Last time I wrote about repentance and the need for us to change. This time I'd like to do some reflecting on the benefits of confession, specifically the call by James to confess your sins to someone else. I often think that we Protestants are missing something very important in our faith life by not having confession as the Roman Catholic Churches do. I'm not saying this because as a pastor I want to know all the deep dark things in the members of the congregation's lives. I'm saying this because confessing our sins to someone else forces us to become specific about our sin rather than getting away with a generic general confession that is merely symbolic rather than felt or even believed and done out of ritual or custom.
I came across a story of a group of Christians on a college campus who set up a confession booth, not to hear people's confessions, but to confess to those who came about not being a very good Christian themselves; kind of a reverse confession booth thing. Here is what Donald Miller had to say about the experience afterwards, "Many people wanted to hug when we were done. All of the people who visited the booth were grateful and gracious. I was being changed through the process. I went in with doubts and came out believing so strongly in Jesus I was ready to die and be with him. I think that night was the beginning of a change for a lot of us."
The power of confession is that it does change us, it does draw us closer to God, even if that might feel backwards to you. It draws you closer to God because you are forced to look inside your self and acknowledge you're not the wonderful person you keep believing you are. You're forced to vocalize it and make your sin real to yourself, and you are forced to trust God when you share it with someone else. Then it makes you accountable to the person you have confessed you because they can,and hopefully will, ask you the next time they see you: How is this area in your life going? Are you working on it, how is God working in you to change this area of sin, or this specific sin? Do you feel God's forgiveness and have you asked forgiveness from God and the person you sinned against.
As I think about all the benefits and blessings of confession, I should wonder why we don't do it more then, but I don't. This takes a community of believers who are willing to trust each other as they trust God; it takes a community willing to walk deeply with each other with a real desire to help each other to be shaped by God. This takes followers of Jesus brave enough to be willing to be hurt as they start to take these kinds of chances with each other to model what a group of Jesus followers can become; a place of safety, grace, acceptance, love, forgiveness and transformation. Most of our churches are not ready for this kind of commitment with each other or with God.
I know this is much easier to write than to actually do, but over my sabbatical I've had an opportunity to begin to share more deeply about my own faults and sinful ways of acting with a trusted counsellor, who is also a friend, and I've experienced healing, grace and growth in my own walk with God. The greatest times of blessing were when I was prayed for, as a pastor who is always praying for others, this was powerful. James knows what he is talking about when he tells us to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another, the question is "Are we creating churches that are being formed where this is possible?" and "Are we looking to build relationships with one other follower of Jesus where you can confess, hear the words of forgiveness from God and then be held accountable to deal with what you've confessed?"
I believe God gives us this pattern of confessing and praying to help us learn trust in him and to force us to honestly deal with our sin and work on holy living. Are you willing to trust God and build a relationship with a fellow believer built on confession, prayer, and accountability?