Preparing for Yom Kippur: 40 Days of Repentance, Part 2
In Part 1, we looked at the Hebrew understanding of the month of Elul, which begins 40 days before Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). From the days of the Israelites in the wilderness, this period has emerged as a Season of Repentance, specifically repentance from idolatry, and originally the idolatrous Golden Calf.
For us it may not be a statue, figurine or carved image, but idolatry can take many forms. Repentance is an ongoing process of discovery of sin in our lives and realignment with God’s ways. In my own journey I’ve found four places where idolatry can hide and have watched God realign my life as I walk through each one. We’ve discussed the first two: discontentment and following my own plans. Let’s continue with the third:
It could be the fear of losing things or people you care about; fear that if you let this go, then that will happen; fear of not knowing what’s ahead when you set your own plan aside; maybe fear that everything you’ve been working toward will be lost or for nothing. Then there’s the fear that if you don’t do it, no one will, it’ll never get done. That’s a heavy burden. Laying that one down is a big load off, but it can be scary.
Part of repentance is giving up our fear of loss and completely trusting that God can still care for us without the things we fear losing.
This was a tough one for me. God showed me six things I feared losing, things I cling to for security, things I will go out of my way to protect and that have the power to pull me off course:
- My husband – providing me love and partnership
- My boss – providing me a job
- My employer – providing me an income
- My parents – providing me guidance and approval
- My pastors – providing spiritual guidance
- My bank account/investments – providing the means to sustain myself and family
This is an admirable list of commitments, but when I viewed them as sources of security (even unconsciously), they became sources of fear. I feared losing them. That fear is what gave them power – the power to replace God as my Source and miss out on His provision, blessing, direction. Fear is the opposite of faith. These could easily become idols for me – things I put my faith in instead of, or in addition to, God.
As I lived with that revelation for awhile, God asked me two questions that crystalized my lack of faith: 1) Which of these six things did I not give you? 2) What can these things provide for you that I cannot?
The irony is, God had given me these six things. These are the ways He provides for me, guides me and blesses me. He wasn’t asking me to get rid of them or do without them. He was asking me to remember that He’s the Source – the only Source.
The provisions cannot become more important than the Provider. When I’m plugged into the Source, there’s no limit to the resources. There’s plenty more where those came from!
Within a year’s time, five of these six had been shaken like never before. My healthy husband of 20 years suddenly found himself in surgery. I had lost my job with my employer of 24 years. I was unemployed for a year and faced with unexpected medical expenses and an unforeseen disaster to our house. And in the case of my parents, cancer had returned in my dad’s colon, and he was back in chemotherapy.
I was so thankful that the Lord had prepared me ahead of time and showed me a new perspective of his provision and abundance before all this happened! I reflected on each one – about my reactions to these issues and God’s responses, and I was reminded of how faithful God was in each circumstance.
- Because of a merger at my company, I was laid off, but provided extended severance and insurance coverage because the merger was delayed.
- Consequently the insurance covered my husband’s surgery and the severance paid for the repairs to the house.
- Because I was unemployed, I could care for my husband and manage the house repairs, which I’d never have been able to do while I was working.
- Because I was unemployed, I was able to spend more time with my dad, I got time I could’ve never had any other way if I’d been working.
I found myself thanking God that I didn’t have a job! Through that year, He provided for us financially and in every other way.
These are things all my planning never could’ve accomplished. I would’ve never seen any of this coming and certainly wouldn’t have thought of these solutions. I realized this was an undeniable demonstration of God’s faithfulness in blessings and provisions, and it completely demolished the fear that fueled my six idols.
He built up my faith and showed me first-hand how He more than provides everything I fear losing. If we will let Him, God will replace our fear with faith, and do it with more blessing and provisions than we can imagine.
In my own journey, that brought me to another place I found out idols can hide:
Through all this I realized God is just trying to take care of me and provide me a wonderful meaningful life aligned with what He’s doing. It’s as if He’s asking me, “I’d like to do a miracle for you right here, would that be alright with you?”
Logically I say, “Yes, yes, God I surrender all, I will do your will, I want to follow you in all my ways…” But if I’m being honest, sometimes my conditions lie just under the surface. My conditions might be things like: living close to my family, or keeping my career on track, or making sure I do whatever I have to keep my job.
It’s like I’m crossing my fingers behind my back in my surrender to God. “Yes, yes, Lord, I surrender all, I will do your will, “I want to follow you in all my ways… as long as it includes keeping this, not doing that, or not jeopardizing this over here.
