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By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 3:19-22).
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10).
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Ps 103:8-14).
The Lord is merciful and gracious! The Lord is slow to anger! The Lord is abounding in steadfast love!
For this I am eternally grateful. Because I am neither merciful nor gracious. I leap to anger, and my steadfast love knows tight boundaries.
Forgiving myself is the number one thing that keeps me distant from God. There is little about me that I do not despise. My every imperfection, weakness, and failure is as close to me as my own heart.
They are, very often, closer to me than God is. And this is probably my greatest sin.
In his book on prayer, George Buttrick writes:
A lecturer to a group of businessmen displayed a sheet of white paper on which was one blot. He asked what they saw. All answered, “A blot.” The test was unfair: it invited the wrong answer. Nevertheless, there is an ingratitude in human nature by which we notice the black disfigurement and forget the widespread mercy.
He then quotes George S. Stewart’s The Lower Levels of Prayer, “To be merciless with anyone, even ourselves, is no virtue.”
Such mercilessness with ourselves is often portrayed as a virtue. Like a Christian version of the job interview humblebrag, when they ask what your greatest weakness is and you answer, “I’m too hard on myself.”
But it truly is no virtue, because it is the cause of much spiritual damage. It truly is dysfunctional! There is nothing good about it! Let me put it this way:
How will you have confidence before God if your heart never stops condemning you? How can God forgive you if you do not forgive yourself? How is He going to put your transgressions as far from you as the east is from the west if you will not be parted from them?
There is nothing wrong with confessing your sins to God. In fact, confess your sins to God regularly! Be specific! Don’t just say, “God, I’ve done some bad things, forgive me please,” but rather, “God, today I kept my tithe from you! Forgive me as I write the check to mail into the offering!” or “God, today I swore at another driver in traffic. Forgive me for my irrational anger!”
And then let those sins go!
It’s one thing to say, “Here’s $20.” It’s another thing entirely to do that and then actually let go of the $20. Just as you haven’t given someone $20 until you let it go, you haven’t finished asking forgiveness from God until you the sins you confess go.
To end, I’ll leave you with a prayer from Søren Kierkegaard, who was prone to inserting prayers to God in his writing:
Father in Heaven! Hold not our sins up against us but hold us up against our sins so that the thought of You when it wakens in our soul, and each time it wakens, should not remind us of what we have committed but of what You did forgive, not of how we went astray but of how You did save us!