Video Link: Teach Us to Pray 5 – Confession* (This is a video of the reflection printed below.)
Read: Psalm 51
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10, NRSV).
Sometimes, we just need to “come clean” with God. That’s why it’s such a gift to be able to confess our sins in prayer.
Technically, of course, nothing we say will come as “news” to God. Psalm 139 admits as much. It says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” So, confession is less about information than it is about reconciliation.
Probably the most well-known prayer of confession is Psalm 51. The first thing to love about it is that prayer is that it doesn’t beat around the bush. “Have mercy on me, O God,” it begins. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” These are the words of someone who knows they are in the wrong, and can’t wait to get rid of the load of guilt they’ve been carrying around.
But when you think about it, even that is a victory of sorts. Too often we take refuge in denial. We blame others or make excuses. But not this psalmist. No, this psalmist admits his sin. “I know my transgressions,” he says, “and my sin is ever before me” (v. 3).
So, admitting our sin is the first step. But then, many of us get stuck. We get caught in such a whirlpool of guilt that we can’t escape. But that’s why confession really is “good for the soul.” “Create in me a clean heart,” the psalmist says. “Put a new and right spirit within me” (v. 10). And ideally, that’s what happens when we confess our sins. We get to start fresh. The whole premise of confession is that—even if we don’t have the strength to escape the whirlpool of sin—God has the power to pull us out. And God will if we confess in sincerity and truth.
So, if you long to “come clean” with God about something, Psalm 51 may help you. Of course, you don’t need a prayer that’s been written by someone else, but sometimes a “time tested” prayer of confession can help us to get started.
Here is another well-worn prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that you may find helpful. Notice that it uses “we” rather than “I,” which reminds us that some of our sins are things of which we are guilty together:
We have sinned
in what we have thought and said,
in the wrong we have done
and in the good we have not done.
We have sinned in ignorance;
we have sinned in weakness;
we have sinned through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry.
We repent and turn to you.
Forgive us, for our Savior Christ’s sake,
And renew our lives to the glory of your name. Amen.
And after you confess, remember these well-worn words of assurance from Psalm 103:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…
As far as the east is from the west,
So far [does God remove] our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103: 8 & 12, NRSV)
So confess! It really is good for the soul.
Ponder: What sins would you like to “come clean” with God about? What’s stopping you?
our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.
Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.
Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
open to us a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.
(From the PCUSA Book of Common Worship Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993; p. 88.)
*This video was written and delivered by the Rev. Dr. Carol M. Bechtel, Professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan (Reformed Church in America). Dr. Bechtel is also the Executive Director of the American Waldensian Society. These videos were produced by the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese https://www.chiesavaldese.org/and filmed in the Cottian Alps near Torre Pellice, Italy in July of 2020.
Introduction to Teach Us to Pray Series 2
On my recent sabbatical in Italy, colleagues from the Waldensian church invited me to do a series of short videos on prayer. These reflections are a result of that invitation. Although they were written and filmed in the midst of the pandemic (July 2020), they are not “Covid-19 specific.” Still, knowing that they were created in that crucible may add a certain urgency—and utility—to them. I offer them to you here in the hope that they will help you to pray even as our world’s anxiety threatens to make our souls mute.
All of the videos were filmed outside my little lockdown chalet in the Angrogna Valley in northwest Italy, so at the very least, you can enjoy the scenery. And I hope you also enjoy the Italian subtitles. Learn Italian while learning to pray!
Still learning and still praying,