process works. As you begin to read through this study, think of those areas in your life where there needs to be improvement and changes one can make. If there are serious offenses that have been caused by you or another person, let us exercise prudence, have wisdom, and humble ourselves to places ourselves within the sphere of the soul and not the ego defense.
Being aware of our own weaknesses, our own temperament, and even our own biased and prejudices will help us gain greater understanding in controlling our reactive emotions and responses to any given situations. The greatest example is that of our Savior – Jesus Christ – where he spoke truthfully, honestly, and simply. He did not speak ill will – unless necessarily called for and within proper contexts – of anyone. Our goal here is to emulate the life of Christ as well as the teachings of Christ to become true disciples and true Christians. Therefore, today’s devotional study reflects the four principle actions that Nehemiah took upon hearing the condition of the remnant Jews that were at Jerusalem.
Four principle actions to take
Upon hearing the report from Hanani and those who accompanied him, we read how it affected Nehemiah and the urgent actions Nehemiah took:
And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4; KJV).
We do not know the length of time Nehemiah engaged in mourning, weeping, fasting and prayer. What we do know, and understand, is that upon hearing the report, Nehemiah took action. It is the very action that we must take in order to walk through repentance of our own sins, as well as the sins of our own family, community and even nation. Each of these principle actions have significant application in our own lives and how we are to approach our Heavenly Father in sincere prayer and confession – as well as for those more grievous transgressions to confess before another person that can hold us accountable and help us walk through the process of repentance.
Quoting Joseph F. Smith, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895 – 1985) wrote this truth about the process of repentance and the various elements necessary to complete the process:
Repentance is a kind and merciful law. It is far reaching and all-inclusive. Contrary to common thinking it is composed of many elements, each one indispensable to complete repentance. This is well brought out in the following definition by President Joseph F. Smith:
“True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights – that which is due them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance” (Smith, Gospel Doctrines, pp. 100-101).
There is no royal road to repentance, no privileged path to forgiveness. Every man must follow the same course whether he be rich or poor, educated or untrained, tall or short, prince or pauper, king or commoner. … There is one way only. It is a long road spiked with thorns and briars and pitfalls and problems (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 149-50).
President Kimball continues with the description of what the first step to repentance entails:
Before the many elements of repentance are set in motion there has to be a first step. That first step is the turning point at which the sinner consciously recognizes his sin. This is the awakening, the conviction of guilt. Without this there can be no true repentance because there is no acknowledgement of sin.
The recognition of our sin, the awakening of our faculty and conscience as to how we are guilty of those things that we have said or done to others is the very step we must take to traverse down the road of repentance and to find restoration with a renewed hope and relationship with our Heavenly Father. In essence, we must spend time in mourning and weeping. Not the kind of mourning and weeping of worldly sorrow and regret, but having our conscience seared by the guilt and gravity of our sin, and possessing the faculty to decisively make restitution and amends for such actions that we have taken, or thoughts we have kept hidden. We do not repent because we were found out; we repent because of the weighty affliction and reproach we have found ourselves in due to the consequences of our sins – or the consequences of the sinful actions of others.
Weeping and mourning
True and sincere repentance begins with weeping and mourning. It is one thing to be sorrowful because of our actions and how our actions caused another’s life to become unmanageable. It is completely different to have the kind of sorrow that scripture refers to as Godly Sorrow. Nehemiah 1:4 shares how he went and sat down and wept and mourned for certain days. In the June 2010 edition of the New Era, President Dietrich Uchtdorf shared this with the youth:
True repentance brings us back to doing what is right. To truly repent we must recognize our sins and feel remorse, or godly sorrow, and confess those sins to God. If our sins are serious, we must also confess them to our authorized priesthood leader. We need to ask God for forgiveness and do all we can to correct whatever harm our actions may have caused. Repentance means a change of mind and heart – we stop doing things that are wrong, and we start doing things that are right. It brings us a fresh attitude toward God, oneself, and life in general.
