Do You Have a Contrite Heart?
By David Faust
A veteran church leader I hold in high regard recently confided that he has been reflecting on Psalm 51 throughout the last year. At first, I felt concerned. After all, Psalm 51 contains David’s heartfelt confession after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. My friend, who has been married nearly 50 years, assured me he has not been unfaithful to his wife. In his journey with the Lord, he finds himself drawn to Psalm 51 because it exposes his weaknesses and pushes him to new places of vulnerability and spiritual growth.
This great chapter contains gems like “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) and “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (v. 12). David reminded himself (and us) that the Lord does not despise “a broken and contrite heart” (v. 17).
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CONTRITE
There is a form of art that uses pieces of broken glass to make vases and other beautiful objects. That’s what the Lord does when we bring him the broken pieces of our lives.
David’s heart was broken and “contrite”—sorry, repentant, and regretful. You are contrite if you feel deep remorse and a sincere desire for redemption and forgiveness. The Hebrew dakah comes from a root word that meant “to crush,” “shatter,” or “bring very low” (as in Psalm 38:6). The Message version paraphrases Psalm 51:17 by saying, “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.”
We have nothing to lose by coming clean with God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). To appreciate the light of his love, we need to recognize the darkness in our hearts.
HOW TO BE MORE CONTRITE
When you think of successful people, many qualities come to mind: discipline and hard work, communication skills, wise and magnetic leadership, business acumen, integrity of character, people skills, a winsome personality. Psalm 51 adds another quality to the list: a contrite heart. I haven’t graduated yet from the school of contrition, but here are three lessons I am learning.
Get real with God. Don’t try to impress him with elaborate prayers and feverish religious deeds. Don’t minimize, rationalize, and explain away your sin, or try to excuse your flaws by comparing yourself to others. The real God wants to hear from the real you.
Embrace—don’t resist—painful truth. David wrote Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him with the harsh facts of his sin. Be grateful if you have faithful friends who help you confront reality by speaking the truth in love. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5).
Focus on your faith more than on your failures. David’s moral failures damaged his leadership and brought tragic consequences to his family, but he was not beyond the reach of redemption. After asking God to give him a pure heart and renewed joy, David declared, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you” (Psalm 51:13). His life—even the broken pieces—served as a positive testimony to others. We admire David’s successes, but even more, let’s appreciate how God made something beautiful out of David’s life in spite of his glaring failures.
Personal Challenge: Write your own prayer of confession to God, using Psalm 51 to guide your thoughts.