Monday, January 12, 2015

Prayer in Worship, part 1: Confession

It is my privilege to pastor a church that prays when it gathers to worship.  Not there aren't a lot of other churches that don't pray, because I am certain that they most certainly do.  But there are some things about the way that our church prays when we gather that I want to share with others. 

So this will be a short series about prayer and worship.  In separate posts I will discuss prayers of confession, prayers for healing, congregational prayer and miscellaneous prayer.  

A prayer of confession is something we do nearly every time we gather for worship.  We include it each Sunday.  We include it on most other occasions, including Easter and Christmas Eve.  Actually, I can’t think of a time since I've been here that confession hasn't been a part of our worship. 

Confession is an admission of our sin as we come into God's presence.  It is an intentional act where we acknowledge, to God,  that we have failed to live in ways that are pleasing to Him and we seek His forgiveness.  It is as if we are saying, "God, these are things that we have done, or thought, that we know are offensive to you.  They are dirt in our lives, in our hearts, and we can't remove them myself.  Will you forgive us and make us clean again?"   

Our prayer of confession has three parts.  First I say something about our sin and the need to confess it, inviting everyone to take a few moments and silently confess to God.  Then we read aloud a prayer of confession.  Each week we have a different prayer, so that each week we have a different way to think about our sin and the way it offends God.  And lastly, I read from scripture words that are intended to provide the assurance of forgiveness.  There are verses from the Old and New Testament, with a different passage each week, used to reinforce the idea that while God's plan has always been that forgiveness comes through Jesus, the promise of forgiveness is one that is found in many places in the Bible.

The objection to regular confession might be raised, saying that Protestant Christians believe they have forgiveness of all of their sin in Jesus.  Forgiveness of all sin before they came to faith and forgiveness of all sin they will commit while having that faith.  If that is true, that indeed all the sins of a lifetime, including those years not yet lived, are forgiven, then why go through the act of confessing and receiving assurance over and over?  Isn’t that kind of a downer?  Shouldn't life as a Christian be joyful?

To which I reply that I believe that confession is healthy and that its regular practice leads to a more joyful life.  In confessing we are consciously aware that God is God and that we are not.  Its practice establishes a good place for us to start each day, so that we begin by turning toward God instead of running headlong down the path of unrestrained sin. 

Herman Bavinck wrote this about sin, confession and forgiveness: "Sin brings with it, especially in the case of believers, a sense of guilt, pain, regret, alienation from God, remorse, and so forth.  It takes away ones tranquility of conscience, the boldness and assurance of faith.  That is unavoidable.  The nature of sin is such that it necessarily brings with it a sense of guilt and liability to punishment."[1] 

Then he adds: "Confession is not a condition for forgiveness, but those who truly know their sin naturally confess it and in the face of it feel all the greater need for the consolation of forgiveness.  For believers, prayer for forgiveness remains a daily necessity.  But in that case they do not pray in doubt and despair, they do not pray as though they are no longer children of God and again face eternal damnation; they pray from within the faith as children to the Father who is in heaven."[2]

He concludes: "Needed, after our falling into sin, is self-humiliation, confession, the prayer for forgiveness, in order that this faith may again revive and the Spirit of God may again clearly and forcefully bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God."[3]

Sin, seen from our point-of-view, alienates us from God.  Confession is a good gift to us from God, so that our conscience can be cleared, so that we can be reassured of our place as His children, and that as His children we can live with joy. 

Perhaps my favorite words of assurance are the ones we used yesterday, from 1 John 1:9.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Bavinck, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, 225.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid

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