Pardon Me

I beg your pardon, but I have one more word on this topic of confession:

“The wise prayer of confession always leads to an acceptance of God’s pardon.” George Buttrick

Coming clean before God isn’t simply airing out your dirty laundry.
(There are plenty of day-time talk shows available for that kind of thing.)

It also isn’t groveling in sackcloth and ashes, ruthlessly berating yourself.
(That just leaves us feeling hopelessly worse off than before.)

Doing the dirty work of unearthing our inner stinky garbage must be followed by heaving it into the trash can, rolling it out to the curb, watching the waste management truck squish it to smithereens and waving goodbye. Sure, there will be another load next week — all the more reason to stay on top of it — but God never fails to remove our confessed sins, as far as the east landfill is from the west landfill.

Although God invites us into forgiveness, it didn’t come without cost.
But He prepared and paid for it, so we dare not squander such a gift.

When I am invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, I don’t wait for the bill. I don’t ask her how much I owe her. I don’t leave a few dollars on the table for a tip. She paid for the food and she prepared the meal from a heart of joy for our friendship. Receiving her gift in the same spirit of joy is the only appropriate response.

As I wrap up my confession, I might say something like this:
“Lord, I’m so sorry that it took Your Son’s blood to pay the price for my sin, but since it’s been done and my sins have been completely paid for, I will not insult You by refusing to receive forgiveness. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.”

Then I preach to myself by speaking aloud an assurance from the Word. Any of these would do just fine.

  • There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
  • Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:8)
  • I, I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)
  • If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130:3-4)
  • In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Beset

That thing I did yesterday?
I did it again.
I’m sorry again.
Already today,
I’ve done it again.
I’m sorry again.
There’s a good chance that tomorrow,
I’ll do it again.
I’ll be sorry again.

Besetting sins: sins that we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward; vices that easily entangle us.

We all have besetting sins. Maybe it’s gossip or jealousy or telling white lies. It’s that same-old-same-old thing that gets us every time. We get weary of confessing it because we sound like a broken record and assume God is sick and tired of hearing it on repeat. We hover on the edge of hopelessness. When will we ever get some victory here?

I’ve got besetting sins. In fact, I have a list of ten of them in my prayer notebook. It’s not pretty. I don’t love it. But I have found a way to deal with the sins with which I am beset.

Every personality type has assets and liabilities. Since I’m a sucker for temperament tests, I’ve taken them all. Most of them reveal my preferences, how I like to do things and the areas in life where I thrive. The Enneagram is a little different. One of the insights it offers is a rundown of how each of the nine types function, both at its healthiest and its unhealthiest. Thus, my list of ten besetting sins. There were no surprises, but still, reading through the unhealthy character traits feels like a slap upside the head. Awareness is half the battle, though.

When I am at my healthiest, when I am the best version of myself, these are my strengths:

  • Wise and discerning
  • Realistic
  • Inspiring
  • Conscientious
  • Self-disciplined
  • Strong sense of right and wrong
  • Principled and fair
  • Responsible
  • Strong sense of higher purpose
  • Integrity

When I am at my unhealthiest, when I am the most surly version of myself, these are my weaknesses:

  • Critical
  • Fearful of mistakes
  • Perfectionism
  • Correcting/Nagging
  • Impatient
  • Self-righteous
  • Unemotional/Impersonal
  • Always right
  • Judgmental
  • Self-critical

This makes a perfect prayer list.
I confess the weaknesses that have entangled my heart.
I pray for the Spirit to beef up the strengths.

Dear God,
Let my weaknesses grow weaker
and my strengths grow stronger.
Amen.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses.
Heb. 4:15

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Cor. 12:9

Coming Up: Pardon Me
Looking Back: True Confessions

True Confessions

I confess I’m not very good at confessing.

Confession was not a big part of my faith tradition so I never learned the proper words to use or the correct posture to strike or the acceptable attitude to display. This section of my prayer notebook is thin. I have much to learn.

When it comes to confession, I tend to swing between two extremes:

#1) I think about things I’m really ashamed of and recoil at the thought of rehashing them. Let bygones be bygones. Sweep them under the rug and move on. The past can’t be changed, so don’t look back.

Lord, have mercy.

#2) I can’t think of anything to confess. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs and I don’t sleep around. I go to church, I read my Bible and I’m a really good girl. There’s no sense in drudging up something that isn’t there.

