Confession & Prayer: Why we don’t experience healing from our sins

Growing up in a Protestant tradition I’ve noticed that we don’t have much of a concept of why confession matters and to whom we are called to confess.

Growing up in a Protestant tradition I’ve noticed that we don’t have much of a concept of why confession matters and to whom we are called to confess. Most of the Protestant faith tradition today focuses primarily on the vertical relationship of an individual person with God. Our main emphasis is that if we can just get enough people into a right relationship with God, then everything else will fall into place.

Anyone who’s worked in ministry for more than a day will tell you that is hardly the case. Sure, that is the foundation necessary for transformation in someone’s life – it must start with a relationship with God. But that is just the beginning of what transformation looks like, and most of what will need to be transformed in our lives will have to do with our horizontal relationships.

Tending the Seed of the Gospel

The best analogy I can think of for the process of salvation, and specifically sanctification, is one the Bible uses: gardening or farming. We know that ultimately God is who controls the most necessary parts of the process – rain, sunshine, hot or cold weather, etc. All of that is true.

However, the other necessary part to the process involves us as humans. We must till the soil, prune the plants, potentially assist with nutrients in the soil or bees to pollinate the flowers, harvesting at the right time, etc. And this process is not an individual effort for a Christian. It involves others in our lives. John Wesley termed this as the idea of “social holiness.” He said: “There is no holiness apart from social holiness.”

What he meant, and what many others before and after him have said in different ways, is that salvation is a process that involves both God as primary actor and us as secondary actor. And when I say “us” I mean it as a plural “us” – not just you working on your salvation alone in your closet somewhere, but you working on your salvation with other believers alongside you.

So That You May Be Healed

This is where a passage in James 5 comes in that helps explain the process of healing in the life of a believer. In James 5:13-18 it says:

“Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.”

The picture we get here is of a group of believers who are pursuing healing and holiness together! Yes, this description of healing includes physical healing, but if you read closely the emphasis is ultimately on healing of the whole person. This is why confessing your sins and praying is included as a vital element to the healing process. It’s not a “spiritual formula” you use for physical results. It’s a spiritual rhythm you participate in that produces fruit.

And it is not a spiritual rhythm you can do alone! This passage implies that the full experience of the forgiveness of sins actually involves others (which should not be ground-breaking for us as Christians since Jesus’ Prayer in John also says something similar – “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us”).

The last part of the passage reiterates the use of the analogy of gardening or farming when it comes to our spiritual growth. It shows how Elijah joins God as the secondary actor in God’s plan of caring for the world. Paul uses this story to show how we join God as his people in his work in our lives. It’s powerful, and very humbling. But it’s God’s plan.

Recovering Confession

The lost practice of confession of sin to other believers I blame partly on the Protestant desire to separate ourselves so distinctly from the practices of the Catholic Church. However, it has hurt us that we do not have healthy contexts in which to express this vital part of the healing and holiness process.

Without someone else there to hear our confession, remind us of our forgiveness, and pray for the power of the Spirit in our lives to overcome sin, Scripture implies that our growth in those areas will be stunted.

And what it says to us from a Biblical Theology perspective is that we are being terrible “stewards” of the Gospel. Meaning we are not fulfilling God’s created purposes for our lives as stewards of his garden (our lives, his people, and the world).

To start practicing confession in your life it will certainly be awkward at first. But every important area of growth in your life is awkward at first. There’s always a hurdle to get over. Whether it’s changing your diet, balancing your budget, or in this case rediscovering Scriptural Christianity, you will have to push thru what’s uncomfortable to get to what is transformative.

So now you just have to decide whether you will or not.

Is healing and holiness what you want for your life? Do you want to be spiritually whole and on track with Jesus? Do you want people around you who fully know you (even the most difficult parts of who you are) and fully love you?

Let me tell you from experience: it’s worth it. It doesn’t make it easier. You will still want to revert back to old ways even after you get into it. But in the long run, you will notice the change in your soul as you recover the rhythm God intended to heal you of your spiritual sickness: confession and prayer.

