I've been reading a book called How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life, by Dr. Gregory Frizzell, and while reading about types of prayer yesterday, I was particularly struck by what he said about confession in prayer. Confession is definitely not a topic we like to talk about--I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to want to hide my faults, not openly admit them. We spend so much time presenting our 'best side' to others that I think we automatically try to do the same thing to God, as if we could keep Him from noticing all the sin in our life if we just put on a good front!
Psalm 66: 18 says, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." That means that if you want an effective prayer life, if you want to know your prayers are being answered, you must confess those sins and turn from them!!
But, how exactly do we go about "confessing our sins?" I don't mean how do we confess something; I mean how do we make sure we're really admitting everything we NEED to admit?
I'm gonna be brutally honest here...I'm so good at hiding my sins from others, that I sometimes hide it from myself, as well. And this is where Dr. Frizzell's statements really struck me: he says, "Far too many believers ask God to search their heart and then give Him about ten seconds to do it!" Yep, that would be me...it's not pretty, but there it is. And I don't think I'm alone in this.
When my kids were little...oh, who am I kidding? They're nearly 18 and 20 now, and they haven't changed. They ask me if I know where something is: "Have you seen my belt?"; "Are we out of mayo?"; "Where's the hammer, and maybe a blowtorch?" Okay, that last one would prompt some serious questions of my own...
Let's take the case of the missing belt: I'll tell them I think I saw it in their bedroom. About ten seconds later they come back: "I still can't find it." STILL?!? You spent all of five seconds hunting for it...you walked into the room, stood in the middle and glanced about. Maybe if you were desperate for the lost object, you actually picked up one or two items on the floor before reaching the conclusion that it's just nowhere to be found.
Then I start making them really THINK about it. When's the last time you know you HAD the belt? What pants were you wearing at the time? Have you found those pants?...they HATE having to actually backtrack and think things through like that, but nine times out of ten, these few minutes of recollection result in the successful discovery of the lost object.
This oft-repeated hunt for lost items in my house is what I immediately thought about when I read these words from Dr. Frizzell: "Friend, you couldn't search a cluttered room by a brief, casual glance any more than your heart could be searched by a ten-second examination."
Ouch. Truth hurts. He went on to say that the sad truth is, the way many believers practice confession is that we ask God, " 'is there anything wrong with my life? anything I need to change?' After a quick, ten-second pause, we then say, 'I guess not, now let me give you my prayer list.' "
The truth is, I'm afraid it's often even worse than that. We pray, "And God, forgive me for all the ways I fail you," or words to that effect, and we don't even bother to stop and ask OURSELVES what all those 'ways' are, never mind asking God what they are.
But there's another problem with 'confession' too--we sometimes have the idea that God is just waiting to beat us over the head with our failures, but in fact God wants us to confess in order to FREE us from the weight of guilt and failure.
Dr. Frizzell says "Consistent confession and cleansing represent the primary ways we grow and become conformed to the image of Christ." That is a very important reminder to me--God doesn't want us to confess so that He can remind us of what failures we are; He wants us to confess and repent so that He can "continue the work He started" in us, making us more like Christ. He also wants us to confess to Him, so that we are reminded that it is by His Grace that we are saved and found righteous, NOT by our works. But Unconfessed sin leaves the door wide open for satan's attacks--He loves to use those unconfessed sins against us, to make us feel like failures, "unworthy" of God's love and forgiveness.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9