Lord, have mercy.

I know that both extremes of that swinging pendulum are filled with error. Somewhere between beating myself up and puffing myself up, there is a place where God is patiently waiting for honest truth.

So I went looking for help. I needed words I didn’t have. If confession is a cleansing of the soul, then I wanted to learn the language, understand the posture and adjust my attitude.

King David got me started with the scariest prayer I ever prayed:
“Search me, O God,
and know my heart;
test my thoughts.
Point out anything
You find in me
that makes You sad.”
(Ps. 139:23-24)

It’s not up to me to delve into the deep, dark places of my soul to drum up some impressive sins. That’s God’s job. He does a thorough search and makes me aware of what’s lurking there. Once it’s pointed out, it’s my job to look it square in the face, agree with God that I was out of line, and say “I’m sorry”. And mean it.

Many others have written heart-felt confessions
that provide words I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
It’s okay to steal those prayers —
no confession needed.

Coming Up:
Beset
Pardon Me

Looking Back:
Pray to Pray
Adore

Reboot

Remember last year when I posted five days a week all summer long?
Yeah, that’s not gonna happen again.

Remember the 40 days in a row of posts on Eastertide?
Ooph, probably not about to do that anytime soon.

Are you seeing a pattern here?
It seems I have a Feast of posts followed by a Famine of indefinite length.
My “small drop” pours out gallons of ink and then dries up as I recover.

I’d like to change all that.
This small space could use some balance and consistency.

Time to reboot.

I love the first day of a new month. I was born on a 1st so maybe it’s just an innate part of me. The joy of flipping over the calendar page fills me with anticipation. What stories will those 30 white boxes hold? What memories will we make? Who will I meet for the first time? For the hundredth time? What will I learn for the first time? For the hundredth time?

Back in January, I sensed a need to make prayer a priority in 2021. So on this first (unofficial) day of summer, I’m revisiting those New Year’s goals and dreams. I’m going to invite you into my prayer notebook and offer some words from old dead guys as well as living saints who know a lot more on the topic than I do.

And because it’s summer, I might just tell a few stories, share a few pretty pictures and brag a little about my grands. Let’s meet up here a couple times a week and spur one another on, shall we?

Adore

The ACTS acronym has been around a long time. It serves as a method of prayer that includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I remember learning this handy dandy prayer model when I was a kid. So it’s nothing new.

I’ve never had trouble coming up with things to confess — there’s plenty of fodder for that. Thanksgiving is easy — I just have to open my eyes and look in front of my nose. My prayers tend to lean heavy on the supplication side — there’s no end to the list of things I ask God for on a regular basis.

Adoration is my weak spot.

I can’t think of much to say.
“God, You’re adorable”?

According to the dictionary, to adore means to regard with the utmost esteem, love and respect; to like or admire very much; to delight in; to worship.

Perhaps we find it hard to compliment God because we aren’t very good at complimenting each other. We may think things, like “Wow, she looks really nice today,” or “Man, his guitar sounded so good this morning.” But we rarely voice those thoughts. Our inability to communicate admiration to each other transfers over to our relationship with God. “Nice sunset,” we might think, and go no farther. Maybe adoration is just voicing the thought. “I see that artwork in the sky, God. Great job! You really know how mix the colors. I love the way You do that.”

Once when we were on vacation, we noticed a crowd of people gathering on the beach at dusk. Everyone set up chairs facing west, to watch the sky show. When the sun dipped below the horizon, the audience broke out in clapping and whistles. There was a standing ovation. Then they picked up their chairs and went home. That round of applause? I think it sounded like adoration.

So here’s the deal:

If I was at Menards and happened to see a certain HGTV decorating star, I’d go up to her and say, “I love your show! Your style is so warm and inviting and your creativity is so inspiring! I so look forward to seeing your designs each week! You are my favorite decorator!” (Yes, I would use all those exclamation points.) (And I would say “so” three times.)

If I was at the library and ran into an author I highly respect, I’d whisper, “Your books have meant the world to me. I admire the way your stories connect with life. You are so good at putting things in a way that resonates with me. I’m so honored to meet you and be able to tell you how I feel.”

