By: Landon Collins
…”confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another…” -James 5:16
For the last few weeks Erin and I, along with another couple have been intentional about getting together every week.* Both couples have kids so we get a babysitter and we will usually make something for dinner that is quick and easy. We send the kids downstairs and us adults (I use that term loosely) eat and talk about God and life. We don’t really know what we are doing other than attempting to be in relationship with each other and God. For the sake of helping other people reproduce what we have going on, I posed the question, “What would you tell someone we are doing?” Someone responded “Well…. We are eating, confessing, praying, and listening together.” That made sense, but I was surprised at how weird the word confessing sounded to me when it was used to describe what we were doing.
Over the next several days I spent time reflecting on the idea of confession. Naturally my first inclination was to think of the Catholic practice of confession, where people go into the booth and confess their sins to a priest. However, what we were doing wasn’t just telling each other our deepest darkest secrets. If sin is anything that breaks relationship with others and with God, then we are simply talking about the ways we have broken relationship; with friends, with our spouse, our kids, our co-workers, and with God.
The practice of confession is a Spiritual Discipline. It takes work and it can be hard. We don’t like confession because in some way we believe that naming our sins and our struggles makes us bad people. Or, we recognize that we aren’t quite as “good” as we thought. But, our refusal to confess keeps us from becoming the people God created us to be. In her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoune says, “this very appearance of goodness can be a way we defend ourselves against our sin.”In many ways, our refusal to practice confession cheapens the cross. Calhoune goes on to say, “Every time we confess (how we break relationship), we open ourselves up to the mending work of the cross. Through confession we live into the truth of beings God’s new creation! The old is gone. The new has come.”I don’t know about you, but I’m all about being mended, molded and made into a new creation! It sometimes doesn’t feel great at first, but my limited experience of confession has been a life-giving experience that, for me, is unique to the discipline of confession.
In the Lord’s prayer we pray as Jesus taught us by saying, “Forgive us our sins.” Forgiveness flows from confession. Our practice of confession is directly connected to our experience of forgiveness, both from God and from others. That isn’t to say that our forgiveness is dependent on our confession. We will leave that for another time. But there is something significant about naming the places we break relationship; and I would argue that it isn’t just about naming those things to God. “So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed. Your prayers are powerful when they are rooted in a righteous life.”– James 6:16 (The Voice) I believe, and I am learning more and more, that confession in community, even if just to one other person, is a life giving experience. The more we practice this in community the more we free others to practice. And the more we all practice together the more we experience God’s grace.
So, to start the confessing party off I figured I could begin with my own confession. Last week I had a specific situation where my ego got really big. I had the chance to preach at my dad’s church in Huntsville Alabama and the night before I knew that I was going to do a great job! There is no place for my ego in preaching & teaching God’s word. I am grateful for God’s gifts and the opportunities to use them, but those gifts don’t belong to me. They are gifts and they come from God, not from anything I’ve done. And while working hard is important, working hard without relying on God is sinful. I spent time the night before confessing and wrestling with my ego. In the morning hours before the worship gatherings, I spent time praying that it would not be about me. I hope it went well, people said it did, but I learned more about my ego and confession that weekend than I did about the text and the message. Honestly that is one of the things that I wrestle with each time I preach. I’m thankful for God’s grace as well as yours.
Your turn!!! What do you need to confess? Where do you need to find freedom? I pray that you would be a part of creating a type of community where you can experience forgiveness and freedom through the discipline of confession.
Adele Calhoune provides some wonderful questions for reflection as we think about confession:
- Does your confession tend to be along the lines of “Forgive my sins, dear Lord” rather than specifically naming your sins one y one before the face of God?
- What does the lack of specific confession do to self – awareness?
- What experiences have affected your ability to give and receive forgiveness?
- When have you tasted the joy of forgiveness?
- What is it like for you to confess your sins to a friend?
- Which of your sins hurts those closest to you?
*If you would like to know more about what Erin and I and the other couple are doing and why we are doing it, I would love to talk with you more.
Calhoune, Adele. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that transform us. Intervarsity Press, 2005. Pg 92
Calhoune.Spiritual Disciplines. Pg 93