Forgive Us, O God – A Poem of Confession

The following poem is a poem of confession.  I have written it following the pattern of Ezra and Daniel, who, when confessing their nation’s sin to God, did not accuse the nation of sin by using the detached and potentially self-righteous third person plural (“they,” “them”), but instead, by using the first person plural (“we”), grouped themselves together with the nation and confessed the sins of the nation as though they were their own as well (see Ezra 9:5-15; Daniel 9:4-19).  This poem is meant to promote genuine confession and repentance among professing believers as we are all confronted by our sin and hypocrisy.

The first two-thirds of the poem exposes, by way of confession, sins that can tend to plague us American Christians who have had our spirituality nurtured in a culture of cheap grace, materialism, self-centeredness and the relentless pursuit of self-preservation and reputation.  In writing this poem, I sought to unearth those sins that I find ever encroach on my soul, and those that tend to characterize American Christianity as a whole.

But the poem does not only deal with our sin; it also exults in the provision that God has supplied in His Son and in His Spirit.  Only the power of the gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can transform us and uproot the stubborn and elusive pride and hypocrisy that resides in our hearts.  “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 6:20, NASB), is the truth upon which this poem is built.  Our sin is pervasive, deadly, deceitful, and lodged deep in our souls; it is only by God’s grace that we can be freed from power and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.  I pray that He might use this poem to be a means of grace to that end.

But why a poem?  A poem, I think, is especially fitting for eliciting confession and repentance.  It is easy for us to unwittingly build up defenses against didactic exhortations and imperatives—but our hearts are easily caught off guard by changes in genre.  We find this expressed concretely in the incident between King David and the prophet Nathan.  Despite his effort and apparent success in keeping his sins of adultery and murder concealed, David’s heart was laid bare by Nathan’s simple story of a man with a young ewe lamb (II Samuel 12:1-13).  Nathan did not come to David with some lofty, abstract principle that explained how he had sinned against God and neighbor; rather, he lulled David’s heart into the open with a story.  At the right moment, Nathan released the arrow: “You are the man” (v.7)!  David could hide his sin no longer—he had been smitten by the Spirit of God by way of a simple parable.

Poetry, I believe, can have this same effect.  The rhythm, meter, rhyme scheme, and  vividness of illustration that characterizes poetry can expose and disarm the heart in such a way that a person does not realize what is happening until it is too late.  We can no longer hide from conviction—the truth has dressed itself in different garb and so is able to tease sin out of its burrow, defenseless and unaware of any intruder.

Forgive Us, O God

Forgive Us, O God
For we have not treasured You
We have sought lesser pleasures
And they have clouded our view

Despite Your great mercies
And Your tender patience with us
We turn to other gods
In Your Word, we refuse to trust

We look with disdain
On the sins of other men
We thank You, God
That we are not like them

For they commit adultery
Curse, bribe and steal
But we go to church
And even pray at every meal

We are busy serving
While we disrespect our wives
We are very religious
But please do not inspect our lives

For if someone is in need
We say we cannot lend
We talk about God’s glory
But we love the praise of men

We take our sin lightly
And shrug off all our guilt
We boast in ourselves
And in what our hands have built

We sing loudly on Sunday
And impress with religious speech
We brag about our service
And hope someone will see

Meanwhile bitterness reigns
And we disdain the success of others
We are disgusted by another man’s sin
But ours we just keep covered

Because we must always look good
And we cannot risk a breech
In this façade that we’ve created
And our hearts must stay out of reach

But wait just a moment
Will You not consider this
We have done much good
It’s all here in a list

We put a check in the basket
About every third week
We would have given more
But we needed cable T.V.

We keep our cars clean
And our grass neatly trimmed
Because we know what Jesus said
“Let your light shine before men.”

We leave tracts with our bill
When we go out to eat
But we only tip a dollar (if at all)
We don’t want the waiters to fall into greed

And we are very humble
Probably more humble than most
We have pity on those who are full of pride
And we are careful not to boast

We are also very wise
We know when we are being scammed
We never give away our money
To any homeless woman or man

And we are really nice neighbors
But just too nice to say
That we know of One
Who is the Truth, the Life and the Way

And we love our safety
And our comfort and our ease
Thank you for your goodness!
This Christian life is a breeze

For it is painless to be a Christian
We just read our Bibles and pray
We know you didn’t really mean it when you said
“Take up your cross, everyday”

We bow down to our cars
To our clothes and to our homes
Please take these not away
Because we love what we own

But how long, O Lord
With our sin will you abide?
For we display our wisdom
But Your precious gospel we hide

We cannot stand the thought
That we may be the object of scorn
So we dilute our convictions
And just go along with the norm

We don’t want to make waves
Or cause others to be mad
If we can just be kind to others
Then they won’t think us that bad

We want to find points of agreement
With unredeemed beliefs
That way we can look cool
In our churches and in the academy

But hear, Great God
Our confession of self-righteous sin
Send down your Spirit
And let the supplication begin

Break our hearts and our wills
And make us cry out
Clear away the idols
Resolve all our doubts

Make us into the men and women
You desire us to be
Purify our hearts and lives
Cleanse away all vile hypocrisy

Fill us with great passion
For our crucified and risen King
Make our hearts sincere
That we would believe what we sing

Help us see the glory of Christ
May He be all that we desire
Help us treasure Him above all
That we might gladly go into the fire

That we might lay down our lives
For the good of every man
And delight to bring the gospel
To every tribe, tongue and land

Make us obedient to Your word
Longing to do all that You say
May we never forget our place
Under the potter, as the clay

Help us see the cross
And the beauty of free grace
Of imputed righteousness
Of all sins forgotten and erased

That we might be ready to expose
Every sin and transgression
And bear our hearts before your throne
In prayers of real confession

That we might be changed
In deep and lasting ways
And our lives be filled with repentance
For the rest of our earthly days

For inexpressible joy is found
After we have been broken over our sin
And our faith is lifted higher
When borne on the wings of humiliation

For you delight in truth
In the inmost parts
And you despise external religion
If it does not flow from our hearts

Above all, Lord God
Make us like Your Son
Hear our pleas for mercy
Finish this work you have begun

For we are desperate for your grace
For your Spirit and your power
And we need thee everyday
Every moment of every hour

So forgive us, O God
Turn your face and hear
The sound of all our groanings
Take account of all our tears

For you are good and kind
And ready to forgive
We depend upon your mercy
Without which we could not live

You are gracious and compassionate
Slow to anger and to wrath
You heal the broken-hearted
And you make the mourners to laugh

So condescend to us
For we are frail and we are weak
Make your face and your glory
All that we would seek

That we would be ready to give all away
For the sake of Jesus Christ
That we would love him more
Than family, friends, health and life

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