Psalm 51:1-17: A Clean Heart

The point of this passage is not difficult to discern. Verse 17 is the summation: ìThe sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.    The strength of our spirit is often seen as our first line of defense and the ultimate source of our victory in any sort of battle. Here the psalmist calls for our spirits to be broken. Such vulnerability as a lifestyle is difficult to imagine, but this passage imagines in us a new and right spirit (v 10), God’s holy spirit (v 11), and a willing spirit (v 12). The bases are covered. Our orientation is turned toward God, secure in God, returned to God and God’s way of seeing the world. The psalmist refers to this process as a cleansing (v 2), a purging (v 7), and a washing (v 7). All result in a clean heart (v 10).   This is a thorough cleansing in which all things are made new. Lent may be the starting point, but this change is not seasonal. It is not an experiment. In the middle of this psalm and in the middle of the process it suggests, the joy of God’s salvation is restored. For many, this would be nothing short of a miracle. For our relationship to God to be rescued from the mundane, for our Christianity to be more than a political issue, for God’s salvation to put our sin and struggle on God’s screen and off of ours, this would be joy of the deepest sort. The Lenten season exposes the darkness and heaviness of our spirit, but to what light or for what purpose?

The goal of all this is to put us into a position of praise – praise in our corporate worship and praise in our daily lives. What sacrifice would it take to move us from this darkness of struggle and stumbling to the light of joy? This season will eventually answer that question. There is sacrifice, but Jesus is the one who will make it. Our part in it is a broken spirit: a spirit broken enough to admit our helplessness; a spirit broken enough to see the darkness we have become accustomed to; a spirit broken enough to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice just might be our hope.    Our determined spirit is not our first line of defense. Our tough spirit is not the source of our ultimate victory in the battles we face. Turn it all upside down; return it all to God. It is a broken spirit, broken in the face of fear and frustration, that does the trick – broken, vulnerable, humble, given over fully to God. This is counter-intuitive. Such a turning is seen as naive and irresponsible. The concept of a broken spirit ignores our strength; it embraces rather than erases our weakness; it is the thinking of some other world.

It is the thinking of some other kingdom, one that Lent reminds us of. Turning, or re-turning, of this magnitude is a miracle. Can we really speak of miracles in the reality of our world and our time? The Lenten season can take us, in the last portion of the journey, from relying on our hardened, experienced spirit, to final release and reliance on the Spirit of God in us. It is a miracle, but our lying face down before God will make this renewed spirit look normal. It is a rational first line of defense and a reliable ultimate source of victory.   The Lenten path, even with its cross, is the Way to the joy of salvation.

Have mercy, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.



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