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Cut to the Heart, and I’m to Blame
In Psalm 51, David cries out to the Lord in anguish and shame for the sins he has committed against Bathsheba, Uriah, his infant son, the nation of Israel, and just about everyone else he has come into contact with. The list was long. But most importantly, David sinned against the Lord, the One who chose him out of obscurity and elevated him to the place of being King over all Israel and one known as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). At least, at one time.
But sin had robbed David of his intimacy with the Lord and kept his eyes downcast, burdened with guilt and shame. Therefore, after Nathan confronted David with the chilling words, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7), David knew the gig was up, he was exposed, and the all-knowing and always-present God had called him to account. And for David, like many of us, he was found lacking.
So this Psalm, these nineteen verses, are David’s cry of confession, repentance, and his longing for the restoration of all his sins had cost him. It is a model of true repentance, one that we would do well to learn from today.
Six Key Words
In the middle of this Psalm, David crystalizes his prayer to his Lord by using six key words, four of which are positive, and two less than positive. They are the same six words we should utter when we come face to face with our Holy God and realize we, like King David, and Adam and Eve in the garden, have nothing to hide us from our shame. The King, as they say, “has no clothes.”
We find these six words in Psalm 51:10-12. First, the positive ones: create, renew, restore, and uphold. These are David’s requests to the Lord, asking God to do something only He can do as a prayer of restoration. But he also asks God not to do some things because of his sin. These are the not-so-positive words: do not cast, and do not take.
Let’s look at these in detail.
Positive: Create in me a clean heart, O God,
Positive: and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Negative: Do not cast me away from Your presence,
Negative: and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Positive: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
Positive: and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:10-12)
So what can we learn from David’s prayer of repentance and restoration, which God obviously granted, that we can apply when we are found guilty and full of shame because of our sins?
What Was David Asking of God? — Create
Let’s look at this request a little closer.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).
David realized he was beyond repair. After everything God had given him, even the kingdom, it seemed it wasn’t enough to satisfy David’s lust for pleasure. So, recognizing there is nothing good in him (Rom. 7:18), David asks God to “create” in him a new heart, a clean heart, since he was deceitfully wicked (Jer.17:9) and had been so since his birth (Ps. 51:5). Note, he doesn’t ask God to make his wicked heart better, but to give him a brand new heart, created fresh and new— much like the new birth that brings us into a relationship with God as our Father (John 3:16).
It is interesting that the Hebrew word for “create” (bārāʾ) in Psalm 51 is the same word used in Genesis 1, which means to create out of nothing, ex nihilo. David is asking God to do a miracle, something only He can do, and create out of nothing in David a new heart and soul that will “pant” for Him (Ps. 42:1).
In essence, David is asking God to clear the slate and start over. Only this time, David realizes there is nothing in him worthy of God to work with, so he begs God to create in him a heart that is clean (ṭāhōr), which means “pure, genuine, free from moral impurity” — which seems to be what got him into this mess in the first place. David recognizes his moral impurity and his helplessness to fight against it and asks God to make it easier to serve Him and live righteously by removing what doesn’t work and creating in him something that does— almost like being “conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29).
And note the context of David’s prayer. These are requests David makes of God for God to do in him, and not to give David more power to better himself and live a life free from his besetting sins. David is not asking God to help him overcome his lust and ungratefulness for the blessings of God in his life. He is not asking God to help his innate determination or self-discipline or internal fortitude grow in strength so he, by his own power, can “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:16). No, David recognizes his total helplessness and dependency on God and simply asks His Father to make him into the kind of man “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). And, because of the “multitude of Your (God’s) tender mercies” (Ps. 51:1), God does just that. He makes David new, on the inside, where it counts— just like He did for you and me.
Time to Pray
So, let that last sentence sink in for a moment. What David asked of God, we can also ask and expect to receive the same answer from Him. Why? Because God does not show favoritism or partiality (Rom. 2:11), granting some requests while denying others because of the intrinsic worth of some and lack in others. That’s what we do to each other— but not God. He is not like that.
Also, God promises to answer prayers that are prayed according to His will (1 Jn. 5:15). And being humble and dependent on God and asking Him to create a new heart in you that is clean and undefiled is exactly what the new birth is all about. It is a prayer for regeneration, the desire and ability to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:1), so we will live and act and think with the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). This prayer is exactly what God wants for His children and is according to His will. If you doubt, just ask David.
Remember, the Christian life is one of “abiding in Him” like a branch does to a vine (Jn. 15). It should not be one of struggle and self-doubt because we are expecting our old heart to act like a new heart without asking God to create something new in us. Jesus did not come to make us better. He came to make us new. And He does that by changing us from the inside out. It’s called the “new birth” or being “born again.”
So what say ye? Are you ready to surrender all to Him and ask Him to create in you something you couldn’t create yourself? Are you ready for the restoration and reconciliation that comes from a life of dependence on Him and not independence and self-will that is centered on you and your desires?
Then pray, like David, for God to “create” in you a new, clean, pure, undefiled heart— and watch how your love and devotion for Him will grow. Surrender your old heart to Him and begin to embrace a life of abiding, and not striving.
And remember, the best is yet to come.
Note: Next, we will look at the second of these six words: renew.
Note: Next, we will look at the second of these six words: renew.