Our remorse must be one of godly sorrow before we come to seek out the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father, forgiveness from those we may have offended, and forgiveness from ourselves because of the act we had committed. Without being remorseful – or possessing godly sorrow over our sins – true repentance is ineffective in our lives. This does not mean we can’t change our behavior and attitude toward a more positive outlook and change of lifestyle habits.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899 – 1994) taught this principle:
… repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance.
President Benson continues with how true repentance must be effective in our lives when we truly believe in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Without faith in Christ, there is no true repentance. Nehemiah believed in God and through his own prayer, reflected that belief in not only God, but faith and hope in the Lord remembering the covenants He had made if we abide by and keep the commandments that has been revealed to us. Because of our belief in Jesus Christ, and the recognition that we have sinned, President Benson goes on to define what constitutes godly sorrow – in which ought to lead us to true repentance:
Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him [Christ] to bleed at every pore. This very mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37, 59:8; Ps. 34:18; Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15). Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.
President Benson even observes what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. … For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
As we contemplate these things, our focus is on the process of where we come to recognition of our sin, or the sins of those whom we care deeply about. We enter into a time of weeping and mourning over the consequences of sin. We see this in how Nehemiah responded to the report that was given about the condition of the Jews that had survived the captivity and destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The principle truth here is that we must allow godly sorrow to work within our own hearts, reaching the depth of our very soul in order to come to the altar of God and petition Him for forgiveness.
Godly sorrow is the beginning where we need to be and what better way to start at such a beginning than taking this next week to reflect upon and engage in weeping and mourning over our own sins and transgressions; as well as the sins and transgressions of our family, community and nation. It is this very beginning that Ray Stedman observes is the place where we must find ourselves:
Nehemiah clearly has a deep sense of personal concern. He is willing to face the facts, to weep over them, and tell God about them. That is always the place to begin. There is nothing superficial about this. …What is needed is an honest facing of the ruin, whatever it may be, and, without blaming or attempting to involve somebody else, tell it all to God. By yourself, alone, face the facts. Take all the time you want and pour it out before God. Weep, if you feel like it. Tell him all the hurt, the fear, and the pain. That is always the place to start, according to Scripture. A broken spirit and a contrite heart God always welcomes.
Facing the reality and severity of our own transgressions, or even the transgressions of another that has affected our own lives allows us to begin the steps toward sincere and true repentance. True repentance is about us owning up to our own transgressions, and how another’s transgression has caused us to stumble and falter as we strive to walk in obedience to the principle truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Having a broken heart and contrite spirit is the first step to the road of repentance and the blessings of forgiveness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It also helps us position ourselves to stand in holy places and not be moved.
We must submit ourselves to fasting and prayer
The next two principle actions that Nehemiah engaged in are that of fasting and prayer. Whether this was during his time of weeping and mourning, we do not know. However, what we do know, from reading the text, that because of the brokenness and contrite spirit of Nehemiah, he focused on seeking out the will of the Lord and to properly provide an adequate spiritual offering and sacrifice. This particular behavior is noted in the Jewish Study Bible, where we read the following commentary on Nehemiah’s weeping, mourning, fasting and prayer:
Nehemiah’s behavior accords with mourning and supplication practices that are characteristic of exilic and Second Temple narratives. Cf. Ezra 9.3-15, where Ezra participates in mourning rituals, fasts, confesses his sins, and then offers an elaborate prayer to the Lord. Similarly, in Dan. 9.3ff., Daniel prays while fasting and wearing sackcloth and ashes, then confesses and offers an elaborate prayer to the Lord.
Today, we do not engage in such ritual fasting and prayer (i.e. shaving of the head, renting our cloak, wearing of sackcloth and ashes). During his mortal ministry, Jesus Christ offered this advice:
Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Through the course of studying for a degree in Alcohol and Chemical dependency, I have come to know a gentleman who is Muslim. We have had classes together and have discussed our similarities and differences on the subject of religion. One component of Islam that is fascinating is the devotion Muslims have towards prayer. They pray five times a day, every day. Such religious piety has caused some envy within my own life because of the struggle to devote to praying on a consistent basis for a single moment each day. What is even more interesting is the preparation a Muslim engages in prior to their engagement to prayer. This process is a cleansing process that they perform because of their view that one must be cleansed prior to offering up prayer to Allah. In a similar fashion, as we begin to engage in a time of fasting and prayer, we must perform our own ritual of spiritual cleansing as preparatory to offering up our own supplication before the Lord. This is the idea that Christ relates to us because the term anointing means to be cleansed and set apart – anointed with oil and being consecrated to the holiness of the Lord in all things that we do.
