In our recent PCC series on David, we heard him described as “the unlikely king.” We know him as the Biblical character who defeated giants and worshiped god with abandon, and as “the wilderness warrior.” All true. But, like most of us, David was capable of being a hero AND a villain. Angie Frame’s final message of the series walked us through what we know as David’s greatest failure, as his lust for a woman caused him to betray trust and cause tremendous harm to others. Angie reminded us that David’s harmful actions weren’t just against Bathesheba and Uriah – it was also against God.
No matter how long you’ve been following Jesus, how frequently you’re in church, or how faithfully you strive to be a good person, the truth is that all of us have to deal with this reality: We make decisions and do things that fall short. We betray God’s commands to love him with all our heart and soul. We fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. In short, we sin. And we are all in need of forgiveness.
On one hand, it’s the great leveler. In the New Testament book of Romans (3:11), Paul quotes a Psalm:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Interestingly enough, the original author of those words that Paul quotes was none other than David himself. David wrote Psalm 14! “There is no one who does good, not even one….” Perhaps this writing depicts the very moment he was doing a personal inventory.
We’re all in the same boat here; we’re stuck with being human. And at some point, we all come face to face with our failures. We screw up. We hurt others. We fail because we aren’t careful, or we get caught up in something that leads us to places we didn’t think we’d ever find ourselves. We make messes because we’re selfish, or defensive, or self-seeking.
It’s bleak, but it’s true.
The invitation to acknowledge that we’ve done wrong can be skirted and ignored, but denial only goes so far. It may be painful to admit, but it’s impossible to avoid forever; and while it seems counterintuitive, moving towards that painful honesty about yourself is an essential – and healing – part of your spiritual journey.
Angie emphasized this truth: God forgave David.
God will forgive you.
So how does that happen?
It takes courage, and truth-telling. It requires a willingness to take stock and be brutally honest about where you’ve missed the mark.
It’s a loaded word, “confession.” Maybe you’re envisioning bare interrogation rooms with bad fluorescent lighting and detectives in ill-fitting suits breaking down a bad guy. Or, if you have a Catholic background, perhaps the word conjures up images of robed priests and small booths in dimly lit sanctuaries handing out prescriptive penance.
Often, we hear the word ‘confess’ and our instinctive reaction is guilt.
That horrible feeling of getting caught doing something we shouldn’t, by someone who has the authority and the inclination to punish us.
But don’t disconnect.; if you’re able, set aside those notions for a moment and consider that in a spiritual sense, confession is more like therapy. It can lead to healing and growth, and ultimately is the essential key to restoring relationships – on a human level, and with God.
Confession, like the best spiritual practices, is best experienced. I really can’t convince you of its benefits with carefully crafted words or stories; all I can say is that once you experience the freedom that comes with confession, you’ll get it. And over time, carefully nurturing the practice of disclosure in a safe and healthy manner can reveal growth, healing, and maturity that will otherwise remain elusive.
If you’ve never considered confession as a part of a regular spiritual practice, here’s a great way to start. If you are reckoning with God in a new or fresh way – perhaps seeing yourself in a completely different light as you come to know more about Jesus’ invitation to follow him – know that this is an invitation to experience his love and grace.
Make a List.
Set aside a particular time and place to focus on your spiritual health. Grab paper and a pen, and begin to list things you’ve done wrong. Don’t overthink it; most of us know where we’ve made mistakes, fallen short, or hurt others. You might limit yourself to a particular time frame (the day, the past week), or perhaps a particular relationship or situation (your significant other, your kids, your parents, your work relationships).
Give yourself a specific time frame – 20 minutes will probably suffice – and write until time’s up. Your list might include little white lies, road rage, and rude behavior – as well as lust, adulterous affairs, and stealing. If it comes to mind, jot it down – no explanations, excuses, or rationalizations. Just make the list.
When you’ve finished, write these words at the bottom:
If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. – 1 John 1:8-9, CEB
Sit with it.
Don’t try to rationalize, explain, or understand. Acknowledge that you’ve fallen short, and acknowledge that your authentic self is no surprise to God. Be honest with yourself – regarding your actions, and regarding the promise of God in 1John.
Talk to God.
Prayer doesn’t have to be fancy or fake. Talk to God in a way that is comfortable and natural for you, as if you were speaking to the most trusted friend you have – one who sees and accepts you as you are, one who believes the best about you, and one who won’t look away, no matter what. Remember the promise in the scripture above; you can ask him to honor that promise. The Passion Translation of 1 John 1:8 says, “…if we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time.” If you confess, you have the right to expect his forgiveness.
Tear up the list.
Burn it; flush it down the toilet. Throw it in the trash. From another writing of David – Psalm 103 – we see a beautiful metaphor of God’s love and forgiveness:
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, very patient, and full of faithful love….he doesn’t repay us according to our wrongdoing, because as high as heaven is above the earth, that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him. As far as east is from west – that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.” Psalm 103:8-12, excerpts (CEB)
God won’t hold your sin against you, so let it go. Consider your list – and its subsequent destruction – a sort of purging, cleansing. If God sees it so far gone that it’s unmeasurable – “as far as the east is from the west” – so, then, can you.
If that kind of love and acceptance is something you long for, the practice of confession is the front door to experience it. A passive faith that ignores or brushes over sinful behavior because of an intellectual or theoretical understanding of forgiveness is a far cry from the interactive experience of receiving God’s faithful love and forgiveness.
Start here, with these four steps. Allow the awareness of where you fall short to create a beautiful opportunity for you to understand the amazing power of God’s love for you. You might want to include a daily Examen – a daily devotional exercise designed to reflect on your interaction with God as you end the day. Check out this link for a more detailed explanation.
The abundant life Jesus promised is available; his invitation includes every aspect of our lives. While we may still struggle in this world, even dealing with the consequences of our sin, a growing awareness of God’s love and grace can empower you to experience transformation and redemption – even in your worst moments, just as David did.