Saturday, February 20, 2016

Honest Confessions

I've written before about how every church has a liturgy, a pattern, for worship. In my church, part of this liturgy is a corporate confession of sin. It is a responsive, that is participatory, part of worship. It looks something like this:

Leader:     If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

Leader:     Let us pray.

All:     Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against You and against our fellow men, in thought and word and deed, in the evil we have done and in the good we have not done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault. We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may serve You in newness of life in the glory of Your Name. Amen.

I did not grow up reciting written prayers and when I first encountered them in a worship service, I was somewhat taken aback. It was pointed out to me that were I to speak with the President, visiting royalty, or some other notable figure of great importance, I would probably have a speech prepared or at least a series of talking points to ensure my part of the encounter was coherent. Why then shouldn't we prepare our words for the Almighty God in the same manner? That explanation resonated with me to the point that I now often write out prayers in a journal as a means of truly shaping my words so they express properly my praise, thanksgiving, and requests.

Another benefit of having a prepared corporate prayer of confession is I am confronted about sinful habits or tendencies I might, if left on my own, gloss over or even ignore. Such is the case with the above confession: ". . . through our own deliberate fault." Ouch. If we're honest, don't we all like to excuse away our sin? It was a mistake, a misunderstanding, the result of incorrect information or some other reason that gives us an out from some or all the responsibility for our failings. A written confession makes us admit there were times when we sinned deliberately. It is very reminiscent of David's confession written in the psalms. The gut-level honest confession and the familial tone of a son to his Father of this psalm makes it precious to Christians:

Have mercy upon me, O God,According to Your lovingkindess;According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,Blot out my transgressions.Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,And cleanse me from my sin.For I acknowledge my transgressions,And my sin is always before me.Against You, You only, have I sinned,And done this evil in Your sight - That You may be found just when You speak,And blameless when You judge.~ Psalm 51:1-4

David was far from perfect, but he didn't let sin remain between him and God. We know from Scripture God affirms David as a man after His own heart. Our corporate confession also ends with an affirmation:

Leader:     Lift up your hearts and receive the sure promise of the gospel.  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in mercy. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." To all who believe and repent, this promise is most surely given. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

That's the beauty of confession; through Jesus we have been made clean and affirmed as loved by our Heavenly Father.