If you have a recurring sin that you can’t seem to escape, expanding repentance prayers by doing more than just asking for forgiveness can often break the cycle. When you understand that something is wrong (sinful), you pray that you will stop, and yet you don’t, then you have gotten trapped in what I call a sin cycle.
The danger of a sin cycle is that it can trap you spiritually from moving forward. You are like a man trying to walk down a path with one foot nailed to the ground. You keep spiraling around that one stuck foot. It feels like you are moving, but at the end of the day you haven’t traveled anywhere.
So, why does that happen and how can you break the cycle? Specifically, in this post I want to focus on five ways you might expand and target your prayers so that spike can get pulled out of the ground and start you moving down the path again. First, you need to understand that repentance is a process.
The Process of Repentance.
Repentance isn’t simply a matter of asking God to forgive you. There are 5 distinct components. They are:
- 1. Recognition.–Knowing what you are doing is disobedient to God.
2. Confession–Voicing and knowing that you are are responsible for the sin
3. Asking Forgiveness–Just what it sounds like…asking God to forgive you.
4. Feeling Remorse–Having a contrite heart.
5. Changed behavior–Dying to sin and living into Christ.
If any piece is lacking then you are likely to either cycle or find a substitute sin.
Here is a tool box of repentance prayers that I recommend you use regularly. Each of these prayers fuels a different component of the repentance process.
1) Prayer for Understanding–Pray to know and understand how you are sinning. You can ask God to reveal to you sins that you may be denying, ignoring or justifying. Or, what is actually perhaps even more effective is to regulalry pray for God to help you understand truth. If you understand truth, evil will be obvious.
I am reminded of the story of a woman who began working at a bank and was being trained on how to spot counterfeit money. Day after day in painstaking detail she was made to examine authentic bills. They felt the paper and were asked to describe it. They would hold the bills upto the light and examine the watermarks. Under a magnifying glass they would examine the print quality, colors, and ink. Weary of looking at bills, one day she finally said in exasperation, “When are we going to get to see some counterfeit money.” Her trainer simply replied, “Trust me, when you know the real thing, you won’t have any problem recognizing a fake.”
For a good biblical example of praying for understanding read Psalm 119. In it the psalmist repeatedly calls upon God to teach him and to bring him greater understanding of God’s precepts, statutes, and commandments.
2) Prayers of Confession. When asking forgiveness I would encourage you to not rush too quickly to forgiveness without genuinely slowing down and confessing. In other words, don’t just jump to “Oh God forgive me for doing x, y and z.” Instead, take time to acknowledge and own what you have done, how it is wrong and/or why it is wrong and be specific. For example, let’s say you are struggling with being judgmental over superficial things. You might pray something like, “Oh Lord, when I went to the mall today, nearly ever person I looked at I was immediately making snap judgments about them in my mind based off of what they wore and how they spoke. I sized-up clerks at the grocery store based by their appearance and picked the one that was most acceptable to me. I am so shallow. You love me unconditionally, but I do not do the same for others. When I treat people preferentially I am silently pushing aside others that you have made. They may even be my brothers and sisters in Christ and I am rejecting them. They may be someone I am to love, support them, befriend or learn from and yet, I categorically reject them. Forgive me God.”
You get the idea. This specificity is really important because of what I am about to address in the next form of pray.
3) Prayers for softening a hardened heart. Knowing something is wrong in your head and feeling remorse can be two totally separate things and both are critical if you are going to actually repent and change your behavior. When I was a kid my younger sister and i would get into fights. My mom would come in from the other room, break it up and interrogate us and try to find out what happen. More specifically, she wanted to ferret out who started it. We usually both gave her a very skewed story; nevertheless, using some God-given super power parents possess of spotting a lie with eerie accuracy, my mom would figure out who was at fault and then tell us those classic words every parent has said at some point, “Say you are sorry.”
I don’t ever recall one of us passionately recanting and begging for forgiveness through tear-filled eyes. Almost always, our response was a terse (almost expletive), “Sorry” forcefully spat out with a touch of vehement resentment. Then mom would intone the age old words all parents know, “Say it like you mean it.” We would muster up a more acceptable, “Sorry.” Nothing had changed though. It was the purest form of hypocrisy. A perfect expression of confession without remorse. you can guess the inevitable result…we would begin fighting shortly.
