The Restoring Power of Corporate Repentance
The midweek prayer meeting at a church in our town was fairly well attended—but something seemed to be missing. Some people came out of duty but didn’t participate. Others left wondering if their prayers really mattered.
Then, about a year ago, things began to change. The Holy Spirit prompted the group to pray through Ezekiel 37. They began to repent—individually and on behalf of their own and other churches in the city—for being like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. They confessed resistance to change, disconnection from each other, disregard for the Spirit of God, and failure to pray and live in ways that would impact the city.
The refreshing wind of the Holy Spirit began to breathe new life into the group. Before, only a few who attended actually prayed. Now, participants are jumping in quickly to voice what is burning in their hearts. As word spreads and answers to prayers are reported, others are joining the meetings. It’s not unusual for the midweek prayer gathering to last two hours or more—and no one wants to leave. The excitement, energy, and corporate agreement that fill the room are amazing.
Acts 3:19 tells us, “Therefore repent and return [to God], so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (NASB). When we open the door to God’s presence through true repentance, we experience His power.
It is too bad that many of us have an incomplete understanding of repentance. We tend to associate it with tears, sorrow, and guilt. While these may accompany repentance, they do not define it. Focusing exclusively on the emotional components of repentance may even bring a sense of hopelessness to a church.
We can see an example of this misunderstanding during Samuel’s time. Sin permeated the nation of Israel, including gross iniquity among the sons of Eli the high priest. God had allowed Israel to be defeated in battle and the Ark of the Covenant to be taken captive by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:10-11).
Eventually, the Philistines returned the Ark (see 1 Samuel 6), and it was brought to Kiriath Jearim. However, the presence of the Lord did not return, and “all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (1 Sam. 7:2, NASB). In other words, the children of Israel wailed and cried out for the return of the presence of the Lord, but they did not repent over the sin that had led them into the situation.
The prophet Samuel saw what was going on. He said to the people, “If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone . . . He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines” (7:3, NASB).
Samuel further instructed them to “gather all Israel to Mizpah.” They gathered, fasting and praying and saying, “We have sinned against the LORD” (7:5-6, NASB). Together they acknowledged their sin and offered sacrifices. As a result, the Lord brought about victory over the Philistines. The nation was restored, the people were refreshed, and the Lord returned to protect, defend, and establish Israel.
The prophet Joel also issued forth God’s promise to refresh and restore His people when they repent before Him: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning…. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly…. Then the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people” (Joel 2:12-18). What was true for Israel in the days of Samuel, and what was prophesied by Joel, is also true for us today.
True corporate repentance involves a collective change of mind, purpose, and action. It requires us to confess together what is contrary to the will and ways of the Lord and to adjust our thoughts and actions accordingly. When we do, we experience God’s reviving presence in our midst. He releases His Spirit to bring a fresh vitality to our prayers, and He empowers us to live together as He desires.
Corporate repentance unlocks the door to God’s presence and power in the church. Let’s use the key that God has provided to enjoy Him and the times of refreshing He offers.
–By Jacquie Tyre
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © May/June 2006, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.