LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. – Nehemiah 1:5-6
The Elders of this congregation have felt called to shape our worship in order to accommodate the current pandemic and to align ourselves anew with Biblical practices. We are not doing a greeting time as a measure of safety, but we have added Bible reading and responsive readings. All this has had me thinking about worship in our culture. What is worship and what does it need in order to be pleasing to God and to meet the true spiritual needs of our community? One of the foundational tools of worship is confession. Nehemiah confessed the sins of the nation, his family and himself before he took on the mission or rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem.
Confession can be a time when the church comes together as a repentant people and asks God to forgive and cleanse; to renew and restore us in order that our hearts are filled with Christ. We are a part of a holiness church that has long proclaimed sanctification but has had little understanding of it. A poor understanding of sanctification can obstruct the vision of our own sins and therefore leave us without a need to confess. Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from that sin, and turn toward a merciful God. We should be amazed when we see the brightness of God’s glory; and ashamed when we see our sin for what it is. Before we can move forward in worship or move outward in mission, we must agree together in repentance.
Making confession a part of our worship service could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach the Lord after doing penance. This would lead us back to an image of a God whose favor we must somehow earn. This is the opposite of the God of grace whose favor is freely received through the work of Christ and His righteousness. Leaving confession out of worship our worship service could give the impression that God is apathetic about our struggle with sin and who is compromised and accommodating. If we don’t see God taking sin seriously, we won’t take it seriously either. And once we stop taking sin seriously, confession and repentance lose their power.
My hope is that the practice of confession will make a comeback – whether in a time of silent prayer, corporate confession, or songs where we plead for God’s mercy. After all, we are not really in a position to receive from God’s presence until we have first owned our sin. So, in preparation this day and this week of service, I challenge you to bow before God in repentance; receive God’s mercy; and rise anew by the cleansing work of our Savior. I challenge you to come together to confess the sins of the nation and repent. Such prayers are powerful and effective and can bring healing to the land.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:16