When we begin to pray, I suppose it is more natural to praise Him first, to say “Hallowed be Thy name.” But if there is unconfessed sin in the life, confession must come first; for the Psalmist tells us in Psalms 66:18 that if we regard iniquity in our heart the Lord will not hear us. Also, in Isaiah 59:2 it says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Though all sin is ultimately against God, we also sin against others, and they sin against us (Matt. 5:23-24). Even if you don’t feel that you have committed sin against anyone, if someone has something against you, that is something God requires you to deal with before you offer your gift of prayer to Him. In fact, if you don’t make an effort to reconcile, you also will have sinned because you are being disobedient to God.
Sometimes we aren’t always aware of our sins. We may have been deceived and have unconsciously covered them up. But if you are in the habit of reading and meditating on the Word, the Holy Spirit will no doubt begin to convict you, especially when you see God’s love and mercy in contrast to your own unrighteousness.
This has been the case numerous times with me. I would be having my morning quiet time when God would gently speak to me and point out my sin. Many times, just like David experienced (in Psalms 32:4), I felt God’s hand heavy upon me, and the only way I could pray was with confession.
Often, when I can’t find my own words of confession, I use Psalms 51 as a guide. It is the beautiful confession of David after his sin with Bathsheba. His prayer of confession is the entire chapter, but notice that the actual confession is only four verses long—verses 3-6.
Let’s take a look at these three verses of confession, and then at the surrounding verses. In verse 3 and 4 David prays:
For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
In our confession we must realize and acknowledge to God that ultimately all our sins are against Him and that He has seen them. And we must agree that His sentence against us is just.
In verses 5 and 6 David broadens his confession, confessing that he was born in sin and thoroughly sinful. He prayed:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. 6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Here we see that we must acknowledge that God desires truth and honesty from us, that unless our soul is perfectly pure toward God (“in the inward parts”) we cannot please Him.
The rest of the verses in Psalm 51 are not purely confession, but they go along with the prayer of confession. They are mainly David’s petitions or pleas for God’s mercy and forgiveness, which reveal his humble and repentant heart—a heart that is broken and sorry.
Verses 1 and 2 give us the basis of his petitions: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.
Verses 7-19, for the most part, seems to repeat the same petitions, but David includes the results that he knew would follow: mainly that if God purged him and washed him, he would be clean and whiter than snow (v. 7); also that if God blotted out his transgressions and delivered him from guilt, he would be joyful and sing of His righteousness (v. 14). We also see in verse 13 that in David’s restored state he would again teach transgressors God’s ways and sinners would be conversed to Him.
So here, from this beautiful prayer of confession, we may safely assume that when we truthfully confess our sins to God and cry out for His mercy (as David did), He will always forgive us and restore us to fellowship.
Numerous blessings then await us. Having experienced His love and forgiveness, we are then able to forgive ourselves and others (Eph. 4:32). Likewise, God will so overwhelm us with His love that our heart will rejoice with praise to Him. This is indicated in Psalms 51:14 when David prayed, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.”
Therefore, whenever we begin our prayer time with confession, we should anticipate (as it seems was the case with David) that praise will follow it. I will not say that this will always be the case, but I think in most cases it will seem natural and spiritual.