Repentance is a daily task
The Psalms often have a short statement at the beginning, sometimes identifying their composer, sometimes with a musical or liturgical instruction, sometimes with a description of the event which caused its composition.
Psalm 51’s statement says, “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”
Now we remember David as a man of God, a strong King of Israel, but we know that David also committed terrible sins, and this episode was one of his worst. During this episode when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he lied to her husband Uriah, and then even had him killed so that his indiscretion with Bathsheba who had become pregnant would not be found out. During this episode David broke just about every one of the 10 commandments. But when he was confronted with his sin, he responded with this psalm in repentance. “Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love according to your great compassion.”
David can appeal to God because he knows God has steadfast love, and God has great compassion for all his creatures. Near the end of the Psalm, in verse 17, he says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise. David realizes that the best sacrifice he can give, the only one which can really atone, is his own heart, to give up his evil self and allow it instead to be inclined to and open to God, with a humble and contrite heart.
What a prayer of repentance this is. All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. We all need forgiveness, but we know we can be forgiven when we have faith in Jesus Christ through the wonderful free grace that was given to us by Christ’s death on the cross, and the new life we received in his resurrection. But we do need to repent, we do need to acknowledge our sins.
Martin Luther said a Christian life should be one of daily repentance. As Richard Foster puts it, “Daily we confess, daily we repent, daily we turn, turn, turn until we turn ‘round right.”
And if we have trouble finding the words for this repentance, we can look to this prayer, David’s prayer in Psalm 51 as a model. “Against you O God have I sinned and done evil in your sight. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. O Lord open my lips, cleanse me, wash me white as snow, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
REV. DALE Brown is the pastor of Cumberland and Guinea Presbyterian Churches. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.