I dug around in the fridge trying to find space for yet another tupperware container. They were stacked to the limit because I’d been shoving leftovers I had no intention of eating in there just to put off dealing with the waste another day… and another…. and another. We do the same thing with our hearts.
Sometimes when an argument is ending, we cram a little leftover hurt into the back of our heart. When a wrong isn’t something we’re ready to confess but isn’t something we can forget, it gets pushed back there, too. We sin, and then stack up excuses to keep conviction contained.
Just like the fridge, sometimes our hearts start to stink. The leftovers go stale, the containers leak a little. What could have been dealt with in an unpleasant but quick moment accrues into a mess that takes time and effort to scrub away completely.
David’s prayer in Psalm 51 shows us how to deal with the mess in our hearts when we’ve been stashing away our sin.
Sometimes we stash our wrongs and our excuses in hope that if they are out of sight they won’t be a problem. David did this, too. One sin led to another. It started with lust for Bathsheba, turned into adultery, and morphed into murder to cover up what a mess he’d made of everything.
When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins, there was no hiding the horror of it. He prayed,
“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.” (Psalm 51:1c–3)
Stop Hiding the Depth of Sin
David had to call his sin what it was, and we do, too. Long-standing sins have a way of compounding. By the time they’re exposed, we’re not just apologizing for one wrong, but also for unintended consequences, patterns that have resulted, ways we’ve grown calloused, and so much more.
We see the depth of this as David says,
“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.” (Psalm 51:4–5)
We aren’t just sinners, we’re thorough sinners. We don’t just sin against others or ourselves, but against our perfect, loving God. What we deserve isn’t a shrugged “we all make mistakes,” but judgement. Repentance of deep sin recognizes this and doesn’t hide from it.
Ask for a Thorough Cleansing
The cleansing that David asked God to do took the depth of sin into account. He didn’t request a quick once-over to tidy up his obvious errors. David knew God cares deeply about our hearts. When we’ve been compiling sin, our hearts get dirty, not just our hands.
“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.” (Psalm 51:6–7)
David didn’t only ask God to cleanse him from specific, obvious sins committed, but to do the deeper work in his inward being. The wrongs we like to hide and harbor need thorough heart-scrubbing to be completely removed.
Seek a Renewed Heart
With compiled sins cleared out of the way and God at work deep in our hearts, we aren’t left with resentment over the consequences or shame over needing a cleaning in the first place. With David, we can pray:
“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.” (Psalm 51:8–12)
David prayed this at a time when sacrifices were the way to be made right with God again, and he acknowledged that God desired most a broken, contrite spirit (Psalm 51:16-17). Still, he looked to God for renewal, for the work of the Holy Spirit, for salvation.
Start and End with The Heart
We have the privilege of repenting today knowing that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The Holy Spirit lives inside us permanently when we belong to Jesus – with direct access to the very hearts we so desperately need cleansed and renewed!
If we feel our sins have accrued too much to be dealt with, or that we cannot hope for truly pure hearts, we might not know what to pray. David’s prayer leads the way, bringing us to Christ who can help us stop stashing so much away in the first place.
Start where sin does: in the heart. Expose what’s wrong, stop hiding the depth of it, ask God for a thorough cleansing. He is faithful and able to renew you. For, “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).
For more on Psalm 51, listen to the sermon series Changing Direction: How to Get Right When You Know You’ve Gone Wrong.