In about 1150 BC, Moses gave final instructions before the children of Israel entered the promised land, following forty years of wandering in the wilderness after their captivity in Egypt:
15 “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you…
64 “Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known—wood and stone. 65 And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see. 68 “And the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships, by the way of which I said to you, ‘You shall never see it again.’ And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” (Deuteronomy 28.15, 64-68)
All of this came to pass in about 600 BC when the Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar raided and subsequently destroyed Jerusalem. Daniel was little more than a boy when Nebuchadnezzar carried him far from home as a captive.
Confession was the necessary first step to restoration
Fast forward roughly 70 years later ... Daniel was now an old man. In 539 BC, when today's text in Daniel 9 was given, Israel's punishment was nearing an end, but that did not mean restoration was automatic. The people had been punished and carried away, just as the Lord promised through Moses, but they had never acknowledged their sin, and Daniel’s prayer was a necessary step in their restoration.
If a child intentionally disobeys their parent and is punished for it, but refuses to take responsibility, will their parent restore full trust in them? No, not until the child acknowledges the error of their ways.
A Genuine Confession Must Have Two Elements:
The essence of confession is this: “You were right, I was wrong.” Listen to Daniel in verse 7 - “O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face.” (v7) See the pattern? "You were right, I was wrong."
Also in verses 8 and 9 - “O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him.” There it is again: "You were right, I was wrong.”
Acknowledge where God was right
You did right … You spoke truth
Acknowledge where we were wrong
We did wrong… We did and thought wrong
This type of humility is what it takes for restoration in any relationship, not just our spiritual relationship with God. But why did Daniel take responsibility for the sins of others? That doesn’t seem fair... Daniel seems like a pretty good guy! Fasting, praying three times a day, standing up to the king and being thrown to the lions without fear … Why should Daniel make a prayer of confession for something he clearly didn’t do?
Psychologists would call this very unhealthy and probably label Daniel as codependent. However, it was important in this case, because Daniel was a leader among his people. He was perhaps the most visible representative of Israel at that time. Look again at the specific words Daniel used in verse 8: “O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against you.” Even though he mentions the guilt of all the children of Israel later, in this passage he is referring specifically to the leaders of the nation -- the representatives of the people -- the kings, princes, and fathers.
Daniel understood an important leadership principle: “The speed of the leader sets the speed of the team.” Or, put another way, if a leader won’t go, nobody will. So Daniel was leading his people by example. And sometimes that means taking our lumps with the rest of the team. Sometimes a leader has to bear the shame of their people, even when the leader is not directly responsible.
Thankfully, today, under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, there is not the same need for collective social guilt as there was under the old covenant between God and Israel. We have a new covenant, written in the hearts of each individual. We each answer to God for our own sins. However, there are still times when an individual might be put in a position of leadership, and might need to take responsibility for the actions of the people under their authority. Ye Heads of household. Ye Fathers. Ye chiefs and managers ... Learn from Daniel’s bold leadership. Sometimes it takes a confession.
How to Sabotage a Confession ... and Miss Out on Restoration
Now I’d like to talk about where the rubber meets the road for us today. There are some key principles of confession that apply to every relationship we have -- friendships, marriages, coworkers, children, grandchildren! -- not only our relationship with God.
And just as confession was the necessary first step in Israel’s restoration, I believe that confession is also a necessary first step in the restoration of any relationship, whether that is your relationship with God, or your relationship with the person sitting next to you this morning. Without genuine confession, there can be no restoration.
Here we go -- three ways to sabotage a confession and make it phony. Three ways to sap it of all its power.
1. Make Excuses: Sincere apologies never include excuses. “I was wrong, but…” Those “buts” never lie - they always betray insincerity. “I was wrong, but my day was awful..” “I was wrong but I didn’t have all the information.” “I was wrong but you made me do it.” None of that works in a real confession. All of those buts will get in the way. Even if they are true and reasonable and make perfect sense, they ruin the process of confession: here’s why -- when a wrong has been done, people need you to acknowledge their hurt, not explain it. The explanation might vindicate you, but it does nothing to heal the pain of the other person. Every “but” we offer in a confession -- every excuse -- is really all about saving our face. And saving face is not what confession is about. It is about recognizing that a wrong has been done. The healing process cannot begin in a relationship until that step of acknowledging the pain happens first. No excuses. No buts. The great basketball coach John Wooden put it this way: “Never make excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them.”
