Reading: Psalm 51.
Which is worse – doing the wrong thing? Or being caught out? Too often our biggest concern is with being caught out.

These are issues at the heart of repentance – and God’s grace for change of behaviour. King David was at home while his army was at war. From the roof of his palace, he saw another man’s wife bathing. He invited her over and slept with her. She became pregnant and he organised that her husband would die in battle. Then he took her as his wife (2 Samuel 11).

It was twelve months later that the prophet Nathan came to confront David with his sin. The baby boy had been born and David’s family life had seemed to be proceeding normally and happily. Now David was challenged about his actions and knew both guilt and shame (2 Samuel 12).

Psalm 51 records the depth of his true repentance.

David is pleading for God’s favour on the basis of his unfailing love and compassion (v. 1). "Unfailing love" (hesed) is God’s kindness and love – often combined in the old Bible as "loving-kindness." God’s love is a committed love. It is love in action. That is also reflected in the word "compassion" – always more than a nice feeling, always love moving into practical help.

David asks for his sin to be blotted out, washed away, cleansed. He wants total forgiveness for his sin. We have had TV ads where the tape is re-wound and re-played with a better ending. There are times when we wish that could be done, when we could re-live that part of our lives. But that’s a bit of fiction. David knows he cannot undo what he has done. He needs the record erased, his guilt washed away, his relationship with God made clean and new.

Confronted by Nathan, David said, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam. 12.13). He had, of course, sinned against Bathsheba and against Uriah, her husband. He had sinned against the nation of Israel. We could say he had sinned against himself too. But, in the final count, all of this combined to erect a big barrier in his relationship to the Lord – "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Ps. 51.4).

But he doesn’t simply want to be "let off the hook." His desire is for the cleansing of his innermost thoughts and motivations – "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (vv. 10-12).

David knows that God wants more than the formal worship and sacrifices that he had continued to offer to God over the previous twelve months – "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (v. 17).

A few years ago a church lady was showing me round her garden. Suddenly she stopped – and poured out a story of a wrong relationship she had entered into in her earlier years. She had carried that hidden load all these years.

God doesn’t despise the "broken and contrite heart". True repentance opens us up to true forgiveness – and the load doesn’t need to be carried any more.

Prayer: You see all that is hidden in our hearts - all that we have done and failed to do in thought, word and deed.You wait to blot out our sins, and to make us clean. Help us to step out fresh and new, not carrying the load of past guilt, past failure, past hurt... Help us to be sensitive towards all for whom we care, bringing to them something of your love, understanding and grace, through Christ our Lord. Amen.


I thought
my life
and choices
were mine,
up to me

Who can know
my little infringements,
my sin?

If I don’t worry,
who else will?

Comes a voice
from heaven,
"I know!
I care!"

How dumb I am!
How stupid!

Lord, have mercy!
I have sinned
against you!
You say
my sin
deserves a cross!
And Jesus
has died
for me!
By your mercy
blot out my sin
and make me new!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 12 February 2002.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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