Over the last couple of weeks I have shared some thoughts from two of my favorite church documents: the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism. This week I want to share some insights from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. While not found directly in a Reformed church order, I have found the prayer of confession to be very helpful through the years and it is often used in Reformed churches because of its great depth and insight. I view it not only as an example of a prayer of a confession, but also a guide for us to think through how to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. Thus, I think it can help us as we think through how we can confess our sins more often and more thoughtfully this year.
Here is the prayer in its entirety (using modern terms instead of thou/thee/thy):
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Let me now draw some insights from it:
we have sinned against you
This is a reminder that all sin is sin against God and an affront to His goodness to us. We need to apologize to people when we wrong them, but we also must remember that our sin is trampling on the gifts given by our loving God.
thought, word, and deed,
Sin is not just what we do, but also what we say and even what we think. We often believe we aren’t that bad because we restrain from acting on our thoughts, but we also need to consider why we have those thoughts. We need to not only restrain from acting on our sins, but also need to cultivate hearts that do not think ill of others or too highly ourselves. May God not just give us self-control, but also change our hearts.
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
These words remind us that there are two categories of sin – sins of commission (what we say, do, and think) and sins of omission (what we should do, say, or think, but do not). Not only must we refrain from evil, we should look for opportunities to do good. While there are cases in which inaction is better than the wrong action, there is also the right action of loving God and loving our neighbors. Let us use our time wisely, not just to avoid evil, but to do good.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
God calls for us to love Him with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. May we learn to do so and evaluate our lives not based on worldly achievements, but on whether or not we have fulfilled that calling from God. It is a sin to love other things more than God or put ourselves ahead of the needs of our neighbors.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Those are words that we should read slowly. In one sense, it is easy to say “sorry”, but we need to be truly sorry. We need to be broken and humbled, with a contrite heart. May our hearts not be broken because we have failed again, but even more so because we have not honored our good God with our lives.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
The good news when we confess is that we do so with the assurance of forgiveness. We don’t confess wondering if God can forgive us or if there is any way forward. We come with the hope and promise of forgiveness through Jesus, knowing his precious blood has brought atonement. While assured, we should not presume in the sense that we are owed forgiveness; it is a gift that we know God is ready to bestow upon us. He is the Father who continually welcomes us home.
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.
Confession does not lead us to be like Eeyore who is always down and wallowing in self-pity. Because of forgiveness, we have joy and can move forward in obedience — we become more like Tigger bouncing around in excitement! Knowing that we are forgiven should assure us of the goodness of God’s commands, and that His instructions are for our good. May it lead us to glorify Him more and walk in His ways. In fact, if you are looking to delight more in God, confession is a place to start. As you confess your sins, you will see God’s goodness in new and deeper ways and will find yourself growing in joy.
2021 – A Year of Confession
As we make resolutions and think of things we hope to accomplish in 2021, may being diligent in confessing our sins be on that list. Let us confess like we have never confessed before, plumbing the depths of our sin so we can see and experience the love of God in new and powerful ways.
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