If we confess …

The flood gates of God's speech opened up that day I prayed that God would show me His justice.  His response, "I am faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness," was beautiful and freeing, but how could I receive that promise?  That same day, as I went downstairs to work on supper, I began to contemplate the whole verse.  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

If we confess.  That seemed to be the way to receive the promise, but it filled my heart with ache and longing.  You see, I confessed my sins all the time.  Father, I yelled at the children.  Father, I yelled at my husband.  Father, I shouldn't have bought that.  Father, I should have been fixing dinner instead of checking email.  It sure didn't seem very effective for cleansing.  I did the same thing again another day.  So as I opened the refrigerator, I asked God plaintively, "Is that all we do, confess our sins?  That doesn't seem like enough.  Don't we have to do more?"  God's response was simply to repeat the whole verse, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all righteousness."  In other words, He said, "What did I say?"

God said it, so it must be true, but my heart still ached to see it.  As I continued to contemplate the verse over the next few months, God gave me two comforts.  One was another word in response to another query from me.  The other was another parable building on the parable about roots.

First, as I was sitting one day teaching one of my daughters to write an A, I told God, "You must be so angry with me, because I know I shouldn't get angry and yell, but I still do it."  I don't know the context.  Had I just yelled at someone?  All I know was the beautiful answer, "Do you get angry with your daughter for not getting her A perfect?  She knows what it should look like."  No, I don't.  I know that knowing what an A should look like is different from being able to form one.  I knew also that God was saying He wasn't angry with me, but that He has grace to teach me how to form righteousness.  As I thought on that message, I watched myself teaching my daughter.  I had my hand over hers, helping her form the letter.  I began to pray that God would take my heart and help me to form right responses until my heart learned the form.

Second, I continued to contemplate what it means to confess our sins.  As I said, I confessed all the time.  It seemed I was always having to confess something.  It left me feeling like a horrible person.  All I could see was the things I was doing wrong.  I began to think about what God had said about me trying to mow while He was trying to remove the roots.  I began to picture a tree.  I saw that I was trying to pluck off leaf buds (temptations) before they could unfold.  When leaves (sinful action) did open before I could get to them, I would confess and apologize.  I began to feel God asking me, "Why confess the leaves?  Let's deal with the tree."  I saw that as long as the tree was there, there were going to be times when I couldn't keep up with leaf production. Spring always comes with a burst of buds.  I could get people to help me, to hold me accountable, and I might get further than I would have on my own, but inexorably, spring arrives with a burst of leaves.

I began to wonder, "What is the tree?"  I looked at specific leaves I've dealt with repeatedly.  Yelling at the children.  I saw that when I yell at the kids, it's usually from fear of what injury might happen or what people will think of their behavior.  Yelling at my husband.  That's often a preemptive strike because I think I'm wrong for having a difference of opinion from him.  Worrying.  Did I mention that I worry?  Here is where it got interesting.  I saw that I worry about money because I am afraid I won't have enough.  That was shocking, because I thought I believed God would provide; after all, Jesus said God would.

As I pondered this, I remembered God showing me both carrots and weeds in my garden.  Believing that God will provide does not necessarily preclude believing that God won't provide.  But weeds steal nourishment from the good plants.  My faith that God will provide cannot grow strong and healthy as long as my thought that God doesn't provide grows alongside it.  So I was back to the question, "What is the tree?"

Why do I believe God won't provide?  I saw two thoughts with it.  One, I am afraid that God has provided, but if I don't get everything exactly right, the enough won't be enough.  Every spending purchase becomes agony, because I feel God has an exact formula that is just short of impossible to discern and follow, and if I were good enough, I could figure it out.  Two, I am afraid that God has planned it out for me to have enough, but other people aren't cooperating.  There are lots of people connected with my money who might get in the way of what God tried to provide – bosses, co-workers and those I serve, store owners, politicians and IRS agents, doctors and insurance agents, thieves.

As I considered these things, I saw that I still hadn't identified the tree.  I had identified branches.  So what is the tree?  I felt as though God were asking me, "Is that really me?  Will I really say, 'I provided and protected, but you messed it up?' or 'I provided and protected, but others prevented me?'"  To be honest, I wasn't sure, but here God was asking me again, "Who do you say I am?"  When I told Him I longed for a Father who would lead me to obey Him by loving Him, not drive me to obey Him by fearing Him, He had asked, "What makes you think I'm not like that?"  Now He was asking, "Is that really me?"  As long as I think that's who God is, my thoughts are going to produce lots of leaves, but how can I stop thinking of God that way?  Isn't it true?

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