Confession is Good for the Soul: Lessons from Daniel’s Prayer

Growing up, confession was something very foreign to me. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean that I did not do wrong and had no need to confess to my parents or teachers. I just had a way of reinterpreting my “wrong” as a misunderstanding or worse yet, as someone else’s fault. My lack of desire to admit fault for my wrongdoing was my way of trying to get out of facing the consequences of my actions. 

I vividly remember the first time I sat in a church service as a brand new Christian, and hearing one of the pastors lead the church in a corporate confession of prayer. It was a long, detailed & personal, genuine and direct acknowledgement of our sin as rebellion against God. His prayer sounded much like the prayer we have in Daniel 9.

When we confess our sin against God, we are correcting our vision to see how great our sin is against God.

At the time, the people of God were in exile because of their rebellion against God. They had turned away from following God and his words and were now under the oppressive rule of foreign kings. In Daniel 9:1-3, Daniel comes to realize that Israel’s exile will prolong and that leads him to a deep confession of sin unto God. Daniel’s prayer provides a wonderful model prayer of confession that we can learn from. As we reflect on this prayer, we learn three reasons why we must pray prayers of confession–both personally and in our churches.

1. Because of Who Our God is:
Notice how many times, Daniel acknowledges who God is:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments (vs. 4)

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness (vs. 7), Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done (vs. 14)

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness (vs. 9),

And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself (vs. 15)

Even before he begins to confess Israel’s sin, he begins by acknowledging the greatness of his God! It is as if Daniel is seeking to redirect our vision of God so as to better see sin. In order for us to acknowledge our sin, we need to know who we have sinned against. Israel has not just sinned against some king, but against the great & awesome covenant keeping God! They have sinned against their God who is full of love, mercy and grace. He is so pure that all his ways are righteous. 

Just like Daniel, when we recount the marvellous character and works of our God we begin to clearly see that because of our sin, we have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)

2. Because of How Great Our Sin is
All this acknowledgement of God leads Daniel to a series of deep confessions of sin. He doesn’t just say that they made mistakes. He doesn’t look to blame the other nations around them for Israel’s sin. He doesn’t try to justify Israel’s sin. 

If you wanted to understand what Israel’s sins were exactly, Daniel 9 offers a clear picture. Daniel paints a grim and detailed picture of Israel’s sin. 

Vs. 5 “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” 

Vs. 7 “ those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.”

Vs. 9 “for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, 

Vs. 13 we have not entreated the favour of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth

Daniel is acknowledging that their sin is all-encompassing. It has affected their thinking, their desires, what they seek, who they listen to and what they do with their feet.  Daniel is not confessing sin because God doesn’t see and know Israel’s sin. These sins listed have been the theme of Israel’s life and relationship with God. But in declaring out loud how God views their sin, Daniel is acknowledging how rebellious they are towards God and how rightfully deserving they are of God’s judgement. 

The same is true of us. When we confess our sin against God, we are correcting our vision to see how great our sin is against God. What we confess and how we confess matter. If we confess meagerly and minimally, over time we can expect a meagre and minimal understanding of sin. 

So let us not just say, “God, forgive me for my sins!” Let us say things like, “We confess that we have sinned against you by not being obedient to your word this week! Instead, we have looked for ways to disobey. You’ve commanded that we must be dependent on your words and your plans to direct the course of our lives, yet we have sought to obey our words and the words of our family, colleagues and friends.”

Brothers and sisters, in writing down this prayer, Daniel is teaching Israel and us to confess our sin wholly and truthfully unto God in order to see our sin the way God sees it and how large his mercies are for our varied sins. 

3. Because of How Great God’s Mercy is:
Daniel’s acknowledgement of sin leads him to plead with God.

O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”’ (Daniel 9:18-19)

Daniel knows he can freely acknowledge sin because he rests his hope for forgiveness upon God being full of mercy. This is the marvellous story of the Bible: God shows his undeserving kindness and mercy in spite of his people’s utter sinfulness.  What Israel, you and I deserve, is full judgement and wrath for our sin. 

We are free to declare our full sin to God, because Christ died for ungodly sinners in order to set them free from sin and to pay the penalty for sin.

Where Daniel looks to God showing his mercy by relenting from Israel’s present judgement and freeing them from exile, there is a sense of future mercy for wretched Israel. Freedom won’t come just from being free from exile, but from full freedom from sin’s clutches and consequences. The same is true for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans:5:6-11)

We are free to declare our full sin to God, because Christ died for ungodly sinners in order to set them free from sin and to pay the penalty for sin. So for the Christian, confession of sin offers us the opportunity to reorient our understanding of sin in order that we may daily embrace the mercy & grace of God. 

Brothers and Sisters, what do your prayers of confession look like? In what ways can your personal prayer life be shaped by Daniel’s prayer of confession? Over the years, I’ve come to recognise that my fight against sin has been fueled by an ongoing investigation of my sin and a full confession unto God. And as my church prays corporately over sin, my eyes have been open to other areas of sin I have been blinded by. I’ve learnt to pray not just for the sin I want to confess, but also for the sins I need to confess.

I pray that God would do the same for you.