If I had a backstage pass at a concert and had the chance to speak to a musician I’ve always loved, I’d say, “The songs you sing speak right to my heart. I play your albums all the time and know every one of your songs. I think you’re the best songwriter ever.”

See? That’s not so hard.

Adoring God is simply telling Him what we love and admire about Him.

“God, I love Your style, Your creativity, Your words, the way You touch my heart.  You are my favorite — the best ever, and I’m honored to worship You.”

Big hand-claps and hurrahs!
A standing O!
Adoration!

A.S.K.

At the start of a new year, I like to ask God to give me a word to carry with me in the 365 days to come.
This year it went something like this:

Me: “God, I’m asking for a word for this year.”
God: “Ask.”
Me: “Umm, okay. Would You please give me a word for this year?”
God: “Ask.”
Me: “Again? Well, uh, a word for this year, please?”
God: “Ask.”

Then I got it.
My word for 2021 is ASK.

My verse for 2021 is Matthew 7:7.
Ask and it will be given to you;
Seek and you will find;
Knock and the door will be opened to you.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a call to get serious about prayer.
Give me a passage to study and I’ll dig right in.
Give me a class to lead and I’ll set up a schedule.
Give me a worship set to play and I’ll get to practicing.

But give me an hour to pray and I’m 😳

I’ve got a lot to learn.
I’m asking, Lord — teach me to pray.

Spring Cleaning

It’s a little early for spring cleaning.
But I’m not talking about cleaning closets and cupboards,
washing windows and walls,
or bringing out bedding and blankets to blow in the breeze.

I’m talking about spring cleaning my Bible.

There is a zippered pouch in the back of my Bible cover and it accumulates all kinds of treasures over time, like:

  • handouts from a Sunday school class
  • a quote I jotted down on the back of a grocery list
  • a card that was especially encouraging
  • notes from a sermon
  • drawings and love notes from grandchildren
  • excerpts from books that were meaningful
  • Bible reading plans from the last 5 years
  • lists of prayer requests
  • a newspaper clipping
  • newsletter articles
  • birth announcements and obituaries
  • and prayers — so many prayers

Some are on paper yellowed with age,
others are perfectly preserved and laminated.
Some remind me of a sweet memory,
others I’ve forgotten.
Some still speak to my heart deeply,
others don’t resonate like they once did.

But it’s the piles of prayers that have my attention.
They are such good prayers —
prayers that should be prayed,
not stuck in a zippered pouch to be forgotten.

I’m bringing those slips of prayers out into the light
and giving them a place to land where they can inspire
and prod me into becoming a better pray-er.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Upstairs Prayers

“They went upstairs to the room where they were staying.
They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
Acts 1:13-14

The hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” always makes me cringe a little bit.
A whole hour?
Of prayer?
Sigh.

What does that say about me?
I can watch TV for an hour.
I can read a book for an hour.
I can talk to a friend on the phone for an hour.
But an hour of prayer sounds daunting, if not impossible.

Then I read Acts 1 and a mere sixty minutes on my knees didn’t seem like such a big deal.

After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, the eleven disciples walked back to Jerusalem, went upstairs, and prayed for ten days. I did the math. The resurrected Jesus spent 40 days on earth. Before ascending, Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for a special gift. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which landed on the 50th day after Christ’s resurrection.

50 – 40 = 10

The room upstairs must have been big — there were 120 people up there, all of them joined together constantly in prayer. For ten days. Waiting for something. Not sure what.

Which begs some questions:

  • Was it the same room in which Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper?
  • Who owned the house where the room was?
  • Did they use old Jewish prayers or was it extemporaneous?
  • Did somebody lead or did everybody pray at once?
  • Did anybody get testy?

Which begs some more questions:

  • Could I meet with 120 church members in somebody’s attic and pray that long?
  • Would we be able to take breaks?
  • What about eating? Who would feed all of us?
  • How long would I wait around for something to happen?
  • Would I get testy?

“Whenever God determines to do a great work,
He first sets His people to pray.”
~ Spurgeon ~

Something has been stirring in my soul,
telling me to make prayer a priority this year.
Perhaps a great work of God is on the way.
Maranatha!

Pray to Pray

And pray in the Spirit
on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Ephesians 6:18

I’m a herky-jerky pray-er.
Some weeks I storm the gates of heaven with ferocious faith.
Other weeks, I limp through the days with barely a whisper.

