Over the last three weeks I’ve met with several groups of men for breakfast and Bible study. Our focus was directed to prayers of confession in the Old Testament. We looked at Psalm 51, Daniel 9, and Nehemiah 9. Each week we tried to make sense of the context as well as the actual prayer of confession. After a month of study and a month of gaining wisdom from my friends, here are a few of my reflections on confession:
- Confession should follow confrontation with God’s Word. David was moved to confession after hearing God’s word through the prophet Nathan. Daniel was moved to confession after reading Jeremiah. Nehemiah and the people were moved to confession after listening to Ezra and the Levites read the Law. We should expect that confrontation with God’s Word will move his people to confess sin.
- Confession should focus on God and his character. David begins Psalm 51 talking about God’s mercy. Daniel 9 begins with a beautiful acknowledgement of God’s uniqueness and power. The prayer of Nehemiah 9 begins with these words, “You are the LORD, you alone.” Confessing sin requires some degree of self-focus, but our ultimate focus ought to be on God rather than ourselves.
- Confession should address the sinfulness of our hearts. David confessed that he was sinful from birth, even conception. Daniel and Nehemiah both confessed sins committed in the past by previous generations. This wasn’t an attempt to lay blame in the past. Rather it was an admission that the same sin that plagued previous generations was living on in the hearts of God’s people in the present. We must admit that sin exists in our hearts before we ever commit sinful acts.
- Confession should not contain excuses or self-justification. In Psalm 51 David never tried to rationalize his sin against Bathsheba or Uriah. Daniel openly admitted, “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame.” Nehemiah used similar words when he said, “You have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.” There is simply no place for excuses or self-justification when confessing sin.
- Confession should be emotionally charged. David was crushed by the weight of his sin, so his confession included a plea for God to restore joy to his life. Daniel and Nehemiah both describe outward evidences of their inward brokenness. Prescribing specific actions (ie, crying, wearing sackcloth) isn’t the issue. However, our emotions ought to be moved when we are confronted by the reality of our sin.
- Confession should be personal and corporate. David confessed personal sin in Psalm 51, but toward the end of his prayer he also acknowledged that his sin had corporate consequences. David and Nehemiah both owned sin on a personal level while also talking about the sin of previous generations. Too often we focus on personal issues of sin without thinking about the corporate aspects of sin.
- Confession should focus on the glory of God’s name. David promised that God’s forgiveness in his life would result in teaching sinners about God’s grace and mercy. Daniel asked God to forgive for the sake of God’s name. Nehemiah appealed to God’s covenant promises and steadfast love, again asking God to keep his promises for the sake of his reputation. Confession is an admission that we aren’t worthy of grace. It’s also a plea that God would glorify himself in being gracious to sinners.