Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;”
Hands down, a praying community of faith is a God honoring, powerful and effective church community. When prayer is absent, we will never experience the full redemptive power that God has for his church. To be a church that is continuing to help curious people on their journey of discovering God, we must be all about prayer. The greatest barrier to the power of prayer is un-confessed sin. In James 5:16 we read, “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.” The key phrase in this verse is, “a righteous person” and is understood as purity of heart. It does not say that the prayer of the pastor, elder, or spiritually elite is powerful but the prayer of a righteous person has power. We cannot be righteous if we are cherishing sin in our life. If there are areas of our life that we have not turned over to God, we are hindering the prayer potential of our life and church.
In 1 John 1:8-9 we read, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” What a tremendous truth! First, we must recognize that we all sin. I sin, and you sin. Then, we engage a loving God that is willing to hear our confession. Let me tell you what confession is not. It is not some sorry God; bummer God; I messed up again God; flippant prayer. Confession is also not some kind of fire insurance. Well, I know that I am going to sin and I can sin because God will forgive me, just like it says 1 John 1:9. Confession is also not just the words that come out of our mouth. Confession, genuine biblical confession, leads to repentance – a turning from one thing (person) to another. It is when we align our life with God and literally agree with him that what is in our heart is contrary to his holiness, to his ultimate desire and design. When we confess, we are repenting of the sin that so easily permeates each of us. In order for us to have powerful prayer lives, we need to have that kind of biblical confession. We must demonstrate a genuine sorrow for the areas our lives that do not line up with the holiness of God. We recognize that, because of what Christ did on the cross, we can be forgiven. And if we have faith in Christ, we are already forgiven through the work of Christ who became the atoning sacrifice. Christ took the hit for us conquering death and the grave. When we confess, we activate the timeless power of the work of Christ in our lives.
It is clear from the Bible that only God forgives sins. I can’t forgive your sins and your friends can’t forgive your sins. Only God can forgive sins. In fact, as you study the Gospels, one of the issues that the religious leaders had with Jesus is that he claimed to forgive sin when they clearly knew that only the one true God could forgive sins. You see, Christ’s words about forgiveness are a proof of his deity. With that being understood, James says we are to confess our sins one to another. Let me say it this way: sin confessed to God but not man is rarely genuine confession. Our tendency is to hide when we sin. It started all the way back in the Garden when Adam and Eve hid from God because of their sin. Sin wants to hide and stay in the darkness. As long as our sins are private and secret they have power. If I have an area of sin that I have confessed to God but not to one of my mature Christian friends, I know that it will inevitably emerge again in my life and most often with a vengeance. By confessing our sins to each other we take the power of secrecy and isolation away and shove our sin into the light. Half the battle of overcoming sin is experienced in public confession. Let me share some principles of confessing sin to each other.
- Find one or two trustworthy people to confess to.
- If our sin is against a particular person follow Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:21-26.
- Be sure that the person you confess is a wise Christian so that if necessary, you can receive sound biblical counsel.
- Be concrete in your confession. You don’t need to give a person all the details but be specific.
- Finally, attempt to have a consistent confessional friend so they can help you discern weak areas and patterns.
As we confess our sins to God and each other we will experience the truth that, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”.