Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 16: Confessing the Worst about Yourself
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)
Jackie Hill Perry, the hip-hop artist, wrote about her life in Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been. For years she lived out her belief that she, like the Corinth church, was free to do anything she wanted. In her case, it was living as a lesbian even while she was singing God’s praise. Then God changed her. Painfully she ended her relationship with the woman she loved deeply, because she now loved God more. Since that time, Jackie has come to see that God wanted more for her life than just turning her into a straight person.
Though God was very concerned with how I lived out my sexuality, he was just as concerned with what I did with my hands and if my fingerprints would be found on anything righteous. He was just as concerned with my mind and how it held hell in it at all times. He cared deeply that I use my mouth in a manner that showed some awareness that He was always listening. Homosexuality might have been my loudest sin, but it was not my only sin. God was not about setting me free from one form of slavery only to leave me enslaved to other idols. By calling me to himself, He was after my whole heart.
God is after your whole heart. It matters to Him that you become holy because He is holy. Holiness is not just something we bruised reeds put on for a church service. It is for all of the moments you live. Holiness allows you to say out loud, “I was a mess, but God transformed me into the likeness of His Son by the empowering work of the Spirit.”
This is Paul’s understanding of himself. Long after forgiveness, he still remembers that he had been a mess. He had been a persecutor—someone who had instigated the religious-sanctioned murder of Christians. But that is not all he reveals about himself in his letters. He had been someone to whom God had to send a thorn in the flesh so his ego would not get in the way of God’s power working through him. He had been someone whose work ethic made him cranky and got in the way of valuing John Mark as a fellow missionary. He discloses that he had been wrong about that in his last letter.
There is no place to hide your unfinished business. You can stuff it down inside or try to sweep it under the rug, but at some point it is going to rise up and reveal itself. You might be at the top of your game and still find that the kingdom you built for yourself was on the sand. Besides this, God is not interested in your saving face. He is intent on conforming you to the likeness of Jesus. If this means He has to rip the roof off and expose you, He will do it. I know this from personal experience.
As bruised reeds, we can lie to ourselves about this right up to the finish line. Bill Hybels retired under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations that has virtually erased the good opinions other leaders had of him. Others who are not as high profile as he is have found themselves humiliated by past unconfessed sin finally coming to light. Like the generous Christian businessperson who was stiffing the government of payroll taxes, only to have it become front page news.
You need to confess and be healed. I know a lot of people follow the directions of James 5:13-16 about calling on the elders of your church to be anointed and prayed over to be healed if you are sick. Many pastors I know keep little bottles of oil in hand for just such requests. But many people skip the point James makes about confessing your sins to one another as part of the healing process.
This is about trust. Jesus did not come to break the bruised reed. You and I are safe in his hands. Confession is not a curse. It is freedom. I helped restore a now dear friend caught in sin. When he came out the other end, God opened up a door for him to serve a church going through a rough patch. I encouraged him to share with them what had happened, but he was not ready. So God, through a person who knew of his sin, informed the congregation of his transgression. The next Sunday my friend spoke openly for the first time that, like Paul, he had no business being in front of them. But by the grace of God, he was what he was. He found then that God had given him freedom he had never had before. After that day, his ministry to that congregation took on a depth that strengthened the church profoundly.
If you want to finish well, humble yourself and confess all. And then see what God will do through you.