The Spiritual Practices put us in a place where we are better able to interact with our environment and God. God can then reach inside our spirits and transform them. Just as our body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, drink, sleep, etc., so our spiritual self needs to make sure it is being sustained, cared for, and trained. The results include spiritual growth, a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, evidence of the fruit of the spirit, and the ultimate goal, living life like Jesus did.
The Spiritual Practices are not:
- Meritorious laws that earn favor with God
- A way to show how spiritually mature we are
- Unpleasant or difficult
Instead, they are:
- Activities we do that when practiced allow us to do activities we cannot now do.
- Adaptable to work with our temperaments and gifts
- Adjustable according to the rhythm and seasons of our lives
There are two kinds:
Abstinence – when we stop doing something that is perfectly normal to allow ourselves to focus more on God, His Word, and growing in godliness. These also help us resist our tendency toward sins of commission (when we do something we shouldn’t do). We withdraw to breathe in all that God can provide to us, breaking the hold that the world has on our lives. Practices of Abstinence help ready us and create room for the Practices of Engagement.
Engagement – when we do certain activities that help us grow in Christ and obey his commandments. The Practices of Abstinence have opened up the time and broken up the preoccupations so we are now free to learn of, focus on, and practice those things that God commands us to do. These assist in keeping us from our tendency toward sins of omission (not doing the things we should do). We engage to breathe out all that God commands us.
This Journey Element requires more time than most to complete so break it down into sections. The three opportunities to Comment provide obvious breaking points.
Confession has been referred to as keeping short accounts with God. To confess is to admit or acknowledge that something is true. It is agreeing with Him that we have offended Him with our disobedience and deserve nothing less than His wrath. However, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the penalty for our sins has been paid. Now all we need to do is to ask for forgiveness, turn around and go the other way, run from our sin, and toward the life God would create for us.
Easier said than done….
First We Need to Agree on a Few Things
- We cannot hide anything from God.
- God does not like our sin, in fact He hates it and He knows all about it. We need to let go of those secret sins we cherish. Unconfessed sin is a great obstruction to growing in our spiritual life and He knows that.
- We need to get to the place where we agree with Him that whatever it was we did or thought was sin. We need to identify it for what it is.
- We need to be sorry about it, truly sorry and take responsibility for it. No excuses. No blaming. Not just sorry we got caught. Some sins we immediately deeply regret, some we don’t regret but should, and some are so secret we don’t even recognize them as sin.
- Then we can ask for forgiveness and mercy and thank Him for restoring us.
- Finally, we need to turn around and sin no more. This is what is called repentance, we are to totally break off from the sin and run the other way. We are not just doing damage control here, this is a total reversal.
- Then move on in joy, you’ve been forgiven, the slate has been wiped clean. You’ve been given a fresh start. The burden is gone, healing can begin. You’re back on the straight and narrow path, so stay there. Walk in the light!!
Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t have to accept the logical consequences of our sin, if there are any. We may need to perform restitution, make amends, ask forgiveness, feel some pain, pay a fine, serve some time.
As Far as the East is from the West
Your guilt and shame should be gone, and the sin should look significantly less attractive, perhaps even as ugly as it does in the eyes of God. It no longer holds any power over you. Sometimes sin is satisfying a legitimate need in an illegitimate way so make sure you understand what the need was/is and the correct way to satisfy it otherwise you’ll continue to frustrate yourself.
Who Do We Confess To?
There is private confession just between God and us, and then there is confession that is part of being in a community of believers. This should be to a mature, trustworthy and safe individual. This would not be the same person you would need to ask forgiveness from, but someone to guide you, pray for you, and support you as you bare your soul. The result is deeper fellowship and transparency and release of the burden of pretending and hiding.
We are all sinners saved by grace. None of us has it all together. There is no room for judgment, ridicule or rejection when one of us is struggling with sin. We fear no one else would understand, yet, we would all understand if we were really honest. Someone has walked in our shoes before us and could be an encouragement to us.
