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.

A Lesson in Political Discourse from Psalm 19

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_1

The house is squeaky, shiny, eerily clean.  All the clothes are washed (even the scarves that required hand-washing and line-drying).  The floors are swept and the bathrooms scrubbed (even the stubborn stone in the shower).  Everything for the dog is washed and brushed (even the dog’s bed, the dog’s blanket, and, of course, the dog).    

As is to be expected these days, I blame President Trump.  

No, no, I kid.  Well, sort of.  Let me explain.  

Some of my loved ones voted for Clinton; some of my loved ones voted for Trump; some of my loved ones abstained from voting.  In the months leading up to the election, I had lots of difficult conversations.  Then, in the months following the election, I had even more difficult conversations.  Unsurprisingly, the events including and surrounding the Inauguration have filled me with a wild nervous energy.  Surprisingly, that energy has erupted into a mad cleaning frenzy.  Armed with those classic chemical weapons known as Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Bona, I’ve spent full days attacking the dust, the dirt, and, of course, the dog hair.  

As I wage my war, I fret frantically about the future of our country, the future of the church, the future of my relationships, and the future of this blog.  How should I respond personally?  How should I respond professionally?  These questions ran round in my mind a few afternoons ago, as I attacked some stubborn soap scum in the shower.  Then new words wandered, unbidden, unexpected, into my mind: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_3

I imagine I heard this concluding verse of Psalm 19 throughout my childhood.  Not until seminary, however, did it work its way deep into my memory.  Some of my peers and professors prayed the verse before every sermon, and I suppose, over time, it started to stick.  And then, on that afternoon a few days ago, as I inhaled the noxious fumes of Scrubbing Bubbles, the verse surfaced again.

Its reappearance seemed timely.  I was anxiously wondering what to feel, what to think, what to say about recent political events.  Could there be a more important time to pray that my words and thoughts and emotions “be acceptable to you, O Lord?”

When I consider this verse, I linger on that vague word “acceptable.”  Surely, it cannot mean only saying nice things in a sweet voice.  Nor can it mean only saying disruptive things in a loud voice.  It must mean saying certain words in a certain tone at a certain time.  It must mean crafting all our words with care, prayer, and charity.  It is a simple verse, but a complicated task.

Fortunately, Psalm 19 offers us more than this singular verse.  It describes how God communicates to us through creation: “Day unto day pours forth speech/ Night unto night whispers knowledge.”  It describes what God communicates to us, emphasizing the beauty and benefits of His will: “The law of the Lord is perfect,/ refreshing the soul.”  The Psalmist asks for assistance in listening to and adhering to God’s law.  The Psalmist asks for pardon when we fail to follow God’s will.  And only then does the Psalmist offer that beautiful prayer that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable.”  This lovely prayer, which I heard during the introduction of so many sermons, is actually a conclusion.  Only after reflecting on how and what God has communicated with us can we hope to acceptably communicate with others.

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_4

There are more difficult conversations ahead.  There will be more words, more thoughts, more feelings.  Some moments will call for compromise and compassion.  Some for righteous anger and resolution.  Some for silence.  

To discern between those moments, I pray the words of the psalmist, of my peers, and of my professors.  I pray that both the content and the delivery of my words bring us closer to wisdom and peace, rather than dissension and fear.  

There are, of course, moments when I know that my words, my thoughts, and my feelings are unacceptable.  I reflect on the Republicans or Democrats or executive orders or Cabinet nominations, and I fill with bitterness, pettiness, and spite.  In those moments, my reactions and responses do not embody the radical love and law of God.  So, I grab my cleaning supplies and pull on my rubber gloves.  I scrub the shower tiles and I repeat again and again, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

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