If confession is good for the soul, why is it so hard to pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”? Pride is a speed bump on the path to God’s throne of grace.
When I confess my sins, it’s like taking out the garbage can and leaving it at the curb so the sanitation truck can carry it away. I never chase after the truck shouting, “Wait a minute. Bring the garbage back!” I’m glad to get rid of all that ugly, rotten stuff. Likewise it’s a relief to confess our sins knowing that God will dispose of our spiritual garbage once and for all.
We tend to think of confession as an individual, private matter, but there are times when it applies to God’s people as a whole. Daniel wrote, “I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: . . . we have sinned and done wrong” (Daniel 9:4, 5). Notice the singular and plural pronouns. Daniel was one man with one voice (“I prayed and confessed”), but he prayed for the covenant people as a whole (“We have sinned”).
There’s something powerful about corporate confession—when the prayer isn’t simply “I’m sorry,” but “We’re sorry.”
Coming Clean Together
The prophet Joel said to “call a sacred assembly” and let everyone—from young children to the very old—turn to the Lord “with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12-17). Have you ever participated in a worship service like that?
I have, and I’ll never forget that day nearly 20 years ago. Our congregation had endured a season of distress and dissension, so we decided to devote the final Sunday of the year to prayer, repentance, and a call for unity. During the Sunday morning services we read Scriptures dealing with reconciliation, talked frankly about the church’s struggles, and expressed our desire to come clean with the Lord and with each other in a spirit of mutual transparency and love. The chairman of the elders confessed that the leaders hadn’t always made the best decisions, and he asked forgiveness. A spokesman for the church’s volunteers admitted to the congregation that he had been critical of the leaders more often than he had prayed for them. A staff member apologized for times when the staff was so busy leading programs that they neglected to shepherd the people.
We prepared a printed bulletin that morning with a tear-off section containing a list of sins to confess and positive attitudes to adopt (from the book of Ephesians). As the congregation shared the Lord’s Supper together, we invited worshipers to write prayers of confession and commitment and pin those slips of paper to one of two large crosses standing in the room.
As I pinned my own paper to the cross, for a moment I wondered anxiously, “What if no one else does this?” But I didn’t need to worry; God’s Spirit was at work. By the end of the morning many tears were shed, friends who had been alienated from one another were hugging and praying together, and the two crosses were covered with white papers.
The services went longer than usual that morning. Before the closing prayer I told everyone, “If you’re a first-time guest with us today, you need to know that we aren’t always like this.” (The congregation laughed.) “But,” I said, “once in a while we need to be.”