Confession + Self-Examination

WHAT

In Psalm 139, David prays, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Confession and self-examination is the discipline of examining our sinful and broken moments and habits before God and also seeking God’s grace to grow and change.

WHY

In the words of this psalm, David expresses absolute trust in God’s thorough knowledge of his innermost being  the good, the bad, and the grey. There is an acknowledgement that God is infinitely good and that humanity, while still good and capable of good, now harbors an inclination to sin and the inexplicable pursuit of disastrous ends for itself, other humans, and creation. Embedded within this acknowledgement is David’s implicit assumption that despite our willingness to theoretically admit to our own sin and brokenness, we always underestimate just how sinful and broken we are in reality. 

David paints a picture of the human soul (mind, will, body) lovingly created by God and lovingly sustained by God despite the invasion of sin. In this way, the human heart is like rocky, highly technical mountain terrain. In this metaphor, David (and the rest of us) are like first time hikers on this particular trail. Because we only get one life, we will always be first time hikers on this trail…and God, God is the experienced guide who knows the intricacies and technicalities of the trail. This Guide knows how to get you to the summit and back to basecamp in one piece…and how to help you enjoy the  fullness of the experience along the way. 

Wisdom dictates that we trust the Guide who knows the terrain better than we ever will…which is why, ultimately, David trusts the God of infinite grace, mercy, and love to guide him through the rocky, technical terrain of his own heart toward flourishing in this life and eternal joy with God in the life to come.

HOW

Confession and self-examination is essentially allowing God to alert us to our sin and brokenness so that we can step more fully into the flourishing and eternal joy he wants for us. Because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the context of confession and self-examination is never shame but always one of receptivity. A helpful image to have in mind is that of the prodigal’s father running toward him when his child finally notices that something isn’t quite right. Here are a few steps to get you started.

Step 1 | Notice: Notice when something’s not quite right or something has gone awry. 

  • Perhaps it’s a tangible or obvious sin (e.g. 10 Commandments or Paul’s vice list in Galatians 5). 
  • Perhaps it’s more subtle. Early Christians utilized the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Note: they are deadly because most of them are so subtle that they can rot your interior before you even notice them.

Step 2 | Confess: Prayerfully confess your sins before God and receive God’s forgiveness. Remember that “as far as the east is from the west” so far does he remove our sins from us.

  • This step may require a tangible reminder in the form of, perhaps, burning the page that you’ve written your sins on or inviting a trusted pastor or friend to verbalize God’s forgiveness to you.

Step 3 | Wisdom: Ask for God’s wisdom to help you not only trust his forgiveness but also step beyond your sin and brokenness into the life of flourishing and eternal joy that he wants for you. Essentially, to borrow from the metaphor, you’re discerning the next step that would keep you from rolling your ankle or falling off the trail?

  • Skipping this step is the quickest way to get stuck praying the same prayer of forgiveness for years. As James, the brother of Jesus, once said, don’t look in the mirror and forget what you saw. If you want transformation, make a plan.

FIRST STEP

Set aside 20 minutes to try this. 

Begin by prayerfully reading Psalm 139. Let the truth and trust embedded within this psalm remind you of God’s infinite knowledge, wisdom, goodness, love, grace, and mercy toward you. Then prayerfully move through each step.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson
Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God by Patricia D. Brown