Confession and Repentance in Prayer

Thinking through prayer, last time we considered how we begin prayer with an invocation and with adoration. This month I want us to consider “confession”. When we look at the Scriptures depiction of confession it understandably contains and admission of humility and  sense of our creaturely state before God. Consider the words of the psalmist

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:3–4 ESV)

There is a posture of humility in relation to the rest of the created order, that is overwhelming. Simply put, man feels small compared to the universe. Confession also contains sins over which we have great guilt. Part of the hope of confession is that those sins would not become a foothold for the enemy in our heart. Sometimes they may be sins from our youth or within this last week, but we confess that which we have done that goes against the Gospel of Christ.

This is a risky part of our prayer. Because of our tendency to earn righteousness, we are tempted even in the midst of confession to think that the forgiveness we receive is dependent upon the vigors of our repentance and mourning. The more miserable we feel and the harder we are on ourselves, then the more forgiveness we receive. We have effectually placed ourselves into a system of penance wherein we are forgiven by the sincerity and consuming guilt expressed instead of the atoning work of Jesus. Lord help us! On one hand, we should feel shame, and on the other hand, we shouldn’t see that shame as a work that earns forgiveness. Rather our shame is because we truly recognize we don’t deserve the Lord’s mercies.

Here is a prayer from the Book of Common Worship to help you in your prayers

O most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who pardonest all such as truly repent and turn to Thee: we humbly confess our sins and implore Thy mercy. We have not loved Thee with a pure heart fervently; neither have we loved our neighbor as ourselves. We have not done justly, nor loved mercy, nor walked humbly with Thee, our God. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, according to Thy Loving kindness; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out our iniquity. Create in us a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from us. Restore unto us the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold us with Thy free Spirit. Amen. (Book of Common Worship, 1946)

2 thoughts on “Confession and Repentance in Prayer

  1. Amen! Very true. Being raised Catholic, need to fight against thinking it’s what I do versus what Jesus has done! ALLEHUIA, what a Saviour.

    Will you address the part of confessing to others as mentioned in James 5:16 ? When, and how often and to whom? I know we don’t do it like the Catholics, in a confessional box to a priest. I think this aspect of prayer has been lost in some ways..

    1. Hi Katherine!

      I’d be happy to respond briefly and if you’d like I could be more exhaustive in the form of a post.
      First I would say that if a Christian desires to confess sins to their pastor, this is good. Sometimes we are led to confess particular sins and hear the promise of the Gospel.

      In the early church this was treated more as pastoral counseling rather than as a sacramental rite. And Augustine held that the daily prayer of the believer was satisfaction for the sins that accompany the life of the believer, and confession with a priest was only necessary for those more egregious in nature.

      The confessional exhortation in James however is not in a pastoral sense but a mutual sense. It is a picture of a church that gathers and reconciles wrongs and shows mercy. So that all the people would be freed from grudges and resentments that forgiveness would be present abundantly.

      I pray this is of some help.

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