In Jonah 3 we see an excellent example of how to repent and escape an almost certain judgment.
Nineveh was a city known for its cruelty. No matter what you have done in your life, you have likely not done as much as these people had. Killing brutally was a way of life, and Jonah had a reason to be scared.
And God sent an imperfect prophet, one who had run from the assignment, and one who had been recently spit from a fish onto their shores. He was likely not as clean as one would like (there is no mention of his baggage being spit out too), and if questioned he would likely reveal his weaknesses as a leader. There was every reason for the people not to listen to this man, yet they did.
And the king listened as well. He arose from his throne (took action). He humbled himself (laid aside his royal robes). He put on sackcloth and sat in ashes (performed deeds that at that time showed he was sorry). Then he issued a proclamation (He explained to the people under his authority why it was good to do what they were already doing. He encouraged them in their repentance.)
The question is: Do we repent in this manner?
Or do we instead:
-Make excuses as to why the person bringing this to our attention is not worthy to be listened to. Or worse, begin to criticize and harass them publically to all who will listen.
-Refuse to change and find excuses to believe we are fine the way we are.
– Refuse to humble ourselves because of our position, or because we do not want to look weak. Other people may apologize, but what would it look like if the pastor, elder, parent etc did so.
– Refuse to do things that demonstrate our repentance. We may say we are sorry, but often we forget that actions speak louder than words. When there are no acts of repentance (doing nice things for the person you hurt etc), it is often hard to believe that someone is truly sorry. Words are easy, it is your actions that tell who you truly are.
– Neglect to encourage the people under our authority to follow our example. Leaders are examples to those under them whether they do what is good, or what is bad. For this reason it is important to allow those under you to see you are repentant, to know that you are acknowledging that what was done was wrong even if it was done by the leadership and to explain your motivation for repentance. A leader who fails to do this will often have followers (or children) who begin to repent, but then return to evil because they do not see why it is truly important to change, since their leadership does not seem to be getting on board.
Repentance is hard, especially when one is in leadership (even if that leadership is just parental). But, if you do not wish for those under you to follow in your bad example, you must show them, and explain to them, what repentance is and why it is important to do it when we realize we have messed up.