“A humble, contrite heart you will not spurn” (Psalm 51:19) This verse comes near the end of this powerful and very moving psalm. It is the most well known of the seven penitential psalms in the Book of Psalms. The tone is one of lament for one’s sins. It is a true revelation of the guilt we have for our sins and, yet, it is also a profound statement of faith in God’s love and mercy.
It is important to the well-being and survival of our eternal souls to know ourselves as sinners in need of God’s great mercy. As the psalmist so clearly states here in this psalm, “For I know my transgressions, my sin is always before me” (verse 5). This is the statement of a humble and contrite heart that knows its need for God’s mercy and his grace. An equally important insight here is that the psalmist recognizes that all of his sins, those that are private, that arise from our inner thoughts, and those that are great, public failings, are ultimately, sins against God himself. “Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil before your eyes…” (verse 6). Not one of our sins is hidden from God. He sees everything! He cannot be deceived.
Only the proud could think that there is no God, that there is no need for forgiveness. Only the proud would distort true freedom into a slavery to the ego. The reality is, as we know, only the truth will set us truly free. As Christians, we know Jesus Christ, and in knowing him, we know the love of the Father. The very reason why Christ came into the world is because of our sins. His supreme sacrifice on the cross was to free us from our sins. The psalmist, inspired by the Holy Spirit says, “Behold, you desire true sincerity, and secretly you teach me wisdom” (verse 8) And what is that wisdom? It is the truth that sets us free. It is the knowledge in faith, that though we are sinners, God knows when we are sincere in our sorrow, he recognizes our true contrition. It is this wisdom that teaches us to pray for his forgiveness. It is also in this wisdom that we finally bend our knees and our wills, and pray that he would turn his face away from our sins, that he would cleanse us with his mercy, and to ask him to create in us a new heart.
The natural response to this wisdom is thanksgiving, and a renewed desire to be restored to gladness. In this wisdom we are moved, like the psalmist, to ask God for his graces to help us to turn away from our sinful tendencies, so that we can begin walking again in his ways. When we experience the true freedom of God’s mercy, like the psalmist, we ask the Lord to open our lips and our mouths to “proclaim his praise” to others. The greatest wisdom of all, though, is that which the psalmist declares toward the end of his prayer for mercy: “For you do not desire sacrifice…a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a humble contrite heart you will not spurn” (verse 19). It is our sins that separate us from God and from one another. Our sins are ours alone. Like the psalmist, we fall before the Lord in our need for his forgiveness. If we do this with humble and contrite spirits, he will always answer with his infinite mercy. That is the truth of the meaning of the words in Psalm 111:10 and in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is a humble and contrite spirit that leads us to a true recognition and understanding, that it is only in following God’s precepts that we are made truly free.
Lord, open our eyes so that we can see and own our sins. Help us to turn away from them and back toward you. Give us humble and contrite spirits, for we know in faith that you will never spurn such hearts. Help us to never forget our need for your mercy. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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