If you are a parent, teacher, or person who works with youth, you’ve probably been asked this question: Do I have to apologize? But when a young person offends or hurts someone else and doesn’t really want to acknowledge it and humbly say they’re sorry, most adults insist they recognize and reflect on the effects of their action or inaction, apologize, and make amends. To acknowledge one’s failures and humbly apologize is a vital skill for being in healthy relationships and developing an honest opinion of oneself. If learning the skill of apologizing is important for having right relationships with people, how much more important it is to confess our sin when we are in the presence of our holy God! If we are a Christian, the most important relationship we have is with our triune God, whose purity and holiness illuminate our own failures and those of the covenant community to which we belong. In order to rightly live in relationship with God we must practice confession and ask for forgiveness for our sins against God, others, the creation God asked us to take care of, and even ourselves, as well as for the things we should have done but chose not to.
When we confess our sins in corporate worship, we are also teaching those gathered a spiritual discipline they will need the rest of the week as they struggle to live a holy life. But it goes even deeper than that. Our confession is always followed by God’s words of forgiveness. Indeed, it is because we are assured of God’s forgiveness that we have the courage to come clean. This practice of confession and forgiveness is an encapsulation of the gospel message that we as God’s people need to be reminded of regularly. For many congregations this is a weekly practice with set prayers. For others there is greater freedom in the words used, the mode (spoken by a leader, recited by the whole congregation, prayed silently, or sung), and the placement in the service. Yet in some worshiping communities the act of confession has been neglected.
Outside of the weekly rhythm of worship, the season of Lent presents us with another opportunity to practice this discipline. Lent is naturally a season of reflection and penitence, a time to acknowledge how we, both individually and communally, need the perfecting work of a Savior. Within the context of the gift of redemption, our time of confession should not be depressing, but rather uplifting and hopeful.
It is with that good news in mind that we’ve chosen in this issue to focus in part on the spiritual discipline of confession. If you are a pastor or worship leader wondering how to lead confession in a politically charged environment, check out Scott Hoezee’s “Let Us Repent,” part of his regular column “For Pastors.” John Witvliet connects the service of confession with the act of entrusting our whole selves to God. Andrew de Gelder offers the Lenten worship series “Good News,” and Deborah Ann Wong writes about fasting, another spiritual discipline related to the humble act of confession. Those are just a few of the many wonderfully thoughtful and creative resources you will find in this issue. May you be blessed by these gifts.