Prayer of Repentance

a man with the sunset behind him kneeling by a cross. ** Note: Visible grain at 100%, best at smaller sizes

Numbers 15; Psalm 51; Isaiah 5; Hebrews 12

As my children grow older and wiser (or maybe just more crafty), I find it entertaining to sit in the front seat of the car and listen to them reason things out in the back. These conversations often lead to some of the best teachable moments, opportunities to help them connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding of why things work the way they do.  One of our recurring lessons is about how the economy works.  As you would expect, the conversation almost always begins or ends with the statement, “nothing in life is really free” or “if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true)”.

We serve an incredibly gracious God. His goodness knows no end.  His faithfulness has been proven through generations.  This sounds too good to be true, is it?  Let’s review God’s plan for salvation:

  • God’s invitation is open to all – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
  • We all need it – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
  • We can’t earn it – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Jesus paid the price for us – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
  • Here’s the hook…it requires us to take actionIf we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

Following Jesus requires us to change, to repent and to turn from our sinful ways. Our reading in Psalm 51 today walks us through how King David repented of his sins to gain forgiveness.  David was Israel’s greatest King, he was known as a man after God’s own heart.  But he, like us, was sinful and needed to take action to make himself right with God.

The backdrop for Psalm 51 is the story of King David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11). If you aren’t familiar with the story, here are the basic facts – from the palace rooftop, King David lustfully looked upon Bathsheba, a neighbor woman, bathing.  Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was away at war.   King David, after having sinful relations with her, learned Bathsheba was pregnant.  He set up a plot to cover up the sinful relationship.  The plan involved bringing Uriah home from war and having him reunite with his wife, in order to keep King David’s paternal relationship with Bathsheba’s baby a secret.  However, when Uriah refused the privilege of sleeping at home with his wife during his leave, King David had to take his plot to the next level.  He sent orders to have Uriah moved to the front line, where Uriah was soon killed in battle.

In II Samuel 12, God sent the Prophet Nathan to King David. Through Nathan’s conversation, King David became acutely aware of his sin and God’s displeasure with it.  He was filled with remorse.  This brings us to Psalm 51, a deeply moving picture of King David’s repentance and restoration.

Studying Matthew Henry’s text commentary this week helped me break Psalm 51 down into the five main themes of King David’s prayer. Notice each of these themes start with a verb.  Again, an action King David took to make himself right with God:

  • Confessed his sin (verses 3-6)
  • Prayed for God to pardon his sin (verses 1, 2, 7, 9)
  • Prayed for peace of conscience (verses 8 and 12)
  • Prayed for grace to sin no more (verses 10, 11, 14)
  • Promised to do good for others and for the glory of God (verses 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19)

When I was in high school youth group, we used to sing an old Keith Green song – Create in Me a Clean Heart. The lyrics were simply the words of Psalm 51:10-12.  More than 25 years later, I sometimes find myself singing this prayer to God, asking for him to walk by my side, help me rid my heart of selfish desires and yield to his ways over mine.

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me

Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord

Take not Thy holy spirit from me

Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation

And renew a right spirit within me