Home » Words of Grace for Strength » The Prayer of the Contrite Heart ~ Psalm 51

The Prayer of the Contrite Heart ~ Psalm 51

This psalm is a ladder which climbs from the horrible pit, with its miry clay, into the heights of sunny joy, where the song breaks from the forgiven penitent. Here is the cry of the lost sheep which has been torn by briers, harried by wild dogs, drenched in the morass, but which the shepherd has found and brought home rejoicing. This path has been worn by myriads of penitents. Psalm 51:17 was written on the wall of St. Augustine’s cell.

There is no doubt as to the occasion or the authorship of this psalm. It abounds in references to 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-31. It is remarkable that such a confession should have been handed to the chief musician; but the publicity thus given has made it a means of grace to myriads. Note the epithets for sin: transgression, “the violation of law;” iniquity, “crookedness from the straight line of rectitude;” sin, “missing the mark.” However much God longs to forgive, He cannot, until confession is made. We must acknowledge our lapse from virtue! Blot out, as from a record; wash, as foul stains from linen; cleanse, as a leper by the touch of Christ. Our only plea is the multitude of God’s tender mercies.

It is not enough to be forgiven; the true penitent longs to be kept from breaking out into the old sins. He desires a clean heart that abhors the least taint of sin; a right or steadfast spirit, influenced by God’s Holy Spirit, and therefore a willing spirit as well. Then shall follow the joy of salvation, success in soul-winning, humility of soul, the blessing of Zion, and the up building of the Church. What glorious results are these-like the fair colors extracted from coal-tar!

There are no sacrifices so dear to God as broken hearts; no offerings so precious as contrite spirits. It would be impossible to compute all the walls that have been built; all the Jerusalem’s, that have been blessed, all the congregations that have been moved, all the revivals that have resulted because sinful men and women have been loved back from the pit of corruption and reinstated into the clear shining of God’s forgiveness and favor. Do not be content with forgiveness; seek restoration to the old place and then strive for a better.

Excerpted from “Through the Bible Day by Day” by F.B. Meyer 1914

Often, Andy and I collaborate on this Post we call “Words of Grace for Strength.” Today, I hope you will allow me to use it for a bit of personal reflection. The excerpt above is of course Meyer’s commentary on Psalm 51 in which King David made full confession of his sin with Bathsheba, and having done so pleaded with God for forgiveness, restoration and renewed usefulness. I am in complete agreement with Meyer as to his “title” of the Psalm, “The Prayer of the Contrite Heart” for it truly speaks of one who has recognized a need to place oneself in the complete control of his Lord because of his own failures.

Many years ago I was encouraged by Dr. Jerry Chaney to learn to “Pray the Psalms of David in the attitude of their author.” Psalm 51 has become a prayer of brokenness for me. There was a time in my life when, like David, I believed because of God’s favor in my life that I could act with impunity as I saw fit. Unfortunately, while David’s rebellion against God’s authority lasted only one year, mine lasted close to twenty. But, when at last I had been completely broken by my own sin, I cried out to Him who had paid my sin debt, once again acknowledging Him as my Savior, my Lord, and my God; He forgave me. Now the period of time since my restoration exceeds the time of my rebellion and I truly desire to be used by God every day. There are times though, that I have been discouraged, times of weariness, times of impatience, times when I felt I was somehow unappreciated or ignored… but then I am lead back to Psalm 51, and here I find that all I need is to be right with Jesus… restoration is life lived for Christ!
Read this wonderful Psalm with me (the bold emphasis I have added as my petition to my Savior).

Psalm 51:1-19
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
9 Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Is this your prayer today? Are you closer to Jesus Christ today than you were one year ago? Twenty years ago? Do you feel the presence of His Holy Spirit in your life? Do you still feel the Joy of your salvation? I must confess, I needed to read and pray this Psalm again today. Did you, Do you? Let us finish the Psalm.

13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.
18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

Friends, I need Jesus to forgive me daily for my failures, for my weakness, for my selfish pride, for sin which enters my thoughts and is displayed in my actions. And, I ask you to forgive me too…

I want to be used by my Savior in whatever way He chooses. As the old Hymn says, I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back! How about You?

Tuck