The Things that Make for Peace: Confession of Sin
I’m using my blog posts this year to explore a question that emerged from my encounter with Luke 19:42 last year: What are the things that make for peace? You can find the rest of the series here.
As my prayer life continues to develop, I find myself listening a lot more than talking. I don’t always find myself hearing God, but I do at least try to listen for God.
I’m finding when I adopt a listening posture I’m often able to receive gifts from God that are unexpected: a surprising sense of calm, a clear answer to a question that’s been vexing me, a new insight into a familiar Scripture, an invitation to explore a past memory, or just a chance to just hang out with God and know God loves me.
But when I listen in prayer, I don’t always like what I hear.
In a recent conversation about my spiritual life, a wise guide blessed me with a haunting question. I was rattling off all the good things happening in my life, and the ways I was experiencing God’s consolation and mercy. He listened patiently and with affirmation. Then he dropped this on me: “You know, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just console us. Sometimes the Spirit also disturbs us. I’m curious, what’s disturbing you right now?"
When I shared this story with another friend, she pointed out that my spiritual guide seems to be on pretty solid ground with this. No less than Jesus spoke to his disciples of the Holy Spirit as both our Advocate and Comforter (John 14:16) and the Spirit of Truth that convicts us of our sins (John 16:7-8). All of this connected to Spirit’s role in directing us to the teachings of Christ so that we might receive the peace of Christ (John 14:26-27).
“I’m curious, what’s disturbing you right now?” It’s a question I can’t seem to shake. Mostly when I pray, I find myself receiving the consolation of the Spirit. But sometimes … I’m disturbed.
I had a disturbing prayer experience not too long ago. My typical prayer time includes an extended period of silence before I pick up and read a Scripture that I’m praying with that day. On this particular day, I was just about to transition from silence to Scripture, when I was overcome with a feeling of “How dare you pick up this word from God?” It stopped me in my tracks. I’m a preacher! I have Bibles all over the place and it’s not unusual for me to pick them up and read. But today was different. I was disturbed!
A very particular recurring sin came to my mind, and I discerned both a challenge and invitation from the Spirit. It was something like, “If you’re serious about pursuing this relationship with God, you have got to deal with this.”
And so—after trying to think through every possible way around it—the next day I conceded. I picked up my phone, called a trusted spiritual counselor in my life, and I confessed my sins to them. That person received my confession with grace, discussed some options for how to address my behavior, told me to call again if I engaged in that behavior (I have already had to do so a couple times since then), and told me at the end of the conversation, “Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.” I felt a physiological response in my body—like a release. I cried.
It might strike us as counter-intuitive that a disturbing, embarrassing, and vulnerable thing like confessing our sins might lead to peace. Isn’t being disturbed the opposite of peace? But the thing of it is—the disruption was already there. I was already engaging in sinful behavior, which was threatening my wholeness as a human being and my ability to participate fully in God’s kingdom.
Confession didn’t create the disruption to God’s peace in my life; confession exposed it.
When we cannot name our sins and wrong behaviors, sin continues to exercise a hold over us. Peace—as the fullness of God’s kingdom in our lives and in the world—remains disrupted and disturbed. Confession of sin is the act of participating in our own forgiveness. By naming our sins, we release them back to God and accept our identities as forgiven people.
So, I’m curious, what’s disturbing you right now?
P.S. If you are discovering the things that make for peace in your life, ministry, and community and have a story you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear it.