It was one of the first signs of what a big deal the coronavirus was going to be. How it was going to change daily life, for all of us.
‘Wash your hands.’ For twenty seconds. Several times a day. Always before you eat.
And as we set about doing as we were told, the nation made a number of discoveries. Such as, twenty seconds is really long. And who knew all those songs and ditties (and even prayers) fitted neatly into twenty seconds? Perhaps the worst was discovering how bad our hand hygiene has been for, well, the entirety of our lives up to this point. Perhaps for the first time, the nation has been learning how to wash our hands.
In James chapter 4 we read,
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
— James 4v8-10
It’s a call to repentance, to turn from our sin back to God and know forgiveness and change. In this series of blog posts we’re going to be thinking about some of the things we can learn from this present crisis. But a good way of understanding that is to think in terms of repentance. The whole of the christian life, not just the beginning, is to be marked by repentance. What we think, what we love, how we act, can and must change. ‘Wash your hands,’ says James, but also ‘purify your hearts, you double-minded.’
Sometimes that might mean personal repentance for particular sins. Sometimes that might mean we are being called to change as families or as a church family. Other times it will mean reflecting on our part in the way our society needs to change.
But even before we get to any of that, maybe you’re already experiencing the need for change, the call to repent, coming into sharper focus during this time.
Perhaps your present circumstances are a catalyst, aggravating particular temptations and sins you are pre-disposed to. Flashes of anger. Self-pity. Bitterness. Watching porn. Drinking too much. Maybe you’ve fallen back into things you thought you’d ‘dealt with’ already.
Perhaps it’s that lockdown has made you stop for the first time in a while and you’ve had more time to reflect. More time, even, to spend in God’s word and in prayer. It’s no wonder that as we draw near to God we can become more aware of our sin and failure.
But we don’t clean ourselves up so that God will then invite us to draw near, it is part of what he calls us to draw near to do. We don’t sort out our sin by ourselves first, he bids us come to him through Christ, the only place we can have our sin sorted out.
That’s why in the Scriptures repentance is a positive thing. God, in his grace, calls us back to himself, through the way he has made open by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, it might be a painful experience: ’be wretched and mourn and weep,’ James says. But it comes with marvellous promises attached: ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.’