4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Confession: ACTS Series

ACTS_ConfessionJune 2011.  Washington, DC.

I don’t have a car, so to get to work, I walk the half mile to the Metro and take a train into the city.  

Today, I am carrying my purse, with my book, makeup case, and wallet, on one shoulder.  On the other shoulder is a tote bag full of promotional brochure, pens, and signs from a recent work event.  In one hand is my lunch bag.  In the other hand is my travel mug.

As I walk up the hill by the park, I readjust the various shoulder straps and reallocate the weight.  While I wait to cross the street, I rub my aching shoulders.  I make a scene at the Metro Station, searching for my train pass.  

It is 7:30 in the morning, and I am already weighed down.

***

We all know what it is like to have burdens.  They can suffocate us.  They can exhaust us.  They can overwhelm us.  

We shrink under the weight of our burdens.  We vanish under the magnitude of our burdens. We lose our strength to keep moving.  We lose our desire to keep moving.

Sometimes, I feel like I have too many burdens to count, much less carry.  My anxiety disorder. My student loans.  My social obligations.  My chores at home.  My tasks for work.  

But my heaviest burden, by far, are my mistakes.  My regrets.  My sins.  

They make every single one of my other burdens even heavier to carry and harder to tackle.

They keep me from getting a good night’s sleep.  Then, they keep me from embracing the new day.

Many would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take yourself and your world less seriously.  Ignore them.  Forget them.  Just let go of them.

God would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take your sins to Him.  Acknowledge them.  Name them.  And, then, confess them.

King David, following his affair, offers the most beautiful confession in Psalm 51.  He begins,

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2, NRSV)

Jesus expresses a similar sentiment when leading instructing the crowds in the “Our Father.” He prays,

“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

In the Catholic tradition, the Act of Contrition elaborates,

“In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”

These words, of course, are neither easy nor enjoyable to say.  Examining our lives and confessing our sins can ignite nausea and tears.  We are pained by the pain we have caused to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God.  

Upon hearing our confession, God forgives us.  Upon hearing our confession, God frees us. To live.  To thrive.  To flourish.  For our own good.  And for the glory of God.

So, in your next prayer, stop carrying your sins.  Stop walking through life with all that extra weight.  Start living your life unburdened.  Or, in the words of the soulful Sanders Bohlke,

“Bring your weary soul to the altar
Close your eyes and bend your knees
Lay your worries and your burdens down.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

The Radical Relief of Repentance

pexels-photo-54566Today, millions of men and women around the world will begin preparing for Easter by celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Christians from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions will line up to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They will close their eyes as the minister scratches a cross of ashes onto their foreheads. They will acknowledge their weakness and ask God’s forgiveness.

As anyone who has ever celebrated Ash Wednesday can likely attest, the service is surprisingly popular.  Its appeal, I think, lies in its counter-cultural message.  It shares with us a truth that we are desperate to hear.  It tells us that the God who created and controls the universe is good.  It tells us that the world does not rest on our shoulders alone.  It tells that we are unconditionally loved.

Modern American culture, as described by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise, tells us something different.  It rewards us according to our accomplishments.  It values us according to our achievements.  Any failures can be catastrophic.  Failures don’t just threaten our social or professional standing; they threaten our very identity and dignity. The result is a generation of men and women low on self-worth and high on anxiety.

As Ash Wednesday attests, however, there is room for imperfection in the Christian tradition.  In fact, there is an assumption of imperfection.  

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that no accomplishment or failure can add to or subtract from our God-given worth.  

For those of us caught up in the relentless pursuit of perfection, Ash Wednesday offers immense and immediate relief.  We can to admit our shortcomings without risking our dignity.  We can confess our sins without losing God’s love.  

Acknowledging our weakness and asking for forgiveness does not mire us in guilt.  It washes us in grace.  

Repentance, as epitomized in Ash Wednesday, does not destroy; it heals.

The Ash Wednesday service I attended at noon today was crowded.  People were packed in the pews, standing and squeezed into the foyer.  Some were in suits.  Some in police uniforms.  Some in scrubs.  People of various ages, of various races.  All burdened by the pursuit of perfection.  All worried their worth was lost.  All seeking salvation from their sins.  And, in one voice they echoed the words of the Psalmist, “have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”

Amen.

 

Hosea and the Truth about the Love of God

Hosea is one of my favorite hymns… and one of my least favorite books of the Bible.

The hymn, by Gregory Norbet, is a short and sweet folk song with the beautiful refrain: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  When I sing those words, I imagine the Lord inviting, imploring me to return to His open arms.  

The biblical book, however, is much more complicated.  The promise of reconciliation, which the hymn highlights, is buried under a litany of psychologically and physically violent threats.  Certain passages are difficult and painful to read and process.  

This jarring juxtaposition, however, reminds us that the love of God, while unconditional, is not for the lighthearted.  He calls us not to a superficial but a serious relationship.

The Truth About the Love of God_1

The Book of Hosea centers around a rough analogy.  Hosea represents God and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represents the people of God.  Just as Hosea and Gomer are bound by their marital vows, God and His people are bound by their vows at Sinai.  Gomer, like the people of God, commits one infidelity after another.  Gomer’s infidelities include sleeping with other men.  Our infidelities include worshiping false idols.  Hosea and God, having been betrayed, threaten various, violent punishments.  

These punishments, for all of their ugliness, stress just how deeply God desires a faithful relationship with us.  God is not the kinda-sorta boyfriend who forgets to text you, who delays meeting your parents, who dates other people.  God is the serious boyfriend who throws rocks at your window, who sends flowers to your office, who picks you up from the airport because he hates when you go away.  This is not a casual relationship.  This is a head-over-heels, Facebook-official, put-a-ring-on-it relationship.

Even in our most serious relationships, however, we have moments when we distance ourselves.  We doubt, we pull back, we question, we hesitate.  The responsibility of a serious relationship seems too demanding.  The vulnerability seems too dangerous.  

The Book of Hosea understands this.  It knows that human relationships are marked by periods of intensity and intimacy; of disinterest and distance.  Accordingly, the book does not follow a nice and neat linear structure.  It does not simply show Hosea and Gomer falling in love, falling apart, and then reconciling and recommitting.  Instead, it is a roller-coaster of highs and lows, sins and sorry’s, betrayal and reconciliation.  It’s not a straightforward story line, but it is a realistic relationship.

My own relationship with God has been similarly tumultuous.  Sometimes, I wander away and then make a beeline back.  Other times, I storm off in anger and then  return not so much out of desire but out of duty.  Each time, God welcomes me back.  Yes, with open arms.  Yes, with forgiveness.  But, not without acknowledging His disappointment in my distance, not without challenging me to come closer.

My favorite hymn is not wrong in singing: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  

God is, indeed, waiting for our return.  The biblical book reminds us, however, that His wait is marked by passion, not patience.

And, God, indeed, does offers us a new life in relationship with Him.  The book reminds us, however, that relationship with God demands responsibility, vulnerability, and fidelity.

I still cringe when I read certain parts of the Book of Hosea.  Not only because some of the language is disturbing and shocking.  But, also because I am keenly aware that I have so frequently distanced myself from a God who loves me, who desires me, who cares for me.

So, in the words of Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord” (6:1).

 

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