Last week, I wrote about the how we must practice the spiritual discipline of accountability. We need to be raw and vulnerable with our brothers and sisters in Christ so that they can encourage and spur us towards holiness. But it is nearly impossible to develop this type of accountability unless we are already disciplining ourselves to examine our hearts, thoughts, and actions and making a regular confession of sin.
I have felt overwhelmed by my sin at times. I try to pray immediately when I recognize sin but some sin is so deeply woven into the pattern of my life that, unless I stop and look at my life in comparison to the holiness of God, I am unlikely to notice some of the systematic sins that I need to be rooting out of my heart.
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Remind Yourself of the Holiness of God
One of the reasons I love using my prayer beads, is because I typically begin by using the first section as a way of praising God for His character. I marvel at His mercy, give thanks for His fatherly compassion, and wonder at His creativity. When I then move onto the next section, the part where I confess my sin, have a different image in my mind of who I am. You can also download a prayer journal here to help with this practice.
No longer am I praying, like the Pharisee in Luke 18, comparing myself to others and thanking God that I am not like the sinners around me, but instead, I am looking at the holy, perfect God and realizing just how fallen I am.
When I compare myself to those in my neighborhood, I might seem merciful. But when instead of fallen humans, I compare my heart to that of God’s, I see that even my greatest efforts at mercy are pathetic.
Read the Prayers of Others
Have you ever listened to a song that you feel like was written just for you? Prayers can be the same way. Other believers have walked this life and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through then to convict their hearts of sin. Reading their prayers and making them your own can be a powerful way to examine your heart.
Valley of Visions: A Collection of Puritan Prayers, has been especially helpful in my life. Each prayer tends to shoot right to the heart of brokenness of our lives as a result of sin but always ends rejoicing in the abundant grace offered freely by God. The psalms and minor prophets also have many examples of times that sin is called out and repented of (or, in the case of the prophets, not repented of) that we can look to as a way to encourage deep examination of our own hearts.
Reading the writings of early Church Fathers and others saints and martyrs who have gone before us also helps us wrestle with the sin in our own life. When I read about the struggles that they vulnerably tell of, I realize that I am not unique amongst believers and am able to recognize that even the heroes of the faith have struggled. When I look at their struggles, when I wrap my heart around the depth of their brokenness and the mighty deeds which God called them to, I am given hope that God will work through me despite my shortcomings.
Those of you who have been following along here for awhile know that I love old-fashioned, tangible things. But modern technology does have some advantages and there are several apps that I have found helpful in the process of examining my heart to make a thorough confession of sin.
Confession: A Roman Catholic App has been incredibly helpful to my Protestant faith. It goes through each of the Ten Commandments and highlights the ways one might be violating them in their life (Such as “Have you harbored anger or resentment?” under the 5th Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Kill”). It is very thorough and brought to my attention several ways I was unintentionally conforming to the world instead of allowing my heart to be transformed into the image of Christ.
The New City Catechism app is also helpful in reviewing the commandments given and reminding myself of the holiness of God. This is also an excellent app to use in dedicating yourself to the study of the faith. Bonus: This is a free app!
There are many tools and options to help you engage in this part of your faith. What matters is not whether you use an app with a reminder or prayerfully examine yourself, what matters is that you take time to examine your heart, to realize the depth of your depravity, and to embrace the fullness of the depth of God’s grace.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:20-21, ESV
It is crucial to our pursuit of holiness. We need to dig into the messy areas of our soul that we might not even realize we’ve left untended. But when we confess to one another, we find healing. Healing from the shame of secrecy. Healing from the hurts and confusion that have come from years of suppressing the breakdown caused by the fall. Healing that comes from wondering if we have just too much tucked down inside of us for God to truly love us.