“Forgive us our sins.” – Luke 11:4
I love the Lord’s Prayer, except this verse. I hate that part, and so generally avoid it.
But not today.
Because there must be some reason why Christ calls us to confess in prayer, even if I don’t like it. So here are some of the sins that I have committed in a 48 hour period. I could try to justify myself in each of them and give more context, but I think that rather ruins the whole point of confession, so I won’t. Be warned, I don’t think these confessions put me in a very positive light:
1. I swore at a bus driver all the way home this morning. Not just the PG swear words, the R ones.
2. I met with a person who has been struggling in life for a long time now, and felt a sense of impatience with them. I privately wished that someone else could take care of this person’s needs, not me. Or that they would just go away.
3. I was bitter towards people whom I thought betrayed me, slandered me, turned their back on me. I blamed my situation on them, and realized that I harbor a deep ill will towards them still.
4. At the park with my kids, I felt intimidated and apprehensive around men who were there for the simple fact that they were homeless.
Ugh. That’s not it, either. These are only the ones that I feel comfortable sharing on an online forum. So I did it, I confessed my daily sins as commanded in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not pleasant, but I realize that despite the pain of confession, there is great power there as well:
First, I know myself better now. Our sins are a crystal clear window into our spiritual state, perhaps the best we have. We try to hide our shortcomings at all costs, and the more we do so, the less self-aware we become. And after a while, we begin to believe our own lies and assume that we are doing just fine, and have nothing to confess, and so no need for Christ in our lives. But however much we try to hide it, our sins unveil it all: our true anger, our bitterness, our prejudices, and our needs. In confession, the shiny veneer of our lives is stripped away, our deeply flawed nature unveiled. And our need for Christ acutely sharpened.
Second, I know what I need now. It’s funny – sometimes as Christians, we have no idea what to share when someone asks to pray for us. We scratch our heads and say, “Hm. I guess I have a tough time at school or home or whatever, and you can pray for me.” Something ridiculously generic like that. But not me. Now I know exactly what I need prayer for, and perseverance in: I need to rein in my tongue! I need to have more compassion on broken and unlovable people. I need to forgive others as I have been forgiven. And I need to have a heart for the poor as Christ did. I have a lot you can pray for.
Lastly, I feel freer…man, that word looks weird. I feel more free. It feels liberating not to hide everything, to put enormous effort into supporting the false pretense that I’m perfect. It’s good to let it all hang out there and admit that I am not a perfect person, even as a pastor. I feel better! Now, I want to clarify this a bit – I don’t feel exonerated. The state of innocence from guilt is not something accomplished through confession, but through crucifixion, and not my own either. My sins, past and future, are paid for by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thank God!
So why do we confess then, if not to exonerate us from guilt?
There is more than one answer to this question: the difference between the state of sinfulness and the commission of individual sin, the idea of salvific grace versus daily grace, complicated questions that you should ask a more theologically minded individual. But the answer that I want to highlight is that confession leads to healing. Our culture is so judicial and legalistic that we tend to view anything having to do with wrongdoing through that lens: blame, guilt, innocence, exoneration. And the gospel definitely has that sense to it, no doubt.
But as we confess our sins, we also inch closer to emotional wholeness and healing. In this way, confession has not solely a legalistic component, but a personally restorative element as well! Confession heals us, binds us up, and restores our relationships to one another. Or as a professor at Fuller was so fond of saying:
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis Smedes
So there are very good reasons that Christ commands us to confess our sins when we pray. And if we avoid this command, as contradictory as it might feel, we are only hurting ourselves in the end. Because it is through the painfulness of confession that we approach the freedom found in forgiveness.