Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm Confessing....

A little book that has been on my shelf and in my hands many times the last fifty years is He Sent Leanness—A book of prayers for the natural man, by David Head (MacMillan Company, New York 1959). It is a book filled with wisdom, humor, irony and lots more. It must be out of print, but copies are available on line from various sellers.

One of the standard prayers of confession widely used is The General Prayer of Confession. (See The Book of Common Worship (1993) on pp.87-88.) In contrast, David Head (on pages 18-19) offers two somewhat sarcastic and greatly exaggerated versions that he says might be in the hearts, if not in the mouths, of “natural” men and women. Here they are for comparison with the well-known original:

“Benevolent and easy-going Father: we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgement. We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment. We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense. We have done the best we could in the circumstances; And have been careful not to ignore the common standards of decency; And we are glad to think that we are fairly normal. Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses. Be thy own sweet Self with those who admit they are not perfect; According to the unlimited tolerance which we have a right to expect from thee. And grant as an indulgent Parent that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect.”

“Almighty Judge: we have lived far from thy ways like wild goats. We have on all occasions rebelliously followed our own inclinations. We have deliberately and shamelessly broken thy holy laws. We have never done anything we ought to have done; And we are utterly depraved. We desperately miserable offenders can only expect thy harsh judgement. We live obsessed with the unrelieved knowledge of our guilt. The thought of Jesus Christ does nothing except increase the depth of our shame. We have no right to expect anything hereafter except the intolerable burden of our unrighteousness, and the hell of our eternal disgrace.”

David Head’s exaggerating, of course, to make his point. At the same time, he comes all too close to what some expect the prayer of confession to be. I know folks who’d scrap confession altogether since, as they put it, “I’m not that bad.” Then there are others who enjoy groveling and wallowing in their guilt. Maybe, if we’re honest, we all are like them from time to time.

How do you strike a balance in the prayer of confession so you move from awareness of sin to acceptance of forgiveness? Where do you find helpful models for prayers of confession?


  1. Coincidence or planned? Our guest preacher for the 18th, a retired Lutheran minister, spoke on the need for confession as part of worship. I KNOW I'm a sinner and I DO need to remind myself of that...

  2. I appreciate the author's ironic humor- and the question you pose, Don, about striking the balance btw awareness of sin and groveling.

    The prayer of confession is essential to the assurance of forgivenenss- and together, they are an important movement in the service. Hopefully awareness of redemption then moves into sharing the peace. (I think it loses something if it's just a social hello.) I also think we ought to allow for more silence before God in the context of confession. It's too easy to rush to speech.

  3. I once had a man in a congregation I served approach me after the service and say that he didn't understand why it was necessary for us to pray a prayer of confession every Sunday. He went on to say,"For example, what if I left here right now, spoke to no one, went home and locked myself in my room, spoke to no one and saw no one for the entire week, and then returned next Sunday at the exact time we say confession -- why should I say confession? I haven't sinned. I answered him, "You just did sin." "What!!", he exclaimed. "You see", I responded, we believe that we have only one judge and that is God. And you have just set yourself up as judge and in effect replaced God as your judge."

    I think most people today ease off any sense of personal sinfulness by inwardly declarng that they aren't any worse than anyone else, and especially not like those we see in the news daily.

    To strike a balance between the attitude of "I'm not that bad," and groveling in a pumped up self-judgement of our sinfulness, we must presume our sinfulness and trust in God reveal to us where and when we have strayed from His way.

    In order for that to happen we have to recognize that we are perfectly capable of decieving ourselves, as the ancient call to confession declares, and therefore not be aware of where and when we have sinned. I believe the prayer of confession is the acknowledgement on our part that this is possible. This prepares us to hear the Word of God, read and spoken, wherein God may reveal, if we are open to listen, where we have strayed and then hear, as well, His forgiveness --- and then the reformation begins for us.


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