What are we confessing?
Adam and Eve started it off in Genesis when they disobeyed God and got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Sin, simply put, is disobeying God. It disconnects us from his power and His Spirit’s working in our lives. God has put standards in his Word as well as in our hearts that we are to obey. There are sins of commission: doing or thinking something we should not, and omission; not doing and thinking things we should. It is putting ourselves in charge, seeking to be like God, ignoring Him, thinking wrongly about Him, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.
The 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 were given by God to Moses and have served as the standard of godly behavior since then. These would be a good place to start when asking God to work in our lives. They are paraphrased below.
- Have no other Gods but me.
- Do not create or worship idols.
- Do not misuse the name of God.
- Keep the Sabbath Day holy. Use it to rest.
- Honor your parents.
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not lie about your neighbor.
- Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Human beings were made to worship and serve God and then rule God’s creation. After Adam and Eve sinned, men began to stop worshiping God and began worshiping His creation instead. These created things then began to rule over mankind.
Idolatry is simply unbelief – it is breaking one of the first two Commandments:
Worship no other Gods
Worship no Idols
(or God as we want Him to be – something we make in our image)
You can’t break the other Commandments without first breaking one of these two. We create these idols because we want to control our lives. We create substitutes for the God we were created to worship, because we need to worship something. We cannot eliminate God from our lives without creating God substitutes or idols to replace Him. We try to save ourselves and we fail miserably.
Any time loyalty to something leads us to disobey God, we are in danger of making it an idol. When we believe that we must have something to be happy that is more important to our heart than God, then we have found our idol.
Idols are as diverse as there are people who worship them. But all can be rooted in heart attitudes that stem from deep fears, anger and worry. Some signposts for us would be any inordinate desires in the areas of Power and Influence, Approval and Respect, Comfort and Quality of Life, or Control or Accomplishment. Another way to view these are from the Fear perspective: Fear of humiliation, fear of rejection, fear of stress, or fear of uncertainty.
Idols never satisfy – they lead us to create a delusion and a false set of definitions of success happiness and worth. We believe in the cause and effect of “If this happens – Then I will be happy”. The result is always intellectual confusion and frustration……but we never blame the idol – we blame everything else, including the God we don’t believe in.
The Seven Deadly Sins
These are foundational sins that usually show up in outward actions that might not initially be linked with these underlying attitudes. This is when we need to go deep and get at the root cause of our sin. You can see how they reveal the frustration idols cause in our lives. They all stem from not being in a right relationship, and looking to ourselves, others, or created things for the peace and satisfaction that can only be found in God.
Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Seeing ourselves as we are and not comparing ourselves to others is humility. Pride is competitive. If someone else’s pride really bothers you, you probably have a lot of pride.
Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation. Love actively seeks the good of others for their sake. Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive.
Gluttony is the strong desire to consume more than one requires. Temperance accepts the natural limits of pleasures and preserves this natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and other legitimate goods, and even the company of others.
Lust is craving for the pleasures of the body. Self control prevents pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth.
Anger shows up in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. Kindness means taking the tender approach, with patience and compassion. Anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others and stems from our impatience with the faults of others.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. This is about more than money. Generosity means letting others get the credit or praise. It is giving without having expectations of the other person. Greed wants to get its “fair share” or a bit more.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. Zeal is the energetic response of the heart to God’s commands. The other sins work together to deaden the spiritual senses so we first become slow to respond to God and eventually drift off into complacency.
The Bible has many lists of attitudes and actions that result naturally from our sinful selves. Just be careful though, your sin may not show up on these lists. Rely on the Holy Spirit to bring it to your mind, let Him convict you, then you need to deal with it accordingly.
