Psalm 51 asks for God’s assistance in heart renewal. This psalm is ascribed to King David and associated with the aftermath of his affair with Bathsheba and his plot against her husband, Uriah the Hittite. David smashed through most, if not all, of the Ten Commandments with his decision to take another man's wife. Nathan the prophet had to convince him of his guilt. Here David repents, hoping to heal his relationship with God.
We do not know if David actually wrote the psalms attributed to him; they may have been written later, long after David’s time. But there is a strong association between David and this particular psalm, as if even the most scholarly among us cannot quite bear to part the two. This iconic figure is tender and tough, faithful and flagrant, loving and libidinous, warlike and woeful. He struggles to live up to his call. When he fails, he comes back to God and asks for help.
It can take a lot of courage to own up to the things we have done wrong, to admit that the choices we somehow justified to ourselves harmed others’ lives, sometimes beyond our power to repair them. When we own up to the destruction we have caused, or even to our misdemeanors, it may seem like nothing will ever be the same. Maybe things won’t be, but the psalmist knows what is possible with God and reminds us of David, getting honest with himself about the responsibility he needed to take for his actions. A clean heart requires a fresh appraisal of our lives. It is not a new heart but a renewed heart, born through the effort of being honest with ourselves and trusting God to know it all yet still love us.
Renew my heart, O God. Give me a new, faithful spirit; root it deep inside me. I own what I did wrong. Please, Holy One, let me stay with you. Amen.
The season of Lent is now upon us, a time of inward examination that begins on Ash Wednesday. We search ourselves and ask God to search us, so that we can follow God more completely. This examination, however, can become a cause for despair if we do not approach it with God’s everlasting mercy and faithfulness in mind. Although the Flood was a result of judgment, God also saved the faithful and established a covenant with them. The psalmist seeks to learn God’s ways, all the while realizing that he has fallen short and must rely on God’s grace. For Christians, baptism functions as a symbol of salvation and a reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness—not because the water is holy but because God is holy and merciful.
Read Genesis 9:8-17. When have you, after a season of loss, experienced new life? What was the sign of that new life?
Read Psalm 25:1-10. How are you experiencing God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in your life? How do you offer thanks?
Read 1 Peter 3:18-22. When have you sacrificed something for the sake of someone else?
Read Mark 1:9-15. Recall a “wilderness” experience in your own life. What helped you to move through that experience? What were the spiritual gifts of that experience?
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