June 27, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:2-4 (NRSV)
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
In teaching us how to pray, Jesus includes an essential element, “And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). Though we are free to confess our sins in a variety of ways, Scripture is clear that this is something we all need to do. When we admit our sins to God and ask him to forgive us, we experience the freedom that comes as God releases us from the bondage of our guilt and shame. God’s forgiveness through Christ fills us with the joy of knowing that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from God’s love for us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Several devotions ago I talked about the curious difference in the way Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer. Most notably, some of pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” while other Christians pray, “Forgive us our debts.” No matter which of these we use, we understand that we’re not talking about literal trespasses or literal debts. Rather, these are metaphorical ways of talking about sin.
Well, just to make things more interesting, in Luke 11:4 Jesus complicates things even further by teaching us to pray, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” As I explained previously, I think it’s likely that Jesus actually said what we call the Lord’s Prayer in a variety of ways, two of which are captured in the New Testament Gospels.
Though the language may vary, what remains constant is the instruction of Jesus that we ask for God’s forgiveness when we pray. Though we know that we are forgiven through the work of Christ on the cross, and that God’s forgiveness doesn’t depend on our efforts, if we are going to experience that forgiveness, we need to ask God for it. As it says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We will enjoy the benefits of forgiveness when we tell the Lord what we’ve done wrong and ask him to forgive us.
I grew up in a church in which a Prayer of Confession was an essential element of every worship experience. A pastor would stand before the congregation and offer a prayer on our behalf, mentioning both sin in general and specific kinds of sin. This time of confession often included several moments of silence during which worshippers were to tell the Lord about their own sins. I must say that I found this particular practice a little odd because the time of silence was so short. I barely had time to confess one sin, not to mention the list of sins that I had accumulated during the past week. Nevertheless, after the brief moment of silence, the pastor would finish up, say “Amen,” and then speak the Assurance of Pardon, often reciting the passage from 1 John that I quoted above: “If we confess our sins . . . .”
These days, many churches continue to feature a Prayer of Confession in their times of worship. But as I worship in a wide variety of churches these days, I am struck by how rare a dedicated prayer of confession has become in many congregations. I don’t really know why this is, because these churches don’t shy away from talking about sin. But the regular corporate confession of sin appears to have been set aside, along with repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, I might add.
One of the things I miss when corporate confession disappears is the experience of admitting in public my own sin, not in words others can hear, but in my participation in our shared confession. Something essential happens when brothers and sisters can say together, “Lord, we have sinned. We need your forgiveness.” It’s as if for a few moments we let down our guard, we stop pretending, and we agree together that we are in need of God’s grace in our lives. Moreover, something equally essential happens when we hear together that we are forgiven. If we take this seriously, among other things it will help us to offer forgiveness to each other, something vital for healthy church life.
I’m not necessarily criticizing churches that don’t use the traditional elements of worship I grew up with. Christians are free to worship God in a variety of biblically-inspired forms and expressions. And I expect for some worshipers the familiarity of a certain form of confession may lead to a kind of spiritual dullness. But I do wonder if many believers are not being taught by their churches to confess their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. Given what we learn from 1 John 1:9, not to mention the Lord’s Prayer, this does concern quite me a bit. I wonder if some who have been saved by God’s grace through faith are, nevertheless, missing out on the discipline and joy that come from regular confession of sin.
I am convinced, however, that you and I are both free and encouraged to employ the model prayer of Jesus in our personal communication with God. I believe we should regularly confess our sin – and our specific sins – and ask the Lord to forgive us. This can happen in a variety of ways and forms. In my own devotional life, I often am guided by the Book of Common Prayer. The Daily Office includes a variety of Morning Prayer rites, all of which put confession of sin right near the beginning, followed by a priestly prayer that serves as an assurance of pardon. I have many friends who employ the ACTS model of prayer in their devotions: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. These are just two of many ways to include confession in your personal communication with the Lord.
