Growing up, we were encouraged by our church to enumerate our sins during our daily prayer. We were told to ask God to remind us of all of our sins, and then to say each one aloud and ask for forgiveness. But, I respectfully disagree with this.
For one thing, how did Jesus teach us to pray?
“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matt 6:9 – 15
I don’t see Jesus enumerating sins specifically. In fact, He seems to be more concerned with our forgiving others than specifically pointing out to Him what exactly we did wrong since the last time we prayed.
It has long been my belief that Satan‘s finest trick is to get us so focused on our sins, we have little attention left to put on our real target — Jesus Christ. Jesus is quite aware of my sins each day. If I mess up, I try to immediately ask Jesus to forgive me. I’ve been known to throw out a curse word here and there, but my conscience is quick to kick in, and I immediately repent. I try very hard these days to think about what comes out of my mouth before I speak it. I don’t get the impression that Jesus won’t forgive me if I miss a sin or two in my daily prayers with him. In fact, His grace has forgiven all my sins already — past, present, and future. By trying to enumerate each one, I become more focused on my failures as His child, and prayer just becomes more of a punishment than a visit with my God.
Jesus usually has me working on habitual sins in my life. For instance, in my early twenties, I had a whole spectrum of sins to choose from. I was an alcoholic, sexually impure, angry little human. I’d been abused, and had given myself permission to drown out the memories with whatever I could find. And I was a real Christian, so the struggle with my conscience was really stressful. If Jesus had decided to cut all those things out of my life at one time, I would have been overwhelmed with humiliation, and would probably have given up my walk with Him.
But that isn’t how He approached my problems. First, He always showed me His mercy.. He always helped me back on to my feet. Then, He began bringing to my attention the more serious sins that I needed to work on. Not because He ranks sins, but because He loved me, and He wanted to heal me of the sins that were most dire to my well-being here on earth. First, the sexual impurities were dealt with. I begged God to get rid of this garbage in me, and He did. It wasn’t overnight, but it was effective. Next, He dealt with the alcoholism. He showed me that to not forgive myself was arrogant. It assumed His blood wasn’t enough. Over time, He and I have worked on a ton of sins I’ve had. But it wasn’t because I spent hours upon hours going over each little sin I was committing. Instead, we developed a relationship first, then tackled the sins on a one by one basis.
We don’t expect our children to be perfect in every way immediately. Some behaviors they don’t have the maturity to understand yet, or they are completely unaware that there is even a problem. You don’t spank 6 month old babies — they have no idea how to process discipline. When your children are babies, it is about developing trust and communications and bonds. Discipline is not effective if the maturity and understanding are not there. Hence, it is the same with our relationship with God. First, we had to establish that I knew I was a sinner and I needed Him. Then, we developed our relationship. After that, we began the long, life-time process of getting me on the path to making myself more like Jesus and less like the tangled mess I was.
I think as Christians, we need to be more relationship focused and less sin focused. Yes, we should always be striving to rid our lives of sin, but we should focus on the relationship with Jesus more. If you do that first, the sins will become more noticeable quicker, and it won’t be fear that makes you want them out of your life — it’ll be the love of Jesus, and the desire to not hurt Him again with our actions and words.