A Prayer of Repentance

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of Thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen.
– Ambrose of Milan (c.339-397)

St. Ambrose’s prayer echoes the words God spoke through Ezekiel to the Jewish exiles:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27, NIV)

When I repent, it is God in His mercy who cleanses me from sin, who softens my hard heart, and who gives me both the desire and ability to live for Him through His Holy Spirit. This was true when I trusted Christ for my salvation, and it is true again every time I confess my sin with a repentant heart, surrender myself to God, and rely on Him to direct and empower me with His Holy Spirit.

Repentance, surrender, trust; simple concepts, really, yet applying them is hard work! And though they are simple, I never outgrow my need for them. They brought me to Christ, and they keep me close to Christ, for as the apostle Paul said, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Galatians 2:6, NIV)

(These concepts are at the heart of the Spirit-filled Life, as taught by the late Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and explained here. God used this teaching powerfully in my life, and still does.)

A General Confession

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, but in college began attending churches of other denominations. Recently I’ve been looking at the liturgy again and have gained a new appreciation for many of the prayers. This one is the General (i.e., congregational) Confession from the communion service. Although I’m quoting from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the wording has remained substantially unchanged since 1549 when it was written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Church of England’s first protestant prayer book.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that true repentance means seeing my sins for what they are: serious offenses against a holy God. I should be grieved and burdened over them, yet too often I treat my little rebellions casually. Repentance also requires throwing myself on God’s mercy, because forgiveness can only be found in Christ. And finally, repentance involves trusting God to produce in me what only He can produce: a radically new life that pleases and honors Him.

Shortly after this prayer, the liturgy includes these scriptures:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath) for our sins… (1 John 2:1-2, NASB)

“Batter my heart, three-person’d God…”

This poem has long been one of my favorites. It expresses both a deep desire to surrender to God and the incredible strength of sin’s pull on our hearts, even as believers a pull from which only God Himself can deliver us. Although the King James English may seem daunting at first, I think you’ll find it well worth the effort to ponder the rich imagery.

Holy Sonnets. XIV.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

– John Donne (1572-1631)

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:22-8:2, NIV)

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