A large percentage of my prayers are focused on me and what I want.
And then I have the audacity to tell God how to go about answering.
“Lord, here’s my problem and this is what I want You to do about it.”
It’s no wonder my prayers don’t availeth much.
Am I the only one? 😉

We all have room to grow in this area, I’m guessing. How can we become better pray-ers? It’s something I’m going to explore in 2021. Here are a few ways I’m going to try to grow in this area.

  • Remember that church directory from a several years ago? I’m going to dig it out and starting with the “A’s”, pray through it, taking a page every week or so. It won’t be long and complicated. When Paul prayed for people, he simply mentioned them to the Lord. (1 Thess. 1:2) When I come across a picture of someone who has passed on to glory, I’ll thank the Lord for their life and the ways they influenced me. I’ll listen for God’s prompting to get in touch with someone I haven’t seen for a while.
  • I like lists, so I’ll make a list of 30 people I know and lift up one name every day for a month.
  • During the sharing of prayer requests at church or Bible study, I’ll actually write them down and actually pray for them during the week.
  • When someone shares a struggle with me, I’ll ask them if I can pray right then and there, out loud, short and simple, instead of using “I’ll be praying for you” as an exit line.
  • If I can’t physically be with someone, I’ll write a short prayer in a text and send it.
  • I’ll keep a list of people to pray for in my phone and turn to it instead of scrolling Instagram during down time.
  • This year, I’m keeping all the Christmas cards we received and I plan to pull out one card every so often throughout the year and pray for God to bless them.
  • I’ll ask God to bring people to mind who need prayer and immediately lift them up when someone pops into my thoughts. Then I’ll send a quick message telling them God brought them to mind and I prayed.
  • Pray the alphabet.
  • I won’t be so shy about making my own needs known so brothers and sisters in Christ can pray for me.
  • I’m going to find a place to make a pile of stones and add one every time a prayer gets answered. Maybe pebbles in a vase on our kitchen counter or a stack of rocks in our front yard.
  • Let’s all pray for church staff and those in teaching/leadership positions on our drive to church every Sunday morning.
  • I’m making a prayer notebook. More on that later!

What ideas can you add to the list? Share, please!

Lord, I pray to become a faithful pray-er.

ABC Confession

Remember the post “Praying the Alphabet”  from two weeks ago? Several people have told me how much that has helped them and I’m so glad. I find I need to discover new ways to give thanks because I tend to get in a rut and say the same things over and over. “Thank you, God, for my family and friends, my house and food and clothes, and for Your love.” I wonder if God gets bored listening to me. Using the alphabet forces me to be grateful for some things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. “Thank you, God, for my Arms, for Babies, and for Cheese…”

2

We’ll end this week’s study by putting a twist on using the alphabet to help us in another aspect of prayer.

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, was considered the most important high and holy day in the Jewish faith. It was the one day each year when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Israelites. A rope was tied to the ankle of the high priest, just in case he died in the presence of God, so he could be dragged out of the inner chamber. Approaching the mercy seat was serious business.

Still today, Yom Kippur includes a 24 hour fast and day-long services at the synagogue. Leading up to the Day of Atonement, there are ten days of introspection and repentance for sins, both individual and corporate. Ten days is a long stretch to keep coming up with sins to confess, so according to Jewish tradition, they use the Aleph-Bet to guide them in their penitence.

Atonement18_MS_Header_01

When asked why the confession of sins was to be done in alphabetical order, Rabbi Yizak of Vorki (1779–1848) answered, “If it were otherwise, we should not know when to stop beating our breasts. For there is no end to sin, and no end to the awareness of sin, but there IS an end to the alphabet!” 

I confess that my confessions sound just as repetitive as my thanksgivings sometimes do. “I’m sorry, Lord, for eating too much, for general laziness, and for using snarky, sarcastic words. Again today.” Ho-hum. Perhaps alphabetizing my transgressions will force me to be sorry for some things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. “Forgive me, Lord, for my Attitude, for being Bossy, for Criticizing the way PB makes the bed…”

Now I see why there are ten days to prepare for the Day of Atonement. Thank goodness it only comes around once a year. At least I know that when I finally get to confessing my lack of zeal, I can stop. Until next time.

If you need to catch up:
Monday – Stanza B
Tuesday – Long Song Study, part B
Wednesday – Bet
Thursday – B is for But