The Good Misery of a Guilty Conscience


After feeling the sting of guilt, becoming aware of failure, I prayed – “Father, thank you for making me miserable. You have preserved my life with your convicting Presence.” Yes, it may seem strange to thank God for a guilty conscience. However, those feelings of shame and guilt over thoughts, words, or actions that are unworthy of a follower of Christ are His way of correcting us, leading us to the place of His blessing and favor.

David, Israel’s king and poet, a man who loved God and yet made some terribly sinful choices describes the misery of guilt. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

Nothing hurts like a guilty conscience.  Temptation comes and presents us with a decision – to choose to resist or to do what ‘feels good’ in the moment.  If we decide to let those cruel words batter another, if we choose to lie, if we refuse the truth – we should be thankful when the sword of the Spirit slashes our conscience.

Have you ever experienced the misery of guilt? Guilt can keep us awake all night. It can make a delicious meal tasteless. It can turn a song into sound that only aggravates us like the scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard. Remember – all guilt is not bad.

Paul wrote a hard letter of correction to the Christians of Corinth. Apparently it caused many to feel real sorrow. Note what he says – “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT) He took no pleasure in his rebuke telling them that he sent the letter while shedding ‘many tears.’ But, he hoped for a response of change, and it happened!

There is false guilt. Our conscience can be damaged, made too sensitive by constant criticism or scarred into uselessness by constant abuse. But, if our conscience is functioning in a healthy way, responsive to the Holy Spirit of God, informed by the truth, we should thank the Lord for the bone-deep ache that comes when we cross the line from right to wrong.

That ache that David felt after his sin was called out by Nathan, the preacher, was healed. How?  He owned his failure and changed his ways.  (You can read his prayer in Psalm 51) Never underestimate the joy that can be discovered in confession! “Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.” (Psalm 32:5-6, The Message) Confession liberating,  letting us experience God’s forgiveness. Often sincere confession will also win the forgiveness of another person, even those we have wronged in the most serious way.

The next step to healing is not to play the victim or offer up excuses. God looks for genuine repentance. Many people want release from guilt. Many even regret what they have done because of the negative consequences, but they feel little need to change their ways!

The ancient people of God disobeyed the Lord confessed, but then would not turn to follow Him! They only wanted relief. They had no hunger to be holy. They would not turn around to pursue God. Will you?  Joel tells us about real confession and repentance that bring the restoration of our souls. “Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; … (Joel 1:13, NIV) “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV)

Are you alienated from the Lord who gives you peace? Is guilt keeping your prayer silent, robbing you of worship, making you miserable?  Thank God for the gift and then with humility of heart, tell Him what you have done and ask Him for strength to live as He desires.  He will abundantly pardon.

Here is the word from the Word.  “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20, NLT)


Search Me O God (Cleanse Me)

Search me O God and know my heart today
Try me O Savior know my thoughts I pray
See if there be some wicked way in me
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free

 I praise You Lord for cleansing me from sin
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure within
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame
Grant my desire to magnify Your Name

Lord take my life and make it wholly Thine
Fill all my heart with Your great love divine
Take all my will my passion self and pride
I now surrender Lord in me abide

 Edwin Orr © Words: Public Domain

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