Let me share a few practical things I have learned about confession. It is, in a sense, a skill we all need to develop, whether we are new on the path of discipleship or a seasoned traveler.
1. Get it over with
Confess early, confess often, confess fully. If you do not, the only person you are really hurting is yourself. You’re not telling God anything he doesn’t already know. He knows what you are doing on the Internet at 1 in the morning. He knows what you are whispering in another’s ear even before you gossip a word.
I was once near the end of a writing project and I just couldn’t finish. I was tired, and other responsibilities were piling up. I called my father for some encouragement; this is what I got. “Bill. It will take just as long to do it tomorrow as it will today. So just get it over with.” My dad was a hell diver pilot in World War II. Somehow, his advice did not surprise me.
It will take just as long tomorrow to confess as it will today. Actually, it will take longer tomorrow, come to think of it. The longer you put it off, the more of a case you build for why you shouldn’t confess, and that gives you even more to confess when you finally get around to it. Get it over with. It’s so much easier this way.
2. “Confess your sins to one another”
This isn’t just a good idea, it’s God’s idea (James 5:16). The lie of sin is that it will only get worse if you tell someone. But the power of sin can be broken when it is exposed and brought to the light. So pull the sin out of your backpack and hold it up to the sun. You will be amazed at how pitiful and weak sin looks in the light of day.
You have to be a little careful here. The church should be the safest place on the earth, the place of greatest grace. Unfortunately, the church is full of people, many of whom refuse to extend grace. So be careful. Find a smaller group, an inner circle of closest friends, those you trust and who have a track record of extending grace. Bring the sin to light with them, and the grace that they have truly experienced will be given to you, and the sin will shrivel in the light.
3. “Sit among the weeds”
This is a quote from an old Christian writer, Teresa of Avila. The weeds are your sins, and her encouragement is to look at the weeds, sit in them, and learn from them. You see, the degree to which you do not understand your sin is the same degree to which it will control your life. But as you sit among the weeds, it is there that you will start to understand your sin and, more importantly, you will more fully understand God’s love and grace and acceptance.
When we are walking without stumbling too much, God’s love may not mean that much; who wouldn’t love a great person like me! But in the midst of your weeds you will know God’s love in ways you have never before. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God doesn’t love us because we are good. He loves us despite the fact that we are wicked.
A friend of mine says that the great sin of the church is moralism. We do something wrong, and we quickly try to do something right to make up for it. I say something that hurts my wife, so I run out and buy a lamp to make up for it. (Actually, this happened quite a bit when I was first married.) I neglect my son, so I run out and buy a toy for him.
There certainly is a time and a place to “make up” for a wrong, but what my friend wants us to do is to stop long enough to get a good look at the sin. Why did I want to say something that would hurt my wife? What is it about my life that makes me so busy I tend to neglect others. Sit among the weeds. Learn about your sin.
If I could mix my metaphors, consider the iceberg. When you and I sin, it is just the tip of the iceberg. We bump into it and stumble. The worst thing we can do is simply cover over the tip. We need to stop, go down under the water so to speak, and look at the base of the iceberg. Dealing just with the tip isn’t going to help you; seeing the iceberg for what it truly is, is the only way to gain a true understanding of what the iceberg of sin really is in our life and therefore be able to deal with it. Sit among the weeds.
When you sin, confess it quickly, do what you need to, but take a long look at the sin. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. And yet God loves you, knowing more about the iceberg of sin, which is part of your life, than you will ever know.