“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
(NOTE: This was written as a reflection during Lent after a time of corporate confession with one of my spiritual formation groups.)
When I first mentioned the idea of corporate confession in a special Lenten service to my ladies’ spiritual formation small group, I could sense their immediate uneasiness.
I understood their anxiety. Confession, especially corporate confession, is difficult not only because we are so unfamiliar with its practice, but because we are really committed to hiding the realities of our hearts. Yet, Scripture is replete with the calling of people to confession, personal and corporate (Lev. 16:21; 26:40; 1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9; Psm. 32:5; Mt. 3:6; Acts 19:18). 1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Without confession, there is no forgiveness and little healing as individuals and as a community.
Without confession, there is no forgiveness and little healing as individuals and as a community.
As a group, however, we are committed to living out the Christian life, not just an idea we hold in our heads. (“Of course, I think confession is a good thing.”). So, we decided, albeit a little reluctantly, we were all in. We spent a few weeks walking through the process of self-examination. This is not a search for a secular and autonomous self-understanding but a commitment to not run from the truth about ourselves. It’s being willing to face the internal chaos going on often unnoticed or undetected inside our hearts and being willing to name those things that we might offer them to God and receive the healing we need. Along with David, we prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps.139:23, 24).
I secured the small chapel at our local hospital for our service. I was pleasantly surprised when everyone showed up the night of the service. It would have been easy to call last minute and come up with an excuse to bow out. But they didn’t. After an opening prayer, a song, and a brief devotion of confession, one by one each lady began to step forward and make her confession. It was a sacred moment as each confessed to the rest, their unchecked pride, their unchallenged bitterness, their deep-rooted unforgiveness. One by one each received the embrace of community. That’s the thing. When everyone is willing to admit their sin, there is no judgment, just embrace. Embrace: perhaps this is the healing our verse for today is talking about.
Embrace: perhaps this is the healing our verse for today is talking about.
Then we prayed for each other. With the expectation that God heard our confessions, we prayed sincerely, collectively, and boldly for the healing of our hearts. These are the instructions and astounding promise we receive from James 5:16, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” This is not a common practice among us but perhaps it’s a beginning. Perhaps we will begin to live more fully into being whole people in the context of an authentic community. After a time of communion and a closing prayer, we went out for ice cream.
Without Lent, I am not sure if we would ever get around to looking deeply at the ways we have wandered from God or the sin, like dust, that has settled into our hearts and simply become a part of the landscape of our lives. I for one am grateful to be reminded to live more deeply and openly in God’s presence and in the presence of the real people he has given me and find the invitation to wholeness is found in and with them.
Corporate Confessional Prayer:
“We are sorry, God; hear our repentance for our wayward handling of life. We have squandered time, hoarded money, avoided challenges, and used others. We have borne waiting grievously, illness stubbornly, trials reluctantly, and responsibility half-heartedly. We have doubted your care, mistrusted your providence, distorted your power, and ignored your love. We have neglected our discipleship, injured our relationships, sabotaged our fellowship, and underrated your forgiveness. Forgive us now, we pray, and let us begin again, sensitive to your Spirit and committed to your will Amen.”
Questions for Reflection:
Who might you engage with in corporate confession?
What obstacles will keep you from corporate confession?
What might your practice of corporate confession look like?