February 2024 Prayer Devotional Blog

Repentance - What If I Don't Wanna?

A while back, there was a viral video making the rounds on social media of an orange-and-white cat at the veterinarian’s office. Two vet techs are holding the cat down (one is wearing thick leather gloves!), while the vet attempts to examine the cat. The cat is wildly squirming and yowling, trying desperately to escape, despite everyone else’s best attempts to be soothing and reassuring. Toward the end of the short video, the cat suddenly becomes calm and meows plaintively toward the vet, almost as if to say, “Please, may I just go?” When this apparent attempt at negotiation fails and the vet persists in the examination, the cat utters a wild and frustrated wail and redoubles its angry efforts to escape.

At face value, this video is just plain hilarious. As humans, we know and understand that the cat is being needlessly dramatic. The vet and his techs are only trying to help the cat! Yet consider it from the cat’s perspective. The poor creature is confused and scared, not understanding what is happening and knowing only that it does not like it. The cat lacks the ability to project past current circumstances to know that this experience will not last forever, and that it will all be for its good in the end. And so the cat resists, squirms, fusses, bargains and yowls, all in an attempt to be released from the veterinarian’s compassionate care.  

When it comes to my relationship with God, I must admit that my approach to repentance has often shared an uncanny resemblance to the cat’s relationship with the vet and his technicians. I can imagine God the Father speaking to me in soothing tones, reassuring me that He is working for my good, while Jesus and the Holy Spirit are holding me down because I am desperately trying to run away. I bargain with God, telling him I can be trusted to fix the problem on my own. And yet He doesn’t let go of me. I am so like that cat—afraid because I do not know what is going to happen, and lacking enough perspective to trust that I am going to emerge in better spiritual health if I submit to what God is trying to do.

As Christians, we understand the need for repentance. We know that it leads us to right relationship with God and to better living out His intentions for us. The Bible is full of clear teaching on this topic. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). …do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4). Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13). Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10). 
Many other verses could be placed here, echoing the same basic message: God desires us to be genuinely sorry for our sins and to turn to Him for the strength to overcome them. When we do so, we will be met with compassion, mercy, love, and kindness. I know all of this intellectually. Yet when it comes to repentance, I find myself running repeatedly up against the same old stumbling block: I just don’t wanna!
To be clear, I am not talking here about the kind of repentance the brings us initially to salvation. That type of repentance results in justification, which is the way the Bible refers to God transferring us from a state of guilt to a state of righteousness. We no longer stand under condemnation (Romans 8:1) and are given the gift of eternal life (John 5:24). This is a permanent state in which the believer rests secure (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Jude 24; John 10:25-30). As Christians, we have all received the gifts associated with repentance unto salvation, being made alive in Christ, which is accomplished by God’s grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:4-10).  

For those who are secure in their status as saved Christians, repentance does maintain a continuing significance, however. As Paul puts it, we are to live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1b). That is to say, when God calls us to be His children, part of our appropriate response is to endeavor to be the type of children who demonstrate right relationship with their Father through respecting, obeying, and following Him. This is the process that the Bible calls sanctification, whereby we becoming increasingly Christlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. The parental analogy is wonderfully fitting. Just as my children are permanently and irrevocably mine, I permanently and irrevocably belong to my Heavenly Father. Yet just as my own children sometimes act in ways that are contrary to what I have taught them is right and good, so too do I go against God’s intentions and live in ways that fail to honor Him. He will not disown me, but I can still align myself stubbornly against His ways. When I have done so, repentance is in order.

If you find yourself in those shoes, know that you are in good company. The Apostle Paul himself complains, “…I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing” (Romans 7:19).  Perhaps Paul would also find himself identifying with our friend the angry and fearful cat. Our sin patterns are deeply ingrained, and we are remarkably good at justifying them to ourselves. Hence the tendency to look at something God is nudging us to change and respond with a stubborn, foot-stomping “I don’t wanna!”

There can be many reasons that we get locked into resisting repentance. Shame, fear of facing consequences, disbelief that God could still love us, significant past hurts, and rationalizing our actions are common factors. No matter what contributes to it, however, the “I don’t wanna” is very real, and it takes strength to admit it to yourself and to God. There is no reason to add additional shame to the pile by accusing yourself of needing to know better. The walk of faith is hard all by itself, and it is made more difficult by an enemy who wishes to thwart our attempts at following Christ’s example. That enemy is adept at convincing us to be ashamed of our resistance, which ultimately serves to keep us from bringing it to God. The beautiful truth is that “I don’t wanna” is a wonderful place to start with God because it is honest. Honesty brings our resistance out into the light, and there God can shine his truth upon it and begin to break down the walls it has built in our hearts.

Some “I don’t wannas” will be easily overcome; we will hold them lightly because we are not especially invested in maintaining the thing God is asking us to change. Others will be so deeply entrenched that separating ourselves from them will feel like it threatens to rip our soul into two pieces. No matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself sitting at, know that such resistance is a part of our faith walk. I once heard someone say, “When you are born again, we don’t expect you to start out all grown up.” Those words of wisdom are comfortingly applicable here. Growing up can be hard, confusing work. Anyone who has made it through that awkward middle school phase can attest to that! The same is true with growing in spiritual maturity. Give yourself permission to be honest with where you are and devote time in prayer to telling God all about the “I don’t wannas.” He is your loving Father who wants to help you grow up spiritually; you can trust Him to draw close to you in your honesty and provide what you need to work through each point of resistance. There may come a day when He needs to hold you down to accomplish it; when it does, remember our friend the angry, fearful cat and know that your compassionate, kind, merciful, loving God has your best interests at heart. You can trust him.  

Lord, you know all the ways our hearts resist your guidance and care. Sometimes we are hurt and scared, sometimes we are stubborn and angry, sometimes we are pouty and just don't want to put effort into change. You know it all, and you maintain deep love for us. Guide us toward understanding of the trust we can securely and confidently place in you. Help us to develop hearts that are cooperative to those efforts. And if necessary, Lord, hold us tightly and don't get go until we understand that what you are doing is for our own good.
This prayer devotional was written by Brandy Eldridge. Brandy is a wife, mother, sister, friend, and willing shenanigans participant who values relationship with God and with others above all else. In her moments of spare time, you’ll likely find her nerding out over biblical Hebrew, debating the merits of various fantasy world characters, or sharing a hearty belly laugh with anyone willing to join in. Brandy has served on the GCC Women’s Ministry Leadership Team since 2021. 

No Comments