Psalm 51:10-19 (ESV)
19 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Lent: a time of sacrifice, a time to give something up—something we really like. But the psalmist reminds us that God doesn’t delight in just any kind of sacrifice. The sacrifice God does want: “a broken and contrite heart….”
Contrite means to demonstrate remorse or penitence; it’s another way to say repentant. The essence of repentance is not feeling bad about ourselves but changing direction, turning around.
A broken spirit conveys humility. Isaiah 66:2 echoes this passage and actually uses the word humble. Isaiah 57:15 also: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit….” It’s the attitude of the tax collector who doesn’t justify himself but asks God to be merciful to him, a sinner (Luke 18).
Contrite and humble are harder to pull off than we’d like. It’s easy to feel self-impressed, to feel like, while we have our shortcomings, we’re really pretty good… at least better than a lot of other folks. (I’m naturally way closer to Luke 18’s Pharisee.) And contrite—really turning and not just feeling guilty as we carry on (or sorry we got caught), is a lifelong struggle.
The disciplines of Lent are not about giving something up because God likes our suffering. That kind of sacrifice God doesn’t much care about. Lent’s disciplines are about helping us honestly face our own weaknesses, helping us turn from them and so become free to live as we should.
From this broken contrite place, we find cleansing, renewal, deliverance.
O God who creates in us clean hearts, help us see ourselves in truth, in humility and brokenness. Help us in truth turn from our sins so we may find joy and wholeness, through Christ our Lord.