Create in Me a Clean Heart

July 5th, 2007 • Category: My Favorite Scripture
by Deb Doty

Today’s scripture: Psalm 51:1-19 (NRSV)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Deb Doty):

This isn’t one of the cheery psalms. It’s a psalm of repentance King David composed after his sins of adultery and murder committed during the “Bathsheba incident” were exposed by the prophet, Nathan. It ain’t pretty. But it is beautiful.

In this psalm, we see David throw himself on God’s mercy. He admits his heart was all wrong and that every sin he committed against others, he really committed against God. He doesn’t try to justify what he did. He simply asks for God’s forgiveness and cries out for God to create a new heart to replace his heart of sin. From this psalm, we get an idea why — in spite of these really heinous sins — David was called a man after God’s own heart.

Now, I’ve never committed adultery and I’ve never murdered anybody, so it would be easy for me to say that this psalm just doesn’t apply to me. But I’d be lying to you and to myself if I said that — because what matters is the attitude of the heart. And if that’s what really counts (and it is), then I’m every bit as bad as King David. And like the mighty king, I have to cry out to God for a new heart and a right spirit.

There’s a worship song by Keith Green that has meant a lot to me over the last 20 years or so. It’s taken from Psalm 51:10-12. The translation Keith used as the basis for his song was the poetic King James, so the lyrics say,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, O God, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. And renew a right spirit within me.”

In several difficult seasons of my life, when my spirit was all wrong, this song has been the cry of my heart.

But it wasn’t until the last year or so that I started calling this psalm “The Teacher’s Psalm.” I never really saw before the words that followed the end of the lyrics, which only go through the end of verse 12. But then, one day as I was reading this psalm, the first words of verse 13 just jumped out at me: “Then I will teach….”

It’s after we have the heart transplant, it’s after the right Spirit is moving freely within us, it’s after we taste the joy of God’s sweet mercy — in short, it’s after we’ve recognized our brokenness and given up trying to be something we’re not — that God can use us to teach others.

If we think we can please God with our sacrifice of service without going through a deep recognition of who we are and who God is, we’re deluding ourselves. God doesn’t want our “burnt offering.” God wants a living sacrifice: us. And if God has us, then — and only then — are we in a position to teach or to be any other kind of leader.

How I wish I only had to pray this once instead of many times throughout my life! But not even King David had it all together forever after the Bathsheba incident. I think that’s why his song ended up in Israel’s hymnbook. He sang it more than once. And a lot of people identified with it.

I’ve heard it said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. Heaven knows that’s been true in my life. But that’s when God sends a “Nathan” to me to remind me who I am and who God is. And once again I sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Thought for the day: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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