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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, February 9, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 51:1–17

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
   and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
   and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
   a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
   and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
   O God of my salvation,
   and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (NRSV)

This morning my devotional book included a prayer for the day that asks God to grant us three things: clear minds, understanding hearts, and willing spirits. It strikes me that those three things are needed in order to absorb the sentiments of the psalmist. Psalm 51 catapults us directly into the examination of our sin and the need for forgiveness. It is direct from the beginning. “Have mercy on me . . . blot out my transgressions . . . cleanse me from my sin.” Ugh! 

It requires a clear mind to admit that we—all of us—are sinful people. We are people who might say the right things in public, but our internal thoughts aren’t always the best. Much of the time we aren’t even aware of our hidden tendency to judge and size up the other and position ourselves. We just do it. So it takes a clear mind to look honestly at ourselves.

An understanding heart is necessary, too. Yes, we need that understanding heart toward others, but we need it focused on ourselves, too. How else might we find the courage to look at our own dark and unpleasant thoughts or failures or lack of love? We must have understanding hearts toward our own humanity. Those who have had constantly judgmental parents might struggle with this, so that’s when knowing about God’s understanding heart for us can carry us through.

Willing spirits. That’s what it takes to change some of our behaviors. “Create in me a clean heart; . . . put a new and right spirit within me.” It’s hard work to examine ourselves. It’s hard work to ask for forgiveness. And it’s hard work to believe change is possible and forgiveness is real.

Clear minds, understanding hearts, willing spirits: I’m going to keep working at this.

Merciful God, you know my sin. You can see the thoughts I don’t reveal. Help me trust in your love while I examine myself. Give me the willing spirit I need in order to be the person you know I can be. I pray this knowing you are with me in my best and worst moments and all the moments in between. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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