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Lenten Reflections: Psalm 51

By Nina Spencer

Lent, the season of reflection and repentance as we prepare our hearts for Easter, is the perfect time to examine Psalm 51. This psalm was written by King David, who was described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). It is a poem about recognizing and being broken by sin before God, and finding restoration through repentance. David had sin in his life that he had not dealt with. He did what many of us do today – cover up, ignore or justify actions that God sees as sin. But sin is not something to be taken lightly. Jesus tells us, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).

When David was confronted by Nathan the prophet concerning his sin with Bathsheba, he recognized his sin and realized the full weight of what he had done. He agonized over his sin and cried out to God, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51: 3-4a). David’s actions against Bathsheba, Uriah, and the whole nation of Israel were grievous indeed, but David knew that he had primarily offended a holy God. He did not make excuses or look for a way to justify his actions; he fully admitted his sin. In confessing his sin, David also acknowledged God’s holiness, that God’s law was good even though David had broken those commands: “That You may be found just when you speak and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:4b).  Recognition and confession of our sin is the first step in restoring our relationship with God.  

Once his sin was confessed, David pleads for God’s forgiveness and cleansing. He wrestled with the reality that he was a sinner in need of God’s grace. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies. Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51: 1-2).  Each of us must be broken before God; we cannot cleanse ourselves. We are completely dependent on the mercy of God. David asks God to “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7b). He knew his sin was a deep stain that only God could remove. The same is true for us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God desires us to be broken and humble before him, confessing our sin and looking to his tender mercies for restoration. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

David desired restoration, but he struggled to receive God’s cleansing forgiveness by faith. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that God can and will forgive us and restore us to a relationship with Him.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). David wanted a new heart from God, a heart that was clean from sin, and a steadfast spirit to stay on the path of righteousness. He knew this was something only God could do. He also wanted God to “restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12a); he wanted to be in a right relationship with God that God might be glorified. Once a right relationship was restored, David promises, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Psalm 51:13). What a joy to be restored to a right relationship with God by His mercies and be a vessel to share God’s love with others that they might know Him also.

As we read this psalm, let it encourage us to pursue a right relationship with God. Let us desire to recognize our sin, be broken before God and allow God to restore our relationship with him. What a wonderful way to enter into the joy of Resurrection Sunday.