It is a terrible feeling to show up to an important occasion without being properly dressed. The first time I ever went to a Moody pastors conference, I didn’t go as a speaker; I just went to be refreshed. And one afternoon during the conference, I had been doing something else and I was dressed casually in a Mickey Mouse shirt.
Now, normally that isn’t the sort of thing I would wear at a conference. But that day I thought I’d slip into the auditorium and hear the final message that night. But then the president of the conference got up and said, “Is John MacArthur in the audience? If he is, I’d like to have him come up and lead us in prayer.”
That was the first and last time I wore a Mickey Mouse shirt at a pastors conference because I had to get up in front of everyone and pray dressed like that. And the main thing I remember now, years later, is how apologetic I was. I kept saying, “I don’t know why you asked me to pray. I’m sure if you knew, you would never have asked me up here. I don’t belong up here.” I wasn’t properly dressed. I was out of place.
This is a great picture of what confession is in prayer. As sinners coming into the presence of a holy God, we come with a recognition that we are not properly suited to be there, except by virtue of the righteousness of Christ. In light of that, prayer should include a setting aside of sin.
We see this very clearly in Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 because the prayer is really centered on confession. Look at these two bookending statements:
So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)
Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God … (Daniel 9:20)
When God is at work in a life, repentance and confession become the norm. In fact, the more devout your soul is — the deeper your love for God is, the higher your standard of holiness is, the truer your commitment to Christ is — the greater your sense of sinfulness will be.
Don’t suppose that the more mature a Christian becomes, the less troubled they will be by sin. It’s just the opposite. The more you mature, the more sensitive you will become to the sin that remains in your life. The closer you get to God, the more heinous your sin will look to you.
This is where confession comes in. Confession is saying the same thing that God says about your sin; it is agreeing that your sin is sin. In true prayer, we enter into the presence of God with a sense of His absolute holiness, and so we willingly acknowledge our sin to Him.
We see this sort of confession throughout Scripture. When David committed his terrible sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah, his love for God left him totally broken over his sin. We see in Psalm 51 how crushed he was by it. He hated it. We can feel his zeal as he pleads,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:10-11)
We see this sort of confession from the Israelites in Nehemiah 9:
The sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. (verses 1-3)
We see this also in Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). From these examples, we see that awareness and confession of sin is a normal part of life for godly men and women. Consider this story:
A farmer went with his son into the wheat field to see if it was ready for the harvest. “See, father,” said the boy, “how straight those stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. Those that hang down their heads, as if they were ashamed, cannot be good for much, I’m sure.” The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind, and said, “Look here, foolish child. This stalk that stood up so straight is light-headed, and almost good for nothing; while this that hung its head so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain.” (Newton, The Biblical Illustrator)
The godliest saints are bent lowest with the good fruit of humility and confession. And so it is no surprise that Daniel’s excellent prayer is so suffused by the acknowledgement of sin and of God’s justice in judging it.
However, if prayer was only about recognizing, confessing, and humbling ourselves under our sin, there would be little hope in it. But Daniel’s prayer does not stop there. In the next post we will look at how Daniel moves through confession and into a hopeful appeal to God’s grace and faithfulness.
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