These are our conditions, and to the degree we give them power, to that degree we are not fully able to align with God’s path for us. It’s still us holding the reigns, maybe a little looser, but certainly not giving them up.
Surrendering Our Idols
What is it we fear about giving ourselves completely to God? Sometimes we fear what others will think. Sometimes we fear that God will send us some horrible place in ministry – “be careful what you pray for,” we hear.
Do we really think God is trying to get us aligned with him so that he can make us miserable? Maybe he can teach us a few hard lessons? Many of us grew up in churches that actually taught that – “God’s will is heavy, you need to work harder and serve more in order to please him.” “He’ll keep you humble.” “He must be trying to teach you something.” Or we’ll say, “God’s been challenging me this week, he’s testing me.”
Does this sound like someone that loves us, someone that died so that he could spend eternity with us?
Sometimes these old notions creep in, and we need to take every thought captive and remind ourselves who God really is, and do some serious thinking about who we honestly believe He is. What do our actions say about who we believe God is? We need to realign our theology with truth.
As long as we hold a view of God that we’re not safe, we will never surrender. We’ll never fully repent or fully realign with him and be comfortable with him in the driver’s seat.
I realized my faulty notions were at the core of my conditions. I wasn’t living like I believed God was good and wanted me to have abundant life. Did I really think I could know better than God what was ahead and how to plan for it? Or that I knew how to get the desires of my heart? God put those desires there; he wants to give them to me.
Well, once again God reassured me of his love and his faithfulness in more than taking care of my needs. So I repented of my stubbornness. Once I let my conditions go, I was taken down other, more important paths. As things in my life or my families lives came up, I could easily shift gears to do what I could see God was asking of me. I wasn’t still protecting my conditions. God could do something new or prepare me for something more important that I couldn’t embrace when I was fearful of what I might have to give up.
This is the picture of complete repentance and realignment with him: obeying unencumbered, with no expectation of what the result should look like, no conditions of acceptance, no strings attached, just full submission to His will regardless of what it means to your “if onlys”, your own plan, your fears and your conditions.
If we’ll let Him, God will take care of the physical, so that we can focus on His spiritual purposes. We don’t need everything comfortable and neatly worked out to obey Him and serve Him. Just do what he’s asking joyfully and forget all of this world’s distractions. Devote yourself fully to what He brings; stop fighting for more, or different, and enjoy this. Your situation is not a detour. Stop waiting until it changes or until you find a way through it or out of it. Do well with where you’re at right now, and it will result in God’s purposes.
Does it take 40 days to get there? Absolutely! It took me longer.
The Season of Repentance
This period of Elul is about preparing our hearts, minds, and spirits for the coming Fall Feasts and eventually Yeshua’s coming. Use these 40 days to take an honest look at yourself. Where do your idols hide? It starts with asking yourself the hard questions:
- Where am I discontent with what God has provided?
- In what areas am I striving beyond what God has provided?
- In what areas am I wishing for something better?
- Where am I frustrated?
- Where am I pursuing my own path?
- What fears keep me from trusting His plan?
- What belief do I need to sacrifice in order to fully trust God with that issue?
- What blessing and provisions am I missing when I strive for what used to be or what could be?
I encourage you to examine these areas and see where repentance and giving up your striving, could allow you to re-align with God’s plan. Once you do, I guarantee more peace, more joy and more faith. Why? Because you’re now on God’s path, it’s His to determine, His responsibility to clear the pathway ahead, He’s responsible for the results.
It’s the difference between driving the car and being the passenger. The one driving is carrying the responsibility – what route to take, how fast to go, how to navigate obstacles or detours, stopping for gas, and actually reaching the destination. Do we trust God with the driving?
I found when I finally did, it was such a relief! It’s not all up to us. And his plan is much better and goes so much more smoothly than my own. It’s exhilarating! It makes you want to find more areas where you can realign with him.
So mark your calendar for Elul 1 and use these 40 days to ask the hard questions, repent from what you find and realign with God’s plan.
Remember YHVH’s words after the people repented from the Golden Calf incident, and Moses brought the second set of tablets down from his 40 days on the mountain:
“Here, I am making a covenant; in front of all your people I will do wonders such as have not been created anywhere on earth or in any nation. All the people around you will see the work of Adonai. What I am going to do through you will be awesome!” Exodus 34:10