Find comfort in confession

Saturday, August 23, 2008

To confess is to "agree with God," or so believes the world's best-known evangelist. This teaching is shared with every person who trains to be a counselor at a Billy Graham crusade.

Unpacking the phrase, "confession means agreeing with God," yields this discovery: When we confess, we don't tell God something previously unknown. God is already aware of the content of our confession before it is uttered or even brought to mind. Following the logic, then, when a person confesses, an admission is thereby made to an all-knowing parent that the person has been wrong. The balm received by the confessor comes in having let loose of the burden of concealment.

In that spirit, I make confession. The first is of trivial consequence; the second has much more gravity.

My first confession is that I am an inveterate pen hoarder. Although I prefer ball-point pens, all kinds are welcome -- rollerball, fountain, felt-tip and gel. It is a special day when a Sharpie comes into my sphere of vision. In my world, there are never enough pens, which -- along with the word processor -- are the primary tools of my trade.

My staff at Centenary United Methodist is aware that if I ask to borrow a pen, they likely will never see it again. If a pen is abandoned on a table or some other surface, it becomes mine. "Finders keepers" is not a Christian concept, to be sure, but that adage applies to me when it comes to this writing instrument.

I feel better now that I've told you.

Next, a much more serious confession -- one of which God is fully aware, else it would have never occurred to me to admit it. I have a limited amount of compassion. My compassion is at its lowest ebb when I hear whining. The limits to my compassion, however, are not limited to this form of complaining.

As a finite human being, there are only so many things I can care about at one time. There is small consolation in knowing that all human beings share this failing with me. If we cared about everything -- every need, every problem -- our hearts would burst. We simply do not have the capacity. So each of us must ration our caring. We prioritize what we care about and shake off those things for which we simply do not have room. Our expectation is that someone else will carry that burden and will dole out life-giving concern from his/her compassion pool.

God is different. God cares about every problem and need. Jesus, the incarnate God, said as much: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) But in the very next verse, God does not leave us there merely to dump problems. "Take my yoke upon you," he says, "and learn from me." In acknowledging God's bottomless reservoir of compassion, we can be taught to care more.

No, our hearts can't handle all needs and problems, but they can deal with more than we imagine. There is untapped love inside of us, and it can be energized. This is one of the benefits of reading God's written word; it teaches that God has placed compassion within us, waiting to be unleashed. As Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)

God isn't finished with us yet, not by a long shot. You and I still need a lot of polish. As it says in our ordination services, "This I do so confess."

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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