Have you ever come to a time of confession only to find your mind blank? 1 John 1:8-9 says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." So surely there are plenty of sins to confess for everyone. And I agree wholeheartedly with John that there is something freeing and purifying when I do confess sins. But what do you do when you just can't think of anything to confess?
I have found prayer structures helpful 'training wheels' for including more confession in my prayer life, for example, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). And it was during a period where I used ACTS daily that I discovered that I would often struggle to think of anything to pray when I got to the confession part. I found the following prayer based loosely on Psalm 139:23-24 helpful for getting me past mental blanks and into valuing confession:
"Lord God, search me and see if there is any offensive way in me. [Pause as long as you need for reflection.] Father God, I confess that I ______________. I repent and commit to turning away from this sin. I take hold of the forgiveness I have in Jesus Christ and ask for your Holy Spirit to help me."
Occasionally, I genuinely can't think of anything during the time of reflection and move on after praying something simple like, "Lord, you know my heart, keep renewing me to be more like Christ." But more often, I have found that when I ask God to show me my sins, he really does. And he does so in such a gentle manner with very wise timing. Once I confess my sins, what great joy and relief I experience, knowing that Christ covers my sins and that his Spirit dwells in me, transforming even my desire for sin. When this transformation is slow going, I am also wonderfully comforted by remembering that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
Finally, let me offer some examples from my own confession life along with Bible references that go with them. Some are old recurring struggles of mine and some brief realisations, which I can deal with quickly. I hope that they might encourage you and help you taste the peace and joy of praying in confession:
• Anxiety due to not trusting that God is in control. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Matthew 6:26-27).
• Impatience with God's timing. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
• Indulgence in entertainment rather than feeding my mind on wholesome content. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
• Pride when tempted to criticise other. "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5).
• Lust. "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:28-29).
• Idolatry of control, money, recognition, materialism etc. "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." (Luke 4:8).
• Caring more about what other people think than what God thinks. "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe" (Proverbs 29:25).
If you don't tease out the patterns of sin that need confession during the week when you have time to reflect, the one minute of contemplation before communion on Sunday will never be sufficient. Will you pray with me this week that God will show us our sins and help us turn from them?