Confession and Prayer (Psalm 51)
It is said that confession is good for the soul. Although I know this is true, I’m not sure that my five-year-old son would agree. Confession is a challenge for him. For example, he recently gave himself a haircut. It was one of those discreet little trims that led us to wonder for several weeks why his hair looked a little different, but was only revealed by the barber at his next cut. Once discovered, my son acknowledged his sin, but mysteriously had no recollection of how or when it had happened. We got the whole story only much later, as we pieced his mumbled accounts together. Had he not been “exposed” by the barber, we may have never known. Truth be told, my son hoped that he would never get caught, and only reluctantly, halfheartedly confessed after he was discovered.
It’s easy to laugh at his childhood mischief, but I think my son’s attitude mirrors many of our attitudes toward confession. As we discuss great prayers of the Bible, however, we cannot overlook the importance of genuine confession in the prayer life of the believer.
Perhaps no one in Scripture learned a more humbling lesson about the importance of confession than David. God sought out David to be Israel’s king after Saul’s failure. God led Samuel, an unexpected leader, to anoint David (1 Samuel 16). Although young and inexperienced, David proved to be up to the job. He was a valiant soldier, a beloved military leader, and would be remembered as the greatest king of Israel.
David was, as Acts 13:22 put it, a man after God’s own heart. Even in his greatness, however, David failed miserably from time to time. Perhaps one of his greatest failures occurs in 2 Samuel 11. While his soldiers are away fighting, David lusts for and commits adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah. When the wife, Bathsheba, becomes pregnant, David tries to trick Uriah into thinking that the child is his. This attempt fails when Uriah proves to be above David’s tricks. David then sends Uriah to the front lines of battle where Uriah is killed, allowing David the opportunity to marry Bathsheba. Needless to say, the Lord is not pleased with David’s actions and sends Nathan to confront David. In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan approaches David with a parable of a rich man who the story is about him. Indeed, David is the sinner, and the penalty of his sin will be great. David grieves and seeks forgiveness.
Psalm 51 is attributed to David as his prayer of confession after Nathan’s confrontation. It is a powerful example as David pleads for mercy and cleansing after acknowledging his great sin against God. Psalm 51 has been on the lips of many since David. It is a powerful prayer that brings full circle the realization, repentance, and redemption of the sinner. Like David, we have all failed God miserably at times. Sometimes we realize our sin right away, like Peter after his denial of Jesus. Other times, like David, our sin must be pointed out to us. Whatever the situation, we realize our need for repentance and confess our sins to God. We seek not only God’s forgiveness but also a clean heart and a right spirit. We also acknowledge our need to be broken in our sacrifice to God.
The words in Psalm 51 are powerful, but true confession is about more than saying the right words. Confession must be an attitude of utter repentance and humility. When David realized his sin (it did not take much for him to connect the dots after Nathan’s parable), he sought God’s forgiveness. David fell to his knees, grieved his failures, and cried out to God. This was not very kingly behavior, but David cared only about confessing and being forgiven.
This is what God requires of us as well. It is not enough to say that we’re sorry and then go on with our lives without true change taking place. When we truly confess our sins to God, it should be a gutwrenching, wholehearted acknowledgment of our sin and plea for forgiveness. Whatever our words, the result of our confession should be life change. There is an important thing to remember, however, regarding our personal confessions. Just as David learned, confessing our sins to God does not always equal a free pass on consequences. There may be times when God offers unexplainable mercy, but more often than not, we will still have to face the earthly consequences of our sins. David lost his child and peace in his family. Our own consequences vary, but it is important to realize that God’s forgiveness is worth far more than earthly consequences.
We are challenged to exercise and promote confession as a regular spiritual practice. Although David’s situation was steeped in sin, God wants confession to be part of our everyday lives as well. We are not to wait until we are in some type of huge, sin-filled situation like David’s before we confess. Confession should be part of our regular prayer lives as we acknowledge our imperfections and tendencies toward sin as human beings. It is also important not to exercise confession like my son, confessing our sin only after getting caught. God already knows the whole story. We cannot hide our sins any more than David did. God wants us to realize our sins and seek clean hearts.