• The BaptistWay lesson for June 8 focuses on Psalm 51 and 1 John 1:9.
It’s been said that confession is good for the soul. Yet it is something we focus on very little as Baptists. We usually do not include a formal time of confession in our worship services, and we certainly do not hold regular confession sessions in the same way as our Catholic brothers and sisters do. That’s not because we do not think confession is important, but rather because we think it is something that must be done individually in order to be authentic.
The unintended consequence of avoiding any type of formal facilitation of this spiritual discipline is a practical neglect of it—at least until the preacher makes someone feel bad during an altar call, or until the youth speaker reminds the teenagers at summer camp of all the sinning they did the previous year at school and causes them to have a good cry. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between and not enough to sustain a consistent spiritual walk with God.
Confession as discipline
A healthier, more practical way of engaging in confession is to make it a personal discipline. Perhaps we shy away from this because we think our confession must mirror the emotional, tear-jerking experiences reserved for select moments at church or during retreats and camps. This is not true. One of the more steady ways to make confession a regular, effective discipline simply involves praying the Psalms. You do not have to look hard to find numerous psalms of confession.
Bo Prosser, coordinator of ministries for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, gives these guidelines for praying the Scriptures in a post on the CBF Blog: “Take a moment to center yourself—being quiet, settling your mind and heart. Then, read or hear the text slowly and intentionally. Listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you. Focus on that word or phrase for a moment. Write it down if you like. Don’t expect lightning flashes or magic, just listen and let God speak.
Next, read the passage again. Slowly repeat the word or phrase you identified, allowing it to interact with your spiritual self, your concerns, memories, hopes and dreams. Don’t worry about being distracted. Simply allow your spiritual self to ask God for strength and direction. Allow this inner pondering to invite you into dialogue with God. If you feel distracted, simply return to the word or phrase you’ve written down and continue pondering. Now, speak to God.
Use words, ideas, images or all three. Interact with God for yourself and intercede for a person whose name you have chosen. Know that God hears you, accepts you and loves you. Imagine God using the word or phrase that came to you as a blessing for you and the person you have chosen. Accept from God what you have found within your heart. Finally, read the passage again and rest in God’s love. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in both thoughts and actions. Live in Christ-confidence as a blessed child of God.”
Praying Psalm 51
Perhaps before going to Bible study or even delving into your week’s lesson, it might simply be appropriate for you to pray Psalm 51 before reading or hearing another’s thoughts or teaching on the passage. Several phrases pop out that have the potential to guide me into thoughtful confession: “Have mercy on me, O God” (v.1); “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (v. 3); “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7); “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10); “My sacrifice, O God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17).
These are not the only phrases God can use to lead you into a meaningful time of confession. These simply are the ones that spoke to my spirit. If you end up coming up with this many, it might be beneficial to pray this passage every day this week, focusing on a different phrase each time. By using this method and praying this psalm or another like it, confession can be regular, personal and even inspired. There is hope and empowerment in knowing we are not the first to mutter phrases like these. They stand in a long line of confession lifted up by fellow sinners and saints through the ages.
The goal of confession
Like all spiritual disciplines, the goal of confession is to guide us into Christlikeness. 1 John 1:9 reminds us “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” In spite of being redeemed by Jesus, I still have days where I live and walk in darkness. I need the regular discipline of confession to cleanse my heart and empower me to be the faithful servant God created and desires for me to be. And so do you.