Isaiah 58:6 reveals this:
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?”
By applying the proper law of the Fast, we have the power to break free from those things that bind us, to overcome the wickedness that holds us captive, and to undo the heavy burdens of sin that has chained us. Fasting also challenges us to subdue the natural desires for the greater spiritual desires and appetites that we seek out. Nehemiah knew this as he fasted. There was purpose in his fasting and prayers. There was power and strength in those times when he engaged in fasting and praying to the Lord. This power and purpose is to walk in repentance and forgiveness for breaking the commandments and covenants that the house of Israel had committed herself to observing. To bring down the forgiveness of the Lord and the empowerment needed to be restored back to an adherence and remembrance of the covenants that were made.
Today, we may find ourselves having broken our sacred covenants with Heavenly Father, our spouses, our families, and within those who may have been affected by our sin. Through the law of the fast, we are able to walk in true repentance and humility.
In addition, fasting is not complete without praying. Both empower us to seek out the will of the Lord, and empower us to pray more effectively as we seek out the counsel of our Heavenly Father. Thus, when we fast, it should not be merely a time where we abstain from food and natural sustenance, but in our day and age, it should also include removing ourselves from the technological advancements of society. In essence, fasting is removing us from the natural desires of those things that would normally provide a distraction between our focus on the more spiritual aspects of life and our focus on seeking out the counsel and will of our Heavenly Father. We should not ever be distracted but ever present before the Lord as we engage in wanting to walk down the path of repentance and restore back a more vitality of faith and living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Elder Shayne M. Bowen relates the following in the April 2009 edition of the Ensign:
What if there were a way to overcome our habits, addictions, and burdens? What if there were a way to gain sufficient confidence in the Lord that you could call down the powers of heaven? What if there were principles you could teach your loved ones that, if applied, would allow them to overcome personal weaknesses and draw closer to God?
As we properly understand and live the law of the fast, these desired blessings can be ours.
Elder Bowen further states:
Our Father will free us from the bands of wickedness, He will lift our heavy burdens, and He will let the oppressed go free. In fact He promises to empower us to break every yoke. What an enabling promise, to have the power to break every yoke!
Proper and consistent fasting can help us overcome sins, bad habits, and addictions. Is there any of us who would not want to be freed from the personal burdens we carry? Fasting allows us to avail ourselves of this cleansing and purifying power.
Through the proper principle of fasting, we are able to engage in prayer before our Heavenly Father and seek out to break free from the bondage of sin and find power in the liberation and freedom that the Atonement of Jesus Christ provides to all those who humble themselves, repent of their sins, and with a broken heart and contrite spirit come before the Lord to receive forgiveness and restoration. Through fasting and prayer, we are able to stand in holy places and not be moved because of the spiritual strength that we receive through this process.
Thoughts to ponder:
- As you look over the inventory of things you have done in the past year, how does your actions and behavior show there is a need of significant change?
- Are there serious sins that one needs to bring up to those in proper authority so that they can help assist in the process of repentance and complete forgiveness that is afforded through the atonement of Jesus Christ?
- Godly sorrow ought to produce a time where we engage in weeping and mourning. This process is also the second step toward a more meaningful and deeper spiritual maturity. Have we come to this point in our life where there is godly sorrow that has caused us to spend time in mourning over those sins that have grieved us and others?
Commit yourself from this moment to engage in a time of fasting and prayer for the next week over those things that our Heavenly Father wishes to reveal in order for us to begin the process of healing. This is so that we are able to have a more meaningful and a deeper relationship with ourselves, our family, and our neighbors and with our Heavenly Father. Record your thoughts and find those scriptures that focus on fasting and praying.
© 2013 by Timothy R. Berman and Clarity Digital Media Group: Express written permission of both must be given to quote or utilize the contents of this article in any way – All Rights Reserved.
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