Psalm 51

Formation’s Clean Heart

My wife and I had the carpet replaced in our home. It was sorely needed. We had talked about it eight-plus years ago when we first moved into the house, but we convinced ourselves the old floor covering would do. The carpet was worn-out from day one. Dirty, even though we shampooed, steam-cleaned, vacuumed, and covered up certain spots, we knew the truth. Most of us know how easy we can live with certain things and not give them a second thought. Closets in disarray. Garages full of “treasures” that we no longer find valuable. Dresser drawers stuffed with clothes we never wear. Carpet that stares at us, even mocks us with taunts like, “You will never replace me. You can’t get rid of me. I am too much work. I am too expensive. I am here to stay.” We procrastinate. We surrender. We justify. We convince ourselves that these things are no big deal. Then something happens. We have a moment of clarity. We see the truth. We acknowledge the need to change. We admit the dirt. What is true of houses is true of souls. It is why I return to Psalm 51 over and over. Here is David’s famous prayer after committing adultery with Bathsheba. It is the prayer that I so desperately need. What about you?

To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David, When Nathan The Prophet
Went To Him, After He Had Gone In To Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love:
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 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 offering and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Spiritual dirt—sin—is a reality. David uses all the filth-vocabulary he can muster in describing his own condition: transgressions, iniquity, sin, and evil, repeating them as part of his confession (51:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, and 13). The back story is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. David admits he intentionally crossed God’s covenant boundary by committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering her husband Uriah, and then seeking to cover-up the entire mess (transgressions). He owns his broken and depraved condition, even when he unintentionally drifted from God (iniquities). He confesses how he repeatedly missed the mark, both intentionally and unintentionally (sins). He does not hide the bent of his own inner world (evil). Who among us does not see himself or herself reflected in the life and words of David? We feel dirty. We are dirty. God sends a Nathan at just the right time to compassionately confront us (2 Samuel 12:7). Like David we say to God, “Wash me” (51:2 and 7). “Cleanse me” (51:3). “Purge me” (51:7). “Blot out my iniquities” (51:9). “Create in me a clean heart” (51:10).

Three times David comes back to the core of the problem. He addresses his own heart’s condition (51:6, 10, and 17). Heart is mission control center. It is that inner image and metaphor the Bible uses to define our true self. It is why, over the years, I have gravitated toward articulate statements about my own heart. E.M. Bounds, in his classic work Power Through Prayer, said this: “He will use his intellect best, who cultivates his heart most.” Robert Saucy, in his remarkable book, Minding the Heart, rightly observes: “The care of our heart is to be the supreme task of our life” (pg. 46). Solomon, who wisely understood the heart’s importance, said: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart matters. Keeping it clean matters.

Pulling up carpet and replacing it is one thing, pulling out the heart and replacing it is another. What do we do about our inner house? The Gospel makes it abundantly clear that in Christ we have the interior world’s best and only Cleaning Agent. He specializes in diagnosing the condition of our heart (51:1-6). He, as the world’s premier heart surgeon, can replace a diseased heart (51:7-12). He, because of His great compassion and steadfast love, can give us the perfect prognosis for ongoing formational care (51:13-19). In Jesus, all of us who come to Him with our dirty and soiled life, admit the truth about ourselves, and place our trust in His work, not ours, can be clean. That condition of clean is permanent for all Christ-followers. Even when dirt returns, He promises we remain His. We confess not to earn His favor, that has been secured at the cross, but to admit our ongoing need for Him and Him alone.

I remarked to my wife the other day how big of an impact the new carpet has made in our house. I feel blessed and rich. Things are brighter and lighter. The house smells differently. I suppose that smell is the smell of clean. Who doesn’t want some of that? Bring your soul’s carpet, a broken and contrite heart (51:17) and let Jesus do what He does best. He waits in the gymnasium.