Perhaps the most gut-wrenching of all the Psalms, David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 offers us a glimpse into the power of our most painful prayers.
Repentance can be the most challenging aspect of a disciple’s life. Turning from our sin and embracing the grace of forgiveness … that’s the hard work of faith. Far easier for most of us is simply saying, “I’m sorry.” The words come easy, gliding off our tongues … the heart-change however is far more complex.
David’s tawdry affair, cowardly behavior, vindictive murder … vile as it all was … are not the issues. And so within our own lives we must come to this same realization … our lies and greed, selfishness and pride, those attitudes and actions, words and thoughts, they are not the focal point of this need for repentance. The need for repentance stems from one thing only: A heart separated from God.
Repentance is the cry for reconciliation, restoration. And David understood that while his behaviors most assuredly hurt others (and would lead to consequences he could never have dreamed), it was his heart that needed healing.
In this Psalm I note three types of power.
The Power of Sin
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Psalm 51:3 NASB
We can never underestimate the grip of sin in our lives. Sneaky and subtle, sin in the believer’s life – any sin – causes shame, guilt, and fear … and when we allow it to remain unchecked, unconfessed, that sin grows in power in our hearts. The voice of God, His whisperings and beckoning, fade as the call to sinful self shouts and promises greater things.
The prayer of repentance breaks the power of sin as we cry out truth over lie, life over death: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Thy righteousness” (Psalm 51:14 NASB).
The Power of Grace
“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 NLT
Grace … the precious gift of that which we do not deserve. Did David deserve a clean heart after all he’d done? After the deceitful and insidious acts he had committed? No. He did not deserve that cleansing, that renewal. But do I deserve forgiveness for my own lying tongue? My own prideful heart? My selfishness? Absolutely not. Grace … amazing, wonderful grace. “Grace that exceeds my sin and my guilt,” the old hymn promises.
“For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17
The prayer of repentance calls on the power of grace.
The Power of Faith
“You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17 NLT
The greatest power in these painful prayers of repentance is not the words we say. After all, “talk is cheap.” No, the greatest power in these prayers is that of faith. The honest acknowledgment of the power sin has gained in our hearts and the humble acceptance of God’s grace and forgiveness for that sin is meaningless if we don’t ever move out of the pit. If we wallow in our shame and guilt, continuing to confess a sin that God has forgiven, continuing to move as though we were in the shackles, then we never experience the power of faith! For it is faith that moves us into the freedom of repentance … that moves us to change, to make that 180 degree turn and walk in obedience.
The sacrificing and burnt offerings are easy … outward, seen. But God is looking at our hearts … broken, contrite, repentant. David knew this, for he had been chosen by God not for what was visible. Remember the Lord’s words to Samuel as he looked over Jesse’s sons, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).
Friends, the power of these painful prayers is when we are moved, changed, and heart-well.
Is there a need for some painful prayers in your life?