“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:15-17, NIV)
David wrote this Psalm after he had his affair with Bathsheba and arranged to have her husband Uriah killed. Like all of us, David fell prey to his own pride and lust, and did just what he wanted to do even though he knew it was wrong. The same man who sang passionate night-time praises to God on the hillsides, who declared his undying faith and devotion to the Lord, had thumbed his nose at God. He decided, like many broken people, to go do something selfish, sinful, and downright evil. Now his lips were silent and he was mute with shame.
David was the king over Israel, a party in a covenant relationship with God, blessed beyond measure, and yet he caved in to his own fleshly desires and committed sins that were unthinkable to most people. He fell from the heights of blessing to the depths of depravity. He allowed himself to slip back into sin when he was surrounded by God’s blessings. He loved God passionately at times but still wandered away into tawdry, worldly activity, trading his spiritual relationship for instant gratification. Sound familiar? It should. It’s your story. It’s everyone’s story.
No matter who you are, no matter how close you are to God, there are times when you turn away from Him and do what you want to do. Your fleshly desires motivate you to lie, to covet, to commit sins in both deed and thought. You act publicly humble while you wallow in pride, you judge others when you are unworthy, and you act with impunity regardless of consequences. You start taking baby steps into sin until you have wandered afar off… And then you stop, realizing that you have broken trust with the Lord, that you have violated Christ’s sacrifice, and that, like the lost son you are broken and far from home.
Even though David wrote this Psalm when the Jewish sacrificial system was fully operational, he recognized that animal sacrifice was symbolic, that it portrayed publicly what God wanted to see going on in our hearts privately. The death of the animals represented the death of our flesh, given willingly so that God’s Spirit might live in us. Jesus told both Nicodemus and the woman at the well that the Father wanted spiritual worship, not fleshly devotion, just as he confirmed to Pilate that he was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world.
God doesn’t want burnt offerings, He wants our hearts. When we ignore Him, when we elevate ourselves above Him, and when we cave in to selfishness and sinful desires, God doesn’t want us dead; He wants us BACK. When we stray from God’s love, according to David, there is only one appropriate sacrifice. What God wants to see is a broken and contrite heart.
God is not looking for those things to ensure that we are suffering, or paying for what we’ve done. He wants to restore us, to keep deadly sin from destroying us, and He knows that the only way for us to stay free from its grip is to present ourselves, broken and contrite to Him. When is the last time you were broken and contrite? When did you last do business with God by presenting your broken spirit to Him without self-justification or reservation? When were you last brutally honest with yourself before the Lord, begging him for forgiveness?
Well, when was the last time you sinned? When did you last tell a white lie, or have a momentary flash of envy or hatred? When did you covet something, or put anything else before God? If there’s a gap between the last time you sinned, and the last time you were contrite, read David’s words again. You’ve got some business to do.
A Wanderer's Prayer I've wandered off, I've told some lies, Allowed pure lust to veil my eyes, Ignoring all my vows and "why's", Wallowing where the spirit dies... I could go offer sacrifice, And hope somehow, by its device That my heart, though as cold as ice Would quicken if it payed the price. And when I rise to face my lies The tears are streaming from my eyes, Because no ritual sacrifice will have the power to suffice, Nor any prophet's sage advice! So now, my Lord, I realize The truth I should have known there at the start: You, my Lord, will not despise A broken spirit and a contrite heart.