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New Horizons

Helps for Worship #16: Prayer of Confession (Part 2)

William Shishko

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 NKJV)

Reformed worship is marked by its great use of the Word of God. Even the prayers in Reformed worship are formed by the Scriptures as the Word of God. That includes the prayer of confession, which usually follows a reading of Scripture.

The biblical understanding of confession is "to say the same thing as ..." When we confess our faith, we "say the same thing" as God tells us in his Word regarding himself, the way of salvation, and what a true Christian is to be. When we confess our sins, we "say the same thing" as God regarding what sin is, how serious it is, and how much we desire to be delivered from it and its effects. In order to do that, we use the Scriptures as our guide.

In preparing to lead the congregation in corporate prayer of confession of sin, the minister does several things:

  1. He asks how the Scriptures (and particularly the Scripture portion used before the prayer) call him and the congregation to "say the same thing" as God says regarding their many failings and shortcomings before a perfect God.
  2. He considers the promises (especially those given in the Scripture portion before the prayer) that should be brought before God as he represents the congregation before the throne of grace.
  3. He takes time to let both the calls to confession of sin and the promises of God's mercy through Jesus Christ impact his own life as a man and as a minister, so that he might not pray in an unfeeling manner.

How wonderful this portion of worship is! God himself tells us (and in a responsive reading we remind one another) how far short of his glory we fall. In heartfelt prayer before that God, we make a humble confession of our many failings as we are led by the one called to minister on our behalf. And we do all this before "the throne of grace," encouraged by many, many promises of divine forgiveness. Is there any other way to approach the absolutely holy God?

For Reflection

  1. What are some differences between your personal confession of sin and the corporate confession of sin that is part of public worship?
  2. Do you really enter into the confession of sin, or do you tune out? What do the two different responses say about the way you approach the Lord?
  3. How can you better participate in this part of public worship?

The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, New York. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2007. First article in series. Index.

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