Tact and Preaching: The Double Edged Sword

We are far too concerned with what the world thinks about us, rather than what God has commanded for us to do. Being a Christian is not a popularity contest.

I was having a conversation with my wife about three years ago regarding some of the thoughts and words that I was planning on using for a weekend sermon. I have been “accused” of being too direct, too passionate and to brash in the way that I communicate what I read in the Bible. I am still not sure how to take these comments even after having heard them several times over the last few years.

I want to share some of the thoughts that come to my mind when I hear these kinds of comments.

  1. How can I be too passionate about being a Christian?
  2. What bible are you reading when the brashness of the text does not strike you? (i.e., Romans 9:3, where Paul suggests that if it were possible, he would go to hell so that his countrymen might come to know salvation in Jesus. I don’t know how to make that sound nice!)
  3. Why do people keep praying to know God’s will when the Bible IS God’s will, and they’re not doing that yet?
  4. Why do some people get mad at me (who has read the bible) and argue about what it says when they have no basis for what they are saying, thinking, doing or wanting? It is pretty easy to know who has and who hasn’t been reading their Bible.

It’s things like this and a few others that just drive me nuts. My wife said that I just sounded angry. Well, to a certain extent I am.

Being a Christian is not a popularity contest.

I am angry about a church that claims to be obedient, but is not. I am angry about a person who claims to be a disciple of Jesus, and has never made one. I am mad about pastors that preach from the word, but for whatever reason, fail to preach the word itself. I know that this does not apply to everybody directly. This is definitely a generalization, but its true enough that most of us would have to agree to some degree. What scares me about this whole situation in the church is that there is not enough (in my opinion) concern about the direction of the church.

We are far too concerned with what the world thinks about us, rather than what God has commanded for us to do. Being a Christian is not a popularity contest. It is about conviction. As a member of the church, I find it concerning that the church wants to hold hands with the world and agree. The direction of influence must begin in the church and move out from there, and not the other way around.

Sure, we can go to conferences and get the pep talks and hear from the celebrity pastor or speaker, but what am I, the executive pastor of a growing, city church supposed to do? Many times I leave with a second wind in my sails, but with no clear sense of direction of what to do next.

The truth is not always palatable, especially when it calls us to holiness and difficult choices regarding how we live.

Is the truth supposed to be palatable, easy, comfortable or sensible? I just do not see that as I read the bible.

The truth is not always palatable, especially when it calls us to holiness and difficult choices regarding how we live. The truth is not easy, particularly when it challenges the assumptions that we hold onto so dearly. The truth is not comfortable because it forces us to change those parts of our lives that we may love, but are not in line with God’s plan or will. The truth is not sensible! My goodness, if the Gospel made sense everybody would be jumping on board. But, that is exactly what Paul said. The Gospel is foolishness. It is foolishness to who? To those who are perishing.

The balm of the Gospel is what brings healing through transformation. For some of us, that means we will have to endure some difficulties. We will have to address those areas of our lives that are not conforming to the image of Jesus. I want to see less tact and more truth. Less compromise and more conviction. Less concern for the world’s feelings and more consideration for the heart of God. Until then, we will tip-toe around the issues and continue to see the erosion of the churches influence with our neighbors.

Book Review | Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

I was not even sure if I was going to enjoy Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, but it turned into a very good read. The storyline was easy to follow and I felt drawn into the conversation. The issues that are addressed are general enough to attract a wide range of readers. The book is short at 128 pages, but it reads a lot faster.

I have often wondered what a conversation with Jesus would look like. I think that the one characteristic of the book that stands out is the way the Jesus is portrayed. Jesus is always calm, always collected and in control of himself. Nothing flusters him. Nothing seems to distract him from his task of talking with and helping Nick Cominsky, the protagonist of the story. Continue reading “Book Review | Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering”

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