Depending on your backstory or world view, the word “confession” can conjure up a variety of mental images and impressions. For example, if you are Catholic, then confession is a sacrament where you confess your sins to the priest who then intercedes on your behalf and proclaims that your sins have been forgiven.
If you are in law enforcement, then a confession is something you hope to obtain from your suspect to facilitate his prosecution.
Yet, for others, confession is an admission of guilt, an admission that they were wrong.
James 5:16 says “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” For my entire life, I thought this verse told me to confess to my brothers and sisters at church the sins that I had committed, and the temptations I had struggled with. If I shared my dirty laundry, and they shared theirs, we could all pray for each other and we’d find healing.
While that may be a good practice, it is highly unlikely. We fear being judged and marginalized by others, and that level of confession opened us up for both. In my experience, in church groups, or Bible studies, we tend to keep our confessions small (I violated my diet this week) in order to show imperfection without opening ourselves up for criticism. The problem is that this lack of transparency not only hinders the healing effect of praying for each other in faith, but it also falls way short of the healing and fellowship (dare I say Spiritual intimacy) that God intended for us.
James 5:16 does not tell us to confess everything we did wrong last week. It told us to confess our faults. In essence, we are to confess our weaknesses, struggles, and whether our faith is wavering, and why our faith may be wavering.
This level of confession is basically a total transparency with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a transparency that is rare for the same reason we do not truly confess our sins to others. We lack trust in each other and we fear being judged by others.
Yet, it is this level of transparency that is completely necessary to heal. As a pastor and a chaplain, I cannot truly help you if I do not know what your real struggle is. I cannot truly pray for you if I do not truly understand what is distressing you.
Therefore, I ask my congregants and patients to be completely transparent with me, no matter how bad their confession may sound. (I often add that there is almost no chance that anything they say can catch me by surprise or draw my disgust).
If they are angry with God, I need to know. Then we can work to uncover the cause of that anger and pray it over. If they are struggling with sexual sin, I need to know, so that I can pray for them, but also so that I can refer them to resources that will help them overcome temptation. If they cannot understand how God would allow them to suffer, and so they are questioning His very existence, I need to know, so that I can take them to the scriptures that will explain it and offer them comfort.
And, in some cases, it is entirely necessary and appropriate for me to refer them to a competent, licensed professional counselor. But I cannot make that determination if I do not know their struggle.
Therefore, I ask, “What is your struggle? What is your fault? What do you need to confess today?”
I don’t ask to condemn. I ask so I can assess and help.
Confession is about transparency, and transparency is about identifying the problem so you can find healing. That healing is accessed by prayer, and that healing comes from God.
So, find a few brothers or sisters in Christ. Find your pastor. Confess your faults to each other. Be transparent. And pray for each other. You will find that God will indeed heal you.