Embracing Spiritual Disciplines: Confession
For the month of May, we will be looking at five spiritual disciplines and how to incorporate them into our lives. I’m excited about this series, because I need it too!
A spiritual discipline is any biblical habit that helps you grow spiritually. They are activities that put you in a position where God can work in your heart and life. Some of us may think of these as hard work, joyless, or boring at best. But spiritual disciplines will draw us closer to God. And closer to God is a place of joy and peace!
The list of spiritual disciplines is long and diverse. Each list you see may have different habits. Some of them are to be done alone and others corporately. Followers of God have been practicing spiritual disciplines for centuries and our best examples are from the Bible.
As we dig into the topic, I hope to encourage you (and myself) to take a step further in these disciplines. Beginners are welcome on this journey. The disciplines are not just for spiritual giants, pastors, or those in full-time ministry. All Christians should be working on growing closer to Christ. A wonderful place to start with that goal is spiritual disciplines!
Let’s start with the spiritual discipline of confession! What a happy, cheery topic, right? I’m starting with this one, because without confession, we may have a barrier right off the bat that will hinder our progress in the other disciplines.
Sin blocks our connection with God. He is repulsed by sin. Imagine your friend has just betrayed you and spread nasty rumors about you. Then she comes to you and wants to chat as if nothing is wrong. That relationship is broken and needs to be fixed before the relationship can continue or grow.
In the same way, God needs us to acknowledge our sin to him before we can work on prayer, Bible study, service or worship. Confession is where we need to start in our relationship with God, but too often I find myself skipping it altogether.
Confession comes in a few different forms. Confessing our sins to God should be the first type of confession we undertake. All sin is an offense to him and is against him. Once we’ve confessed a sin to God, we may need to apologize to another person. Oh, that can be so painful! A third type of confession is a confession you might make to a mature believer, counselor, pastor, mentor or friend.
To help me sort through these types of confession, I gathered the information into these graphics. They help me organize it all in my mind.
Those of us in the protestant tradition don’t usually participate in confession to a priest. So that third type of confession may seem new or strange to us. Confession of this kind should include prayer over you. If you feel stuck, consider the possibility that some sin is holding you back.
In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster tells of a time he was feeling stuck in his relationship with God. Wanting to make sure sin wasn’t the cause of it, he prayerfully thought through his life as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult. He asked God to reveal to him anything that needed forgiveness or healing and made a list. As he wrote, he didn’t try to evaluate the memories, he just wrote what God brought to mind. He then took the lists and read them to a trusted mentor. The mentor took the lists and tore them into tiny pieces and threw them away. Then he prayed over Richard. It was a powerful illustration of the forgiveness of God, and a reminder that when we confess our sins he is faithful to forgive them.
So how are you doing with confession?
Try these three activities this week to build up your confession muscles.
1. Make a point to start each day with confession. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind any sin you need to confess.
2. Pray about any sin you may need to confess to another person. Speaking it out loud is incredibly hard, but freedom could come from it.
3. Try the exercise Richard Foster described in his book. Prayerfully make lists from your childhood, adolescence and adulthood of anything needing forgiveness or healing. Don’t try to evaluate the memories, just list them. Then take them to the Lord in prayer, or to a trusted and mature Christian. Confess any sin on the lists and then rip the paper to shreds. Write out Proverbs 28:13 and I John 1:9.
Let me know how this goes this week and if you are participating with me on this journey into spiritual disciplines.
For more on this topic, check out Richard Foster's classic book.
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