Prayers of Repentance/Confession

Product Details(This is a repost from August, 2012)

In August of 1662 around 2,000 ministers left the national church of England for the sake of conscience (they were called the non-conformists).  You’ll have to read about this significant church history event elsewhere since I simply want to point out a few prayers of repentance that two pastors prayed the last Sunday of their parish ministry in the English state church.  The pastors were Edmund Calamy (d. 1666) and Thomas Watson (d. 1686).  Here are excerpts from their prayers.  Notice the depth of their repentance and confession of sin.

“We confess we have forfeited all our mercies; we have heard much of God, Christ, and heaven with our ears, but there is little of God, Christ, and heaven in our hearts.  We confess, many of us by hearing sermons, are sermon-proof; we know how to scoff and mock at sermons, but we know not how to live sermons” (Calamy).

“We have sinned presumptuously against the clearest light and dearest love; always have we sinned.  …Thou hast shown mercy to us, but the better thou hast been to us, the worse we have been to thee.  Thou hast loaded us with thy mercies, and we have wearied thee with our sins.  When we look into ourselves, oh, the poison of our natures!  …By our spiritual leprosy we infect our holy things.  Our prayers need pardon and our tears need the blood of sprinkling to wash them.  …We confess we are untuned and unstrung for every holy action; we are never out of tune to sin but always out of tune to pray.  We give the world our main affections and our strong desires…there is not that reverence, nor that devotion, nor that activeness of faith that there should be. …Oh, humble us for our unkindness, and for Christ’s sake blot out our transgressions; they are more than we can number, but not more than [thou canst] pardon” (Watson).

When these types of deep, heart-felt prayers of repentance and confession are spoken in private and in the pulpit, the Christian church is strengthened.  We shouldn’t balk at the intensity of confession here, we should likewise say and expound upon the words that arose from the beaten-breast of the tax collector: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13; cf. Neh. 9:1ff).

The above prayer excerpts are found in this new revised edition of the Sermons of the Great Ejection (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Most Gracious God… (Luther’s Prayers)

Product Details This is a nice little book: Luther’s Prayers edited by Herbert Brokering (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994).  This book is basically a topically arranged collection of 185 short prayers by Luther  The prayers are gems – beautiful words to a great and merciful God.  As the editor wrote, these prayers “show Luther as one deeply dependent upon grace and mercy.  Mercy, mercy, was his plea, and he trusted that mercy was always present in Christ. Mercy was Luther’s please.  Mercy was God’s promise” (p. 7).  Here are a few examples of Luther’s prayers:

“Lord, misery and misfortune annoy me and oppress me.  I long to be rid of them.  You have said,  Ask and it will be given to you.  So I come and ask.  Amen.”

“We are weak and sick, O Father, and the temptations of the flesh and the world are great and many.  O Father, keep us, and let us not fall again into temptation and sin.  Give us grace that we may remain steadfast and fight bravely to the end.  Without your grace and help we can do nothing.  Amen.”

“Dear Lord Christ, you have enlightened my heart with your truth.  Grant me your Spirit and the power to do and not to do whatever pleases your will.  Amen.”

“Dear God, I have begun to preach and to teach the people.  It is hard.  If it offends here and there, may no harm be done.  Since you have commanded me to preach your Word, I will not stop.  If it fails, it fails for you.  If it succeeds, it succeeds for you and me.  Amen.”

“Most gracious God, you are indeed a God of the weak and sinful.  They feel their need and anxiety, and from the heart they desire your grace, comfort, and help.  They have the promise of your Word, ‘Come to me, all that are weary and carry heavy burdens.’  Lord, I am in great trouble and distress.  I accept the invitation to come.  Help me because of your mercy and truth.  Amen.”

“Dear Lord, pour out your grace to me and give me your Holy Spirit so that I may be obedient and keep each of your commandments.  Help me to be at odds with the world and to give my heart and soul to you.  Amen.”

I highly recommend this small booklet of Luther’s prayers – they make great devotional reading.  You can get a used copy on Amazon for around $5 or on Kindle for just under $10.

shane lems

A Contrite Heart (The Prayer of John Newton)

When John Newton was still young in years (25 or so) and young in Christ (only a year or two), he sometimes lamented his slow spiritual growth.  Here’s a prayer of his from January 1, 1754.  It is really a prayer all Christians can (should!?) pray.  This is exactly what it means to have a broken and contrite heart – sacrifices that the Lord will not despise (Ps. 51:17).

“Alas! Most gracious Lord, what shall I say?  I have nothing to offer for all thy goodness but new confessions of my guilt.  That thou art kind to the unthankful and the evil, I am one of the most remarkable instances.  Forgive me, I beseech thee, this year of misspent life, and charge me not with the long abuse of thy bounty.  I owe thee ten thousand talents, and have nothing to pay.  Yet I entreat thee to have patience with me – not that it will be ever in my power to make any amends by the best I can do, but because my Savior Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son, has done and suffered more than sufficient to atone for all my offenses, and to supply all my defects.  Let me plead his merits on behalf of myself….”


This, along with other prayers and letters of John Newton, can be found on page 55 of Josiah Bull’s biography, The Life of John Newton (formerly titled But Now I See). 

shane lems

Bonhoeffer’s Prison Prayers

   This is a sweet book.  It captures many of my interests at once.  First, I appreciate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings in general.  These letters and papers are especially edifying because I can see what is “behind” some of his other works, so to speak.  Second, I love reading about the tough issues: What does it mean to be a Christian (or a church) under intense pressure?  You’ll find answers to this question in this book, Letters & Papers from PrisonThird, having read many volumes of WWII history, these letters/papers fascinate me from a historical perspective. 

Here are a few of Bonhoeffer’s prayers that are quite moving, especially considering he penned them from a Nazi prison.  I recommend reading these out loud.

“In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is your will that I should know you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow;
Help me.”

 “I remember in your presence all my loved ones,
my fellow-prisoners, and all who in this house perform their hard service;
Lord, have mercy.”


shane lems