Recurring sin is often times a product of confession without remorse. The head and the lips are honoring God but the heart is not. You enter the ranks of those long ago Israelites who offered sacrifices while their hearts were still far from God when you confess with the lips and deny with your future actions. if you do that, like my sister and me, you are almost sure to relapse.
The key to breaking this link in the chain binding you is to pray for God to soften your heart and lead you to a place of genuine remorse. At times I must be honest with myself and God and say, “God, I am asking your forgiveness because I know this is wrong in my head, but I do not feel the wrongness of it in my heart. Soften my heart. Bring me to a place where the idea of even considering this sin saddens me deeply. May I come to a place of despising this sin because in doing so I am sinning against you, hurting our relationship and harming myself and others.”
Hopefully, you can see now why I said that specificity when confessing is really critical to this form. Taking time to confessing in detail as I described in section two will actually go a long way toward softening your heart. You are conditioning your heart and mind to recognize the consequence of your sin. I find that understanding the consequence of my sin helps me feel greater remorse. Greater remorse turns my heart against sin. While specificity of confession conditions your heart, praying for God to soften your heart invites divine power into that process.
4) Prayers committing to a new path. In prayer commit yourself to a new path. Again consider words of the Psalmist in Psalm 119,
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
(Psalm 119:9-16 ESV)
Look at that again and listen to the many ways the Psalmist is committing himself to a righteous path. When you confess that you have done something wrong do you vigorously pledge in prayer to follow a new path. For example, regarding my example from above of judging others, you might pray, “Lord God, I will treat all that I meet as if they are Jesus. I will remind myself that you made them and consider each person somehow as your gift to me. I will resist thoughts of judgement and replace those with either prayers of thanksgiving or intercession. I will strive to treat ever person I meet with respect and encouragement. I will honor you in all my contact with others.”
Image how much you would retrain your mind if you prayed such a prayer daily or even multiple times a day. Imagine how difficult it would become to judge others if you fostered a mindset of gratitude and humility.
Think for a moment about a sin in your life that is a perennial issue for you. What is the exact opposite of that sin? What mindset would you need in place that would eradicate any desire to commit that sin? If you were to promise to God, to pledge to God a new path would would that path be? Think very specifically about what it would be in terms of how you would behave, speak and think.
5) Prayers for support. As you move down a new path don’t do it alone. Pray for God to strengthen and guide you. Pray for God to protect you. Pray for God to send you mentors or people who walk along side you. Pray for the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit. Invite God to transform you by renewing your mind.
Some much needed qualifying remarks…
Do not treat what I have given you as either self-help advice or a magical formula.
Why it’s not self-help advice? Sin is a spiritual matter that has some mechanical aspects to it; however, sin at its heart is a spiritual matter that divides you from God. Only God can restore you to a place of righteousness before him. You won’t work you way back into his good graces, but you can honor God and show your gratitude for all God does by striving to live a Godly life.
Why it’s not a magical formula? The prayer suggestions I am making are not some special words you can use to manipulate or control God. These are ways to begin to take seriously the fullness of what it means to truly repent from a sin. These are ways to strategic ways to: address your responsibility for sinning by conditioning your mind, acknowledge your need and dependance upon God to escape sin, and invite God’s power and presence into the process of change.
I know from the presence of similar prayers in scripture and from my own experience that a discipline of each of these prayers of repentance can mean the difference between being trapped in sin or free in Christ.
I would invite you to pick even just one of these prayers and commit to a discipline of praying it for the next 10 days around a sin in your life that you cannot seem to escape. I welcome you stories and comments.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE — COMING Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2017
How to Stop Recurring Sin Worksheets.
If you’ve listened to Episode 1 in this two part series, the resource for it will be released on 11/24 with the second Episode.
Episode 2 will address the physical actions we can take to break the habit of sin. Paul wrote, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14. That’s easier said than done, unless you have some strategies for interrupting a habit of sin. That’s precisely what discuss in the next post.