Confessional Living: the joy of humility

The psalmist said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Psalm 32:3-4 NLT
God went to great lengths to draw the psalmist into confession. The Message paraphrases the above verses like this: “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.”
Why was God so hard on him? We learn the answer to this question later in the same psalm (32) when the psalmist can no longer stand his misery. “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
The relief was so great the psalmist said: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” The Amplified puts the second part this way: “Blessed is he who has forgiveness of his transgression continually exercised upon him, whose sin is covered.”
God knows this kind of joy results when we honestly confess and experience His beautiful forgiveness. He doesn’t want this joy to be something we only experience after committing “big” sins; He wants us to live in this kind of joy all the time. This simply isn’t possible when we think we’re “doing okay.” When we think of our sinfulness merely in terms of “big” sins and only engage in confession when we’ve “really messed up,” we become flat and joy-less. Confessional living requires that we walk daily in the light of God’s truth, allowing it to continually reveal our own selfishness, our hidden sins, and our lack of trust—those ongoing sins that are at our very core. I John 1:9 tells us, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Confessional living requires humility, and we humans don’t generally like humility. We think it will make us unsure, sad, and weak. But that’s not true. When we walk in humility with the Lord, regularly asking the Holy Spirit to convict us and taking all that is revealed to the Lord, He continually purifies and heals us, and we live strong and free and joyously in Him.
Gideon is a perfect example of this (Judges 6-8). After Gideon turned from his “big” sin of idolatry, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He could have hidden this, but instead he regularly admitted it to God. He told God he simply couldn’t do the task God had called him to. He asked for first one sign, then another, then another.
You’d think God would have gotten tired of Gideon’s lack of faith and progress.
But no.
Not once does God rebuke Gideon for being fearful or for admitting his fear. Not once does God express frustration. Instead He shows his acceptance of Gideon just as he is. He reassures him again and again. He meets him in his fear. After God has answered all Gideon’s requests, He tells him, “If you’re afraid (and I know you are), I’ve arranged yet another sign for you down in the enemy camp. You can sneak down there at night. Just stay outside their tents. You’ll hear all you need to know. Oh, and, by the way, take your servant with you if you need a partner to bolster your courage.” (my paraphrase)
Gideon doesn’t protest. He follows God’s directions–and then he worships!
Gideon’s willingness to acknowledge his own faults makes him more aware of God’s greatness.
Then he is able to accept God’s power and peace and joy and go out to do battle in the Lord’s strength.
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. I John 1:9 Amplified

A purpose in being overwhelmed

I write so often about feeling overwhelmed, I wonder if people think it’s my constant condition.

Well, it’s not 24/7, at least not most days.

But daily, at some point, by one thing or another?

Yes.

Last Monday I was overwhelmed by my schedule, by the keeping up with this and that. As I drove the kids to school that morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the teetering tower of papers on the corner of my desk at home. These were “school papers”–all the ones my kids kept bringing home from school and others I’d been handed during back-to-school night two weeks before. I’d put off dealing with “the tower” because I knew I would discover several forms I needed to fill out, many new dates to put in my calendar, and–at this point–a couple of deadlines I’d already missed.

Though “the tower” was on my mind, I couldn’t do anything about it right then, because from 10:30-12:30 on Mondays, I help out in an ESL class run by World Relief (worldrelief.org). I started doing this last year, but I was in the “bridge” class then, which “bridged the gap” for refugees whose English was almost proficient enough for them to take college courses. This year I’m pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum, helping with the lower section of the “Job Class.” Students in this class are the primary breadwinners for their families. They need jobs quickly, and this class is a crash course in conversational English and American work culture. Last week we worked on giving/receiving firm handshakes and pronouncing numbers, particularly dollar amounts. After a student completes 60 hours of training, a World Relief job counselor begins working with him/her to find a job.

I often ask these students, “When did you come to the U.S.?” and the answers range from “last week” to “six weeks ago.” After only 60 hours of class, they will enter a work environment with bosses and coworkers who speak a language they are not proficient in, in a culture very, very different from their own.

I panic for them just thinking about all that.

So back to last Monday morning. Since the World Relief class is closer to my kids’ school than it is my house, I go to a Dunkin Donuts after I drop them off and write from there until it’s time for me to go to World Relief. So there I sat, feeling overwhelmed with my own life and wondering how on earth I was going to be of any use in the job class when I was such a wreck myself. I opened BibleGateway.com to look at the “verse of the day,” trying to change my focus.

It was James 3:13 in the New Living Translation, and the second part jumped out at me: “…doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Now, I don’t claim to have wisdom (being regularly overwhelmed quickly cures me of feeling I do), but this morning I was certainly feeling humble. I was amazed by the refugees’ pluck and determination.

Suddenly my overwhelmed-ness didn’t seem so negative. God had put me in exactly the right frame of mind to honor the people I would work with that morning. My humility sure didn’t come from my own wisdom but from God’s. He had put a task in front of me and then equipped me to do it in the way He wanted me to.

I stopped thinking of the leaning Tower of Papers on my desk and settled into work, and then I went off to class where I shook the hands of men who have never encountered a female boss before and need to be prepared to do just that. I helped a woman say the breathy form of “th” and we laughed and laughed together at all my antics (because it can be really funny when you stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth and hold a piece of paper in front of your mouth so it moves when you say “think” and “three.”) I listened to a man practice the difference between $3,146 and $31.46.

Maybe being overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it simply makes us aware we’re human.

Just like everybody else.