“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 only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the 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 broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”
I’ve been reading through the Psalms with Avalyn each time it’s my night to get her to sleep. This evening we got to Psalm 51, which has become one of my favorites over the years. This dates back to undergraduate where I was part of the choir at First Baptist Georgetown and we would sing a beautiful choral arrangement of this piece. When I read it, I still go through the vocal arrangement of the song, not necessarily the written words in the Bible.
There are so many portions of this passage that get referenced and rightly so. What keeps jumping out to me now, though, is less taught. Less focused on, at least from my reflection.
Verse 16 seems to perfectly encapsulate one of the great struggles that we have in our lives. “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;”. A recognition of that pattern where we have tried to bargain with God to let us feel right with him, but still keep doing what we want. “All I have to do is just bring a sacrifice to the altar and then I can do what I want. I don’t have to change anything else.” David recognizes this pattern we can get into of wanting to do something for our salvation, wanting to do something to feel better about our lives, but not being willing to make the change that God really wants. Because the truth is that a physical sacrifice could be less costly. But rather, “You do not delight in burnt offering.”
That is not what God wants from us. What God wants is much more costly. It costs us everything. For us to recognize how broken we are, to admit how broken we are, and to ask him, to allow him to fix it. That is subsequently the sacrifice of least physical value and most taxing cost.
We get this reminder throughout scripture. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This verse quoted by Jesus is another of my favorites. Part of that idea that while we are to be working out our salvation and participating in good works, that is not ultimately what God desires of us. He desires our humility, he desires us to be loving, he desires us to be merciful. For these are the qualities that He has displayed to us.
It’s a good reminder both for when I get too overwhelmed I’m doing things for God and for when I get too caught up in myself, trying to keep doing things my own way.
Purge me, wash me, restore my joy.
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