Habits to help your soul thrive, part 5: Confession
Image by VintageBlue from Pixabay. Bible Version: NIVUK
Before you panic about that word “confession”, let me tell you what happened to me this morning.
The sun is shining. The birds are singing. It is Tuesday. It is spring and it is beautiful. I’ve had a good Monday (in stark contrast to last week). I briefly check the news (to see how Boris is getting on – (concerning)). And I settle down to praise with a couple of great praise songs. I spend some time in God’s word. I pray for some of our beloved church family. By God’s grace, I am putting into practice what I know I and all of us need. The day is going well.
I go through into the kitchen. One of my daughters has so kindly set up breakfast for us all. Everything is ready. Literally, everything.
And I have a go at her for something very minor she says. The whole family watches.
Something glorious has just turned into something ugly.
This lock-down is having profound effects on us. Some days, like yesterday, I am largely accepting of it. Today, I have a deep subconscious discomfort. I cannot just go out when I like. I can’t do what I want. I can’t be on my own. Whether I would do those things or not is besides the point. The fact is that I can’t. And it is affecting me. It is affecting how I relate to others.
‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…
Mark 7:20-21 (NIVUK)
Someone has said that we are like sponges. We only see what is in us when we are squeezed. The squeeze is on right now. I am squeezed into a situation I wouldn’t choose. I am squeezed into a house 24-7. I am squeezed and out comes some very ugly thoughts, behaviour and words.
If you are like me, it is very tempting to excuse it all. Blame it on circumstances. Blame it on stress. Blame it on health (mental or physical). Blame it on others.
We are naturally self-justifying. Our default mode is to assume we are in the right. That said, there is a dark-side of this called inverted pride. We can rapidly descend from self-justifying behaviour through avoidance to self-condemnation.
I did that this morning. God’s Spirit quickly convicted me I had done the wrong thing. But instead of apologising quickly and publicly, I descended into a gloom. I didn’t want to say sorry. I didn’t want to lose face and be ashamed, although I had shamed my daughter. Avoidance was quickly spiralling. I was a sullen presence through breakfast.
At that point there is a spiritual conflict going on.
The Apostle Paul writes:
For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other,
Galatians 5:17 (NIVUK)
My flesh wants me to be right, to keep quiet, to not be shamed. The Spirit wants me… well what does the Spirit want from me?
The Apostle John writes:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
The word for “confess” originally meant publicly acknowledge. Over time it has been turned into something private between us and God. But that is not what it meant in these verses.
Now, I don’t think John means to stand outside your house one evening and loudly declare all your transgressions, though your neighbours might appreciate it (they are probably already aware and wouldn’t mind you openly admitting it!). But at the least, it means I confess to those I have wronged.
And notice, John writes “sins”. He is not talking about sin in generally, but what we’ve actually specifically done wrong.
This is so important. The Spirit convicts us of specific sins. The devil condemns us with general unworthiness. The Spirit leads us to repentance and restoration. The devil wants to plunge us into distance and despair.
So this breakfast there was a spiritual war going on. It was a war in my mind and heart. Would I confess my sin to my daughter or would I pretend everything is ok? Would I bring restoration or would I descend towards distance and darkness.
One of the hardest things to say is “I am sorry. I was wrong to be angry with you. I shouldn’t have said that to you. Please forgive me.”
It is so hard, because we want to excuse ourselves. It so hard, because we want to obtain a particular response from the other person. It is so hard, because we so easily slip into self-pity and manipulation (“I am such a bad father”) wanting the other person to say “no you are not that bad.” It is so hard, because, well, I am the parent and...
But we have to offer the confession without reservation, without self-pity, and without expectation.
And the wonderful truth is, when we confess it, both to the person and to our heavenly Father (and I believe both are needed), we are doing what the Spirit wants us to do.
And the Holy Spirit reassures us again that our heavenly Father is faithful and just, full of compassion and mercy. He will never let us go.
This is one of the hardest things to do, especially to those closest to us: with our spouse; with our parents; with our children, whatever age they are. But parents, if our children see us apologising for specific things to them, you may discover that they start copying you. Sadly, we can’t really expect them to apologise to others if they never see us confessing and apologising.
And my friends, if the transgression is public, try to make sure the confession and apology are equally public, so that those who watched you realise you realise. After all, these bystanders in their spirit will probably know you were wrong!
After the end of breakfast when we had prayed for various people, I finally apologised to my daughter (I often find spending time with the Lord leads me to do what he wants me to do. The flip side: when I don’t want to do what he wants, I will avoid time with him. But I couldn’t avoid our breakfast prayer time).
I also had to apologise to my other daughter, because when I am avoiding apologising to one person I tend to leave a trail of sullen destruction. The debt of apologies mounts up.
So, can I encourage you to get into this most hard of habits: confessing and apologising for our errors, mistakes and sins.
Do you remember those things called tea-towels? My parents have a large collection with all sorts of pictures on. They had one with the picture of a couple holding hands. On it were the words "Love is... being able to say 'I am sorry'"
As the days of lock-down merge into weeks this habit is essential. It is tough. But we are not on our own. The risen Jesus is with you by his Spirit. So pray for the Spirit’s resurrection power strength to help. After all:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-24 (Emphasis added)
Over to you:
To whom do you find it hardest to admit your errors and faults?
What is your temptation: Denial? Avoidance? Self-pity? Manipulation? Despair?
Is there anyone to whom you need to confess and apologise?
Look again at 1 John 1:8-9. What encouragement is there?