Confession is a practice that can become very life-giving. Traditionally, confession refers to the act of admitting the wrongs we have done and asking for forgiveness. While acknowledging that there is value in doing that, there is a lot more we can receive from this practice that can foster healing and change beyond being forgiven. Perhaps it might be helpful to think of confession as the practice of full self-disclosure before God, in which we seek to be completely honest about where we are in our process. Such transparency is commonly seen in the Psalms.
Full disclosure is something we can incorporate into most of our other spiritual practices, especially when we are having conversations with God. Another way to describe this kind of confession is that we are offering our best understanding of something in the hope of knowing God’s heart in the matter. With God’s help, we dig deeply into our thoughts and feelings about something and participate with the Spirit to expose them to the light of day. In the process it is not uncommon to discover things we did not even know about our own heart.
For example, I mentioned elsewhere that on one particular day I had some difficulty with the verse, “To whom much is given, much is required.” As I contemplated the feelings that it brought up, I felt led to confess to God the shame and dread I felt when I read those words. To my eyes, after all He has done for me, my actions were pitiful in comparison. I could never “catch up” as it were, to His generosity. I was not trying to repent of anything, but simply attempting to start what seemed like an important dialogue about my life and my purpose. This verse had touched something deep within me and I needed to talk to my Father about how I felt.
So when the thought came to me that I would never be able to live up to what was “required” of me, I suddenly sensed not shame but love, as if God was saying: “Of course you won’t be able to keep up with me! I’m not that stingy!” The verse is not about repaying a debt as much as it is about honoring the gifts and the Giver. It may not even be about doing something as much as it is about changing and becoming someone different.
The point here is that by examining my heart as best I could, and by inviting God to examine my heart further, I was led to places I would not have otherwise seen, apart from my exposure to the light. I offered God what I saw and my interpretation of the data. He responded with love and an insight I needed. I ended that time with Him not by feeling ashamed and making some commitment to try harder, but by being drawn deeply by His love and grace to give my body and soul more fully to Him who gives so much to me.
When we confess to God our best understanding, it can include any of the following:
- Where we are in our journey.
- What deficiencies we can see.
- What we believe to be true, doctrinally.
- What feels true experientially.
- Our inclinations.
- Where we feel helpless or hopeless.
In response, God will offer us:
- His perspective on what we have observed.
- Details we have overlooked or minimized.
- How He interprets that information and our experiences.
- His heart in the matter.
In this way, confession becomes a way to open our heart and expose what is there, and to receive something of what we are missing.
— Except from Forming: A Work of Grace