God uses all kinds of vessels – big ones, little ones, ornate ones, plain ones, expensive ones, and ordinary ones. He uses all kinds of personalities, backgrounds, and experiences. But there is one kind of vessel God will not use. He will not use a dirty vessel. Pastor, if you’re going to be used by God, you’re going to have to do a little clean-up work first.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:21 (NLT), “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.”
More than anything, pastor, I know you want to be used by God. It isn’t the best preachers who get used by God. It isn’t the best leaders. It isn’t the most spiritual pastors. God uses those leaders who regularly get right with him.
Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5 NLT). If you want God to do something great in your future, you’ve got to start by settling the accounts of the past.
It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect – because no one is. But it does mean you need to be quick to confess and receive forgiveness when needed. Augustine said, “The confession of bad works is the beginning of good works.” God wants to do something incredible through you. But he’s going to start by dealing with your past. You’ve got to confess your sin to him.
I remember one of the first times in my life when a need for confession really blocked what God wanted to do through my ministry.
My walk with God had gotten dull. There was no joy. There was no thrill to it. It was just kind of ho-hum. When I prayed, I felt like my prayers just bounced across the ceiling. I didn’t feel close to God. I didn’t feel close to anybody.
Finally, I knew that I had to do something. I was 17 or 18 years old, and I was still living at home. It was about ten o’clock at night. Everybody had gone to bed. I got out a yellow pad and said, “OK God, let’s do some business here. I need to do a little spring cleaning. I need to know anything that’s between you and me. I’m going to make a sin list of everything you tell me.”
Within a few seconds, I just started thinking of things that I knew were wrong in my life. Times I’d been jealous. Lies I’d told. Times I’d been impatient. I filled up three pages with my sin. Knowing 1 John 1:9, I knew that God would be faithful and just to forgive all of the sins I’d committed. I thought I’d just burn the paper once I was finished. I certainly didn’t want anyone to read it! But there were three sins that related to other people. I knew I had to make restitution to those people.
I began a battle in my mind with God that night. I did not want to make restitution. I told God I’d do anything to not have to confront those people. It would be humbling and embarrassing. But God made it clear that this was going to be a test of my integrity.
The next day, a Saturday, I did everything but make restitution for those sins. I did my homework. I cleaned my room. I washed both my parents’ cars. I cleaned up the patio. I did errands for my mom. I did everything but what God really wanted me to do.
That night I was supposed to be a guest speaker at a youth rally about 30 minutes from my house. I shouldn’t have spoken at that rally. I was out of fellowship with God and with other people. God’s presence and his power weren’t there. My words were just bouncing off the walls.
As I was driving back home that night, I got right with God. I told him I was sorry and was willing to make things right. When I got home, my parents and little sister were watching television. I turned off the TV and, in tears, told my family everything about those three sins I needed to make restitution for. I asked them to pray that I would have the strength to make those things right. And I did. As I was honest with God and got things right with him, I felt the power of God fall on my life as I never had before. I could feel the blessing of God flowing into my life.
Pastor, I want you to have that. You have no idea how much God wants to use your life. But you have to come clean first. Here are six steps that’ll put you on the path to a clear conscious – and a ministry that God will bless.
1. Review every area of your life. Get away with a Bible, a piece of paper, and a pen, and ask God to let you know what’s coming between you and him. Don’t rush it. Take your time and write it all down. Nobody will see this. It’s between you and God.
2. Repent of every sin. Take responsibility for every sin you’ve written down. Don’t rationalize them. Don’t minimize them. Tell God what you did was a sin and you won’t do it anymore. Real repentance isn’t apologizing for your sin. It’s admitting it, turning away from it, and accepting God’s grace for it.
3. Make restitution. As you make your list, notice the sins that have impacted other people. Maybe you’ve hurt someone or mistreated him. If the person is still alive, make it right – as soon as possible. Don’t just apologize either. If you’ve stolen from the person, give back what you’ve taken. If you’ve cheated somebody, repay him.
4. Receive God’s forgiveness. Now you’re ready to receive God’s forgiveness. The Bible says you can go boldly to the throne of God and receive grace and mercy. God won’t reject you or scold you. He’ll give you his grace. That’s a promise from his Word.
5. Reveal your faults to a friend. You need to come clean with someone. If you don’t come clean with another person, you’ll still be forgiven. But coming clean to another person is part of the process God uses to heal us emotionally. Find another person that you trust (maybe another pastor) and let him know what you’ve done.
6. Repeat these steps regularly. Confession is like a bath. If you don’t take one regularly, you’ll start to stink. Make confession a regular habit in your life.
Pastor, God wants to bless your life and your ministry. Will you get right with him – today?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved