“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
If you have a Catholic background, you may be able to personally identify with the idea of a “confessional booth.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdNwS-2qYDk and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YiZWEAslYE are just two of thousands of videos posted, most either making fun of the practice or profaning it with innuendo or worse. The practice apparently arose to correct monastic abuses from the 12th to the 16th Centuries, and became a normal part of church practice and architecture. It of course, “grows its legs” from the verse above (James 5:16) but misses the mark on two basic nuances. First, the verse says nothing about a “professional class” of ministers or priests “administering” the confession. Secondly, and also most obvious in the text, is that this is something that is to be done “one to another”! That means in order for the Catholic application of the verse to line up with James’ intent, the “Father” or Nun behind the curtain should also confess his or her sins back to the confessor!
The first really mature Christian brother I’d ever met was leading a Bible Study at his home one evening. I arrived early, and we got to spend some time praying for the study before folks arrived. As three or four of us prayed, that leader prayed a VERY TRANSPARENT prayer – confessing that at times during the day, his mind had wandered far away from Christ, confessed that his love and patience for his wife needed work, and confessed an inadequacy in himself to lead others into God’s Word due to a lack of diligence. As I listened to his “confession,” I felt my own soul suddenly revealed and standing naked before my brothers (and my sins – those committed in my mind – were far worse!). As we “prayed around” a few times other guys prayed VERY transparently as well, not groveling and rolling in their sin but simply acknowledging it and moving on to the BEST PART – the FORGIVENESS that is already ours in Christ. By the time we’d finished praying, not only had we “dumped our junk,” we’d also entered the “heavenlies,” taking hold of God and His promises, and we prayed thoroughly for the Bible Study that was about to happen in his home. The Bible Study was AMAZING afterward – many lives were impacted. Needless to say, that mature brother had not only modeled for me what true confession is, he also revealed one of the key secrets of an effective prayer life – PRAY CLEAN – and getting clean is easy when you have brothers you’re accountable to. I would say in this realm, it is best for guys to confess with guys, gals with gals, married couples with each other or possibly in a couples setting, but NEVER should confession and praying together be an opportunity for an inordinate relationship or affection.
Who is in your “core” of relationships? Who can you pray with and get down to the confession level with? If you have no one in your life that fits this role, write down a prayer for such!
Verbalize a prayer that gets your shortcomings out there without drawing attention to yourself. Read and claim 1 John 1:7-9 as you do, knowing that transparency and openness about our weaknesses is the precursor to a POWERFUL prayer life. It isn’t because our “confessions” buy God’s favor on our behalf, but because when we recognize our weaknesses, we tend to fall deeper into the arms of Christ’s dependency making our prayer perspective that much better!
CAUTION: Never use a prayer of confession with others as a way to shock others! Our human imaginations (I know, I have one!) can be incredibly corrupt because of our fallen nature. Just because your mind thinks of some horrendous transgression, doesn’t give your mouth permission to confess and “pollute” a prayer time with fellow Christians. It is not the “prayer description” of our confessed sins that forgives us – rather, it’s the finished work of Christ that gets the job done.
As you pray with others, ask yourself these questions before the words leave your mouth –
1) Do they reveal the true me?
2) Do my words exalt the work of Christ in me despite my weaknesses?
3) Does my confession NOT exploit or call attention to others (sins or embarrassments)?
4) Is my prayer and confession focused on Christ or me? (if me, Lord help me keep quiet!)
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.