I also find it helpful to confess in relationship to the biblical passage upon which I am reflecting in my devotions. If you’ve been reading Life for Leaders for a while, you’ll see this modeled in what I have written. Many times the prayers that come at the end of a devotion include a paragraph of confession that responds to the biblical text upon which the daily devotion is built. Again, I’m not saying this is the only way or the best way. But it is one more way we can include regular confession of sin in our prayers.
In tomorrow’s devotion we’ll examine the rest of what Jesus says we’re to pray in relationship to forgiveness, “for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). For now, I’d like you to consider your own prayer life as you respond to the simple line, “And forgive us our sins” (11:4). The following questions might help.
In what ways has confession been a part of your experience of corporate worship?
How does confession play a role in your personal devotions?
Why do you think confession of sin and asking for God’s forgiveness are so important?
What holds you back from confessing your specific sins to God?
What helps you to confess on a regular basis?
If you do not have a practice of regular confession, think and pray about how you might add this practice into your life.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Finally, I Confessed
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Thanks for the reminder, Mark. So rare are times of corporate confession, that I transcribed two such prayers from sermons before podcasts, when I used to receive them on cassette tapes. . .. Today’s devotional caused me pull them out and take a look again. Still timely.
Prayer offered at First Church of the Nazarene, in Pasadena California
April 18, 1999, by Rev. Richard Pritchard
There are many things we have to confess real specifically as we go around this room. . . For those of us who have believed on Your Name and are walking with You, we confess our neediness. We confess that some among us that we have not honored mothers and fathers. That we have put other gods before You. That we have coveted; that we have stolen; maybe goods, maybe reputation; that in some ways we substitute leisure activity for what You taught us about Sabbath rest. We have not been as loving as we should have been towards friends and family and certainly not loving toward our enemies. We have used power for our selfish gain. We have been deceptive. We have spent our time on ourselves not on others or this community. We have kept things in our heart or acted on those things which are not what You created us to be. We have unresolved anger and loss. We have withheld forgiveness from others when we expected to receive it from You or from them. We have corrupted others. We have spoken against others. We have gossiped and put funny names on it , even calling it sometimes prayer requests. Forgive us Lord. Forgive us when we have not given a cup of cool water in Your name; when we have considered ourselves better than others; when we have acted out of the flesh; when we have been more critical of others than we have been willing to look at ourselves; when we have hoarded our treasure and invested in earthly and not heavenly things. Forgive us when we have robbed You and have not, according to your Word, given our tithes and our offerings, but have somehow played funny games with that, giving You leftovers, if anything at all. . . . So as we confess all of these things before you today: the things of our heart that need transformation, the things that we have called holy, that are nothing more than legalism or rigidity, the things that are about our performance or our own sin management that are not the gospel of the salvation of Jesus Christ, or the working of your spirit in our lives, we confess all of that and receive the wonder of the work that only you can do. To forgive those things; to create a new nature in us; to cleanse us from our inclination even to sin; to give us a heart that is bent toward you, that desires to do the right thing and then behaves accordingly as you enable us. Thank you father for the wonder of these moments as your grace is all over this place. May our hearts be fertile ground to receive and with thanksgiving to give you glory.
Prayer offered at Fairview Village Church of the Nazarene, in Fairview Village Pennsylvania, August 22, 1999, by Dr. Randall E. Davey
Father as we gather in your presence, we have already sung to you, we are inclined to pray. Forgive us if we have rejoiced in song, but not in life. Forgive when we have declared that you reign when clearly we reign. Forgive us in declaring the mighty things you have done when our conversation is dominated by what we have done. Forgive us for confessing that you are our God when it is obvious that we have made gods of people and places, experiences and things. Forgive us for confessing together that we trust in your unfailing love, yet we focus so much on our failing love. Forgive us if we express our intention to praise you in song and glorify you with thanksgiving, but then heap all our praise on each other. We must ask that you would forgive us our sins great and small, that we might hear what you say and hide it in our hearts. Grant us the strength in our weakness to follow Jesus. For those who have lived admirably, victoriously and honorably this week, we pray that you would grant them the grace to be humble. With thanks for grace in spirit, we pray our prayers in Jesus’ name and in a spirit of thanks, Amen.