Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

droughtThey’re triumphant words, a hymn I sang often as a child on Sunday nights:

‘Tis a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the lamb.

You’d think that 123 years after Ralph Hudson penned those 1892 lyrics that we’d be much closer as the people of God to that vision. But when I look at the church today, I realize how dry like a desert we are, how broken, how guilty, how desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We have forgotten that 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is addressed to a group of believers, the Thessalonians. God calls the church to be sanctified, to be pure in her culture and her systems, yet we have fallen pitifully short and the watching world has surely noticed that we are no different than they.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

No denomination has a corner on the market on righteousness. Across the spectrum of churches, things are awry. There’s no need to make a laundry list of offenses. That list is added to every day in online newspaper articles or on social media, undercutting our sacred mission in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

We look around us at our culture and see it plummeting downward. Too quickly, we are ready to call down upon those who make no claim to Christian faith the fiery judgment of God. But have we forgotten that God’s judgment falls first upon us, the church? Peter reminded his readers:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added).

Acts 5:1-11 is the fearful story of Ananias and Sapphira. Because they misrepresented to Peter the price that they had received for selling their land, Peter warned Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later, to Sapphira he asked: “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). Because of the cover-up – their complicity in lying – both fell down and died, first Ananias then later – playing dumb – Sapphira. If nothing else, doesn’t this story teach us that harboring known sin in our lives has negative physiological effects upon us? If that is true for individuals, what effect upon the overall health of our churches is there when corporately we look the other way when there has been wrongdoing? Shall we be surprised should God one day look at us, his people, and declare:

Ichabod! The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21)?

The Psalmist wrote: “”Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, NIV).

My prayer first of all is for myself, that I will remain transparent before God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict  me of sin, leading me to ongoing change in my heart and life. But can it stop there? As God’s people, the church, let us acknowledge where we have allowed wrong ecclesiastical practices to go unchallenged and unchanged. Only then can the spiritual revival we seek take hold and make us the holy people God wants us to be. Surely, only a transformed people can transform our world (Matthew 5:13).

Together, let us pray:

“Almighty God, we your people have merited nothing but your disdain. In word, thought and deed, we as your church have failed; we have sinned. Like a land in drought, we are spiritually dry. Again and again, we have sought to increase our power and wealth rather than lifting up the powerless and destitute. We have run after position and fame, forgetting that your son, Jesus, divested himself of his glory, becoming a humble servant. Grant that we your people may  see the sinful log in our own eye then trust you to remove it. Do not repay us, your church, according to our transgressions or we will surely be lost! Forgive us, cleanse us, and fill us anew with the love and presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as your church not to conduct business as this world does, but show us a different way, your higher way. Hear us, we pray, for it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we with humble repentance offer this prayer, AMEN.”

 

Image credit: Life is Bigger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

  1. Greg,
    I totally agee your post and prayers.
    The problem arises when some Wesleyan People inclusign some Nazarenes who think this kind of prayer is too Calvinist in praying a prayer that we have sinned in word, thought, and deed rather than Wesleyan. I am not sure, but I think this thinking has come to this point because there have been teachers and preachers who have taught that being saved and sanctified that one is without sin and are pure and holy saints, not sinners saved by grace. No, we do not have to sin in word, thought, and deed, but we are able to live in holiness by the power of God’s Grace to not sin, but if we happen to sin we have an advocate to forgive us when we repent. I even had a fellow seminary student, who is close to my age, complained about the Wesley Covenant Service being done in a Nazarene church because it was too Calvinistic. How do we handle people’s thinking and beliefs like this even when they are ordained elders

    • Hello Gary –

      Thank you for your comment. You are correct that there has been a strain of Wesleyan-Holiness teaching in the past – in my estimation, an erroneous strain – that ruled out confession for the entirely sanctified believer. However, does not the Lord’s Prayer itself teach us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12)? Admittedly, this is a tension in our teaching. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe that it is possible to avoid willful sin. However, we must be willing to admit when we individually or corporately have fallen short and seek God’s atoning grace. 1 John 2:1-2 (NIV) captures this well: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Note the corporate language, i.e. our sins. Why do we find it so hard as churches to say: “Lord, together, we messed up. Forgive us!”?

      • Greg,
        Thank you. I said what I did because too often I have come across people who are upset when a prayer such as that is said in corporate worship. I understand the need of a constant forgiveness that allow me to be free of sin, but because I am not fully perfected as Jesus is, I fall short of living without sinning. IN answer to your question, I which I knew why churches are so unwilling to confess their sins when they recognize their sins, but to often I hear them say they made a mistake, not sin.

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