The first part of our prayers should be exaltation of God—praise and adoration. But the second thing I do each morning is confess my sins. Praising God lifts our souls! Confession brings about humility and contrition. I need both in my life. One without the other leads to an aberration of what a Christian man or woman should be.
You might wonder how it’s possible to be anything but righteous and complete before God if we focused entirely on worship and adoration, and dispensed with confession entirely. And while we won’t have to be a part of confessing our sins in heaven, while on this earth and we dwell in these bodies of flesh and blood, we must be a careful to confess our sins daily. Here’s a story about this that Jesus gave:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14, NIV
Confession keeps my knees on the ground and my eyes humbly looking up to Jesus… I am reminded that He did it all. That “disgusting” tax collector was justified before God——all because he admitted his errors with humility and obvious sincerity. God loves it when we humble ourselves before Him and others! What does Jesus say about all of this? “….those who humble themselves (like this tax collector) will be exalted…(but) all those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” Yes, God deserves our praise and we’re lifted up when we adore Him, but God lifts us up when we confess our sins and faults to Him.
We don’t know all that this tax collector confessed, but it’s implicit that he knew he was guilty of grievous sins. We need not come to God blithely suggesting that in general, yes, we’ve sinned and fallen short of perfection—-He’s well aware of that. What’s important, when we confess our sins, is to use simple language with simple words like we were talking to our father. It’s one thing to tell God that we think about the wrong things at times, but it’s quite another to admit we had a very inappropriate and perverse desire yesterday, or that we truly misled someone when we shared our opinion last night, or that we stole something last month, etc. Give God the truth—-He knows it—-and leave the excuses to the politicians that get caught committing an offense. Own up to your errors and don’t candy-coat or concoct an excuse.
Again, look in the mirror, spiritually speaking, and admit that you’ve failed to be the man or woman God called, redeemed and blessed you to be! But don’t speak in meaningless words of contrition. Give him real, solid sin, and He will give you real, genuine righteousness. So in my quiet times, as I confess, I don’t make things up that sound sanctimonious and holy, I tell him the truth. I am ashamed of my angry outburst on the phone to the telemarketer….I am disgusted that I let my mind and imagination wonder after I saw an email request to visit an inappropriate website…I deeply regret that I was less than totally honest with a friend that called me this afternoon. Yes, I can give him real sins—-not just examples, but authentic stuff that I own!
I know that this can sound gloomy. Does Christianity encourage this depressing look into our own sins every day? Well, “the alternative is much more morbid. Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and to really know one’s own sin is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of a tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.” (C.S. Lewis)
Blind Bartimaeus was asked by Jesus: What do you want me to do for you? He wanted to see—-and if we want blindness removed, we must get into the habit of honestly admitting to God that have done things wrong, missed opportunities to draw others to Jesus, et al.
Friends, confession is the doorway to true Christian community, because unless we know one another as fellow sinners we don’t really know one another at all. We are sinners. So when we all bring hidden sin out into the light we can have full fellowship with each other. If you’re feeling alone is it because there’s something going on in your life that no one else knows about and something that you will not admit to God?
Confession, daily, is important, but because it kills my pride. Confession is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. The most important matter is confessing our sins to Him, each morning, but there’s also a great benefit in being able to confess our sin ones we trust. When we do this, we are dealing our pride a fatal blow and we are both a witness to others and a lot easier to love! In the moment of confession we are abandoning our last attempt to justify ourselves. In confession we cannot be seen as strong, capable, or righteous. We are admitting that we are sinful, have no excuses, and that God’s grace is our only hope. In other words, confession is actually trusting Jesus to justify us rather than trying to justify ourselves. The root of all sin is pride. So if confession kills our pride it also kills our sin.
I would that our national leaders should consider their own sins, and the sins of America— soberly and contritely. And I am not so much talking about the sins of 250 years ago (sins none of us willing contributed to) nor even the sins our parents, but the sins against God we are committing right now that we wink at, excuse or bury in our national conscience. The sin against the unborn, the hatred to those that don’t look the same as us, the disgust we have for those that don’t share our opinion. Where sin is admitted, and forgiven…there the break with the past is made. ‘Old things are passed away.’ National confession becomes conversion.
When we confess specific sins or ungodly habits we also forsake them. To bring them out into the light and to acknowledge their sinfulness is to make a clean break with our sin. It’s just like what happened in our conversion. Every time we confess our sins, we are in a sense, being born again—- anew. This doesn’t mean that we’ve lost our salvation and are being saved all over again. But it does mean that we’re experiencing a fresh awareness and experience of our salvation. Confession breaks the power of hidden, ongoing sin. When we bring it out into the light it’s suddenly easy to walk away from it. So in order to combat sin in our lives we ought to confess often and quickly.
I have been talking to the youth during Sunday school about the significance of numbers for two weeks now. You might know that certain numbers have special significance—-1, 2 3, 4, 7, 12–-and 40. In the Bible 40 always represented a testing, or time of preparation for something new. I have been running my own summer camp coming on 40 years this summer. But now, more than ever, I wonder, was He preparing…or testing me for something, like he did with Moses for 40 days on Mt. Sinai, or the Israelite in the desert for 40 years, or Jesus in the wilderness for 40 day? A few nights ago, I was praying, and confessing to God my headstrong tendencies, and I asked Him, “Did I miss the mark these past forty summers? Has my focus changed or been diminished from what He called me to do many, many years ago or did I heart your wrong?”
What I want to leave you with today, in terms of confession, is what the Spirit of God said to me as I complained about my 40 years of running a camp, interviewing staff, getting the camp cleaned up every spring and winterized every fall, and about raising money for projects and dealing with difficult parents, campers and staff. As I whined to God, He gently spoke to me and told me, “I called you to preach the gospel”…..and I was confronted with my error—my sin. I was called to preach the gospel when I was 16 years old—-not be a fund raiser, or create staff manuals, or even teach staff how to do a good job. I was called to preach the gospel—-as are all people that receive such a call from God. Everything can become a distraction and encumbering obstacle—-and indeed it has.
So I had to confess. I have missed the mark and focused on “making tents” or “catching fish”, rather than make disciples and catching men for Jesus Christ. I think that are many benefits to man in ministry being bi-vocational, but the secondary should never overtake the primary task of preaching.
When you confess your sins tomorrow and you find you can’t think of anything to confess, ask Him to open your eyes—-not wide open perhaps, that might be too discouraging. But wide enough to see how you have grieved Him, neglected the lambs He placed under your care, or allowed yourself to wallow in self -pity. He’s gentle and kind—-trust Him to give you a true mirror to gaze into. You’ll be better for it—-and those that live with you and love you will be blessed because of it.