2. The second way to rob a confession of it’s power is to Blame Someone Else. Daniel could have done this. He could have pointed the finger at a hundred others, said it was the fault of those leaders from the past. But he didn’t. He took responsibility and included himself in the list of those who had sinned and broken covenant with God. I have noticed that our culture is particularly good at blaming others for our own actions. We blame the police, blame the government, blame our parents! But we never take responsibility for our own actions. In my first job out of college, I made a mistake. In a meeting, I apologized for the error to the COO. My supervisor, who was between me and the COO, later pulled me aside and said, “Never say you’re sorry.” She lost her job a few months later. Just a few years ago, many years after this incident, I ran into that COO. She remembered me, and actually offered me a job back at that company right on the spot. I didn’t take the job, but I remembered the lesson well. While it may be expedient to blame others for the mess we’re in, it is never redemptive to do so. If you want to experience restoration, you must take responsibility for your actions, and stop blaming others.
3. Finally, a sure way to ruin a confession is to use it as an opportunity to Bargain for Better Terms: Unconditional surrender is the most powerful peace offering you can make. We like to negotiate, and negotiation is a healthy thing if you are buying a car or settling a contract. But when it comes to damaged relationships and confessing the error of our ways, bargaining about consequences too early is dangerous ground. There may come a time for bargaining later -- after the process of restoration has begun -- but in this all-important first step of confession, bargaining must remain off the table. What matters most at this stage of the healing process is the purity of your motives and the sincerity of of your sorrow. Don’t clutter a good confession up by pleading for softer terms and conditions. Just be willing to say, “I’m sorry. You were right. I was wrong.” Otherwise, your confession will be seen by the other as nothing more than a clever tactic, and not a true outpouring of the heart. Surrender unconditionally. Then begin to rebuild. Let the consequences be hammered out later -- for now, at the start, when you need to just get the wheels of restoration turning, leave bargaining and consequences out of the picture.
As long as there remains an excuse, a hint of blame, or a condition of surrender, our confessions will remain empty and powerless. Like an anchor dragging behind you, transgressions and sins that are never really addressed properly will hold your relationships hostage.
Some of you are probably uneasy about this. You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but I’m exposing myself to a lot of risk here. What if the other person doesn’t take responsibility for their part of this mess?” “What about the other person’s faults?” You’re right. It is risky. All I can tell you is that you can only take responsibility for your own part of things. The other party’s confession is not your concern. Only God can convict of sin. You are not God. You are not the Holy Spirit. You are responsible for only one person -- yourself. And none of us has the standing to claim we are blameless and without sin -- much less the standing to prosecute another person.
Isn’t it interesting how something as small as a single strand of a cobweb can get in your hair and cause you to flail around like a madman? Even the tiniest unconfessed sin is like that -- it seems so insignificant, but it has the power to entangle your mind and make you miserable. Until we learn to admit the fullness of our responsibility for our sins, we will never really be ready for forgiveness, and restoration will remain always out of reach.
Is there something you need to confess -- and I mean REALLY confess -- without excuse, without blame, without bargaining for better terms? My prayer for you (and I hope your prayer for me) is that we will come to a full understanding of any error in our ways, and that we might begin the process of restoration by taking that ever-important first step of confession.
Fresh Hope, a New Day
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7.13-14)
This passage of Scripture can be misappropriated, of course. As originally spoken, the verses apply to Israel specifically. It may apply to a nation, but I think it is absolutely appropriate to say that this principle, the principle of confession and turning from our wicked ways applies to the landscape of our relationships with one another, our friends, our families, and our neighbors.
May God’s grace guide you into the restoration He so deeply desires for you!