Proverbs 6: 16-19 has the following list:
“Here are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
- haughty eyes,
- a lying tongue,
- hands that shed innocent blood,
- a heart that devises wicked schemes,
- feet that are quick to rush into evil,
- a false witness who pours out lies
- and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.“ NIV
Galatians 5:19-21 has another list. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” NIV
And Romans 1: 29-31 has this list. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” NIV
The Greatest Commandment
Up to this point, it all seems pretty negative. There sure are a lot of sins to confess, but then again we are talking about confession. Most of us figure we’re doing pretty good, we look at our positive qualities, our good deeds, and compared to everyone else we are doing ok.
Jesus summed up how we are to live in one Great Commandment:
“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:33
This is where we seek for God’s compassionate heart, our soul is filled with the wonder of God, our minds are inspired with holy curiosity about God, and our passions are flamed with supernatural energy from God. That’s where we want to live. Confession frees us to move our focus from our idols, eventually destroying them altogether, to the amazing adventure of walking with God.
It appears we have plenty to work on. So where do we start?
Ways to begin to Practice Public and Private Confession
During this Journey Unit we will combine three of our practices: Solitude, Prayer and Confession.
- Find a quiet place and prepare for 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.
- Quiet your heart.
- Invite God to show you areas that you need forgiveness in. Ask Him to be specific. God will bring them to your remembrance. (God will not bring all our sins to our remembrance at once. That would be overwhelming. He will decide which ones for us to work on first, if it is not obvious.)
- Now you may be surprised and not immediately agree with Him. Talk to Him about it. You may already know.
- Ask Him to lead you into Godly sorrow and then ask for His forgiveness.
- Agree to turn from the sin and run the other way.
- Ask Him if there is something else you need to do such as ask forgiveness of someone or make restitution.
- Ask Him if you should share this with someone else for spiritual support and prayer.
- Then Praise Him, and move on.
Personal Reflections on Confession:
Generally speaking, what are some roadblocks to confession?
What are some self-centered motives for good behavior, or for keeping someone compliant to external rules? How do others “manage” our behavior?
How do you personally know that you need to confess something?
What are some things, desires, attitudes that have the potential of becoming idols in your life?
How are our idols related to our deepest fears?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the Personal Reflections on Confession questions. Also share anything you learned from practicing Public or Private Confession.
Click the above link and watch the Starving Jesus video a couple times. Then reflect on the questions below.
In what areas of your life are you stuck because nothing sticks?
“We can’t grab on to something new if our hands are already full.” What kinds of Dirty and Pretty Things are you holding on to?
“What we hold on to defines who we are.” Reflect on how this is true for you.
How do our full hands starve Jesus? What does that mean to you?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the Starving Jesus questions.
“The one counsel concerning sin is to bring it daily to the only One who can take it away — God Himself. You should learn that one of the greatest privileges of a child of God is — the confession of sin. It is only the holiness of God that can consume sin; through confession I must hand over my sin to God, lay it down in God, get quit of it to God, cast it into the fiery oven of God’s holy love which burns against sin like a fire. God, yes, God Himself, and He alone, takes away sin.” (from New Life, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
Dallas Willard – “Confession is a discipline that functions within fellowship. In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through his people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our brothers and sisters.”
John Ortberg – “True confession involves entering into the pain of the person we have hurt and entering into God’s pain over sin.”
Augustine of Hippo – “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”
Douglas Steere – “An examination of conscience is the time where the soul comes under the gaze of God and where in His silent and loving Presence this soul is pierced to the quick and becomes conscious of things that must be forgiven and put right before it can continue to love the One whose care has been so constant.”
Richard Foster – “There must be a definite termination point in the self examination process. Otherwise, we can easily fall into a permanent habit of self condemnation. Confession begins in sorrow, but it ends in joy.”
Jesus – “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared . “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8: 3-11 NIV
References for the above quotes can be found in the back of the PDF version of Faithful and True.
(In your own journal, the PDF, or the Comments section of this post)
Pick one or two of the above quotes or statements and share any insights or challenges it presents to you.
The next post is Faithful and True 8: Journal 5.4 – Promises, Promises.