Scripture

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Reflection

This is a prayer of repentance. It serves as a reminder of the consequences of sin and also of the great mercy of God. For those who follow God, sin is a great burden to bear, but it does not get the last word.

 

The Psalmist models a prayer of repentance for all of us. He begins by acknowledging God’s grace and asking for mercy. He could base his request for forgiveness on God’s goodness, not his own abilities. He then moves to admit his sin, without excuse or justification. He essentially says in the first 6 lines, “Have mercy on me, God. I have failed you, and there is no excuse for it.” You can sense the sorrow in the Psalmist. He feels grief over his failings. He also recognizes that this sin was against God. Yes, we harm others when we sin, but we also transgress against our loving God, and it is to God that we ultimately answer. The writer seems to say that he has been a pattern of sin since birth. It is hard to get out of the cycle on his own accord. He recognized his inability to save himself. Only God can guide us in the path of righteousness.

 

Verses 10 and 11 get to the heart of the request. Yes, the writer wanted his sins to be forgiven, he wanted to be cleansed of his iniquities. But more than that, the Psalmist wanted to restore his relationship with God. This had to start in the heart (the thinking and decision-making center of a person).  The posture of the Psalmist is important and serves as a model for all of us. He began by acknowledging God’s grace, he then asked for mercy, admitted his sin, offered no excuses, asked for forgiveness and pleaded for restoration to a right relationship with God. Finally, the Psalmist promises to share the good news of his forgiven state, and God’s grace, with all who would listen. This, my friends, is what repentance looks like. It is a complete humbling of oneself before God, and a turning away from previous ways to begin fresh with God. Will the Psalmist sin again? Yes. Of course. We all do. But God will have shaped his heart in this moment and he will find new joy in the learning. And God will be there with grace and mercy the next time. 

Prayer

Dear Lord, teach me to hear, lead me to see and guide me to heed your words. Let these words from the Psalms infuse my soul. I trust you, Oh Holy One. I submit fully to your will for my life. Lead me on the path of righteousness and forgive me for the ways I fail. May your grace be born anew in me each day. Amen.