Moved 4 Ways: Confession and Renewing Your Congregation

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The Daily Office uses a prayer of confession deeply rooted in the history of the church. Somewhere, at some time you may have prayed it in worship:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.”

Typically when praying this confession on a daily basis I’m struck by the words “left undone” (or as one my Seminary Professors said, “the things we never even imagined doing). The list of things that I have “left undone” is long and inexhaustible. There are so many things to do in the world, so much brokenness, so many who need care, so many structures that perpetuate injustice—how can we not  crumble as we pray “left undone.”

But then I noticed something that is quite possibly obvious to you. Like the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer of confession is plural—this is a prayer we pray together. It is not that I have to do all of these things or have left all of these things undone (or never imagined things I should be doing), it is the body of Christ, the fellowship of the faithful, the church. 

Which leads me to recognize four ways this prayer hits me: 

  1. In my world of hyper individualism I actually need to repent of praying this prayer as if it just about me. My sin is to believe I have to take on the world alone, be a sole agent of renewal rather than to take on renewal with those who are part of my church community.
  2. This prayer is actually one in which in the midst of confession I also give thanks. Thanks for others in the body of Christ (1 Cor.12) whom God has given not only different abilities but different passions in life. While I focus in one area of kingdom life and concern, they focus on another—it creates a well rounded life together
  3. There remains the haunting words, “left undone” (or things we never imagined doing). Now it is not simply me who has undone things, it is the body of Christ, the local church I am a part of that has left things undone. What are those things we’ve left undone? What are those things we’ve never imagined doing? How does praying this prayer as a community week-by-week force us to pay attention to the things we’ve left undone and who will pay that attention? If we are truly going to fully renew our churches we have to stop and ask, “What’s been left undone that God has for our congregation?” and “What have we never imagined doing that God is calling us to?”
  4. In the daily office after this prayer always comes words of assurance, that God forgives us our sins through Jesus Christ  and empowers us to live for him by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, as I pray this prayer daily and as I join with the voices of fellow believers on Sunday in this prayer I wonder if we don’t move too quickly from confession to assurance. Doesn’t confession mean moving into a new place? Doesn’t being a congregation of renewal mean stopping at the end of our confession for reflection rather than running to hear an assurance of pardon? Wouldn’t our confession (at least sometimes) mean the church leadership coming together and saying, “what have we left undone, what have we never imagined doing?” Wouldn’t it mean listening to the voices of those outside our congregation who can teach us what we’ve left undone? Wouldn’t it mean from time to time declaring we know what we’ve left undone, but the truth is we don’t care? What we really want is not change but God’s assurance that we’ll be OK even as we continue on our way? 

This small prayer of confession for me turns into a prayer that raises all kinds of questions about individualism, our heart of confession, as well as, thanksgiving that the work of the kingdom is not on my shoulders alone; God has put me into a kingdom community where we pray and work out these words together.

How does this prayer of confession stir up your thinking about how your congregation and how you live into a deep renewal journey?

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