Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. PSALM 51:1 (ESV)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. PSALM 51:1 (NIV)
Read Full Passage HERE
Psalm 51 is a model of deep repentance which we see from David. To briefly set the backdrop of this psalm, David (“the man after God’s own heart”) had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband (to get the full story, read 2 Samuel 11-12). This sin corrupted, hardened, and numbed his heart and mind until Nathan, the prophet, confronted David about his sin, which led to David responding in the prayer of repentance that we see in this psalm.
I believe that this psalm of repentance is an important one that is worthy of cherishing and memorizing in our hearts for when we transgress against God. I personally memorized this Psalm 3 years ago during a season of struggle. Since then, it has been a prayer of comfort and refuge in times of needed repentance, moments where I too often have not known what to pray, I have been able to simply pray the Word of God back to Him. It has been truly powerful and I want you to taste the same fruit from this that I have! I find here an appropriate posturing towards God in humility and a deep understanding of the depravity and brokenness of our fallen condition. We will break this psalm down verse by verse to understand why this chapter is profound and has been beloved among believers for generations.
In verse one, David makes two requests to God. First, for God to have mercy on him, and secondly, for God to blot out his transgressions. In making each request, he appeals to the character qualities of God to receive his requests. David is saying, “God, because you have steadfast love, have mercy on me. God, because you are abundant in mercy, blot out my transgressions.” I think this is a deeply important rhythm we should practice when repenting. So often, when we sin, we become so focused on ourselves. We pray that we will do better, we formulate ways that we will reconcile ourselves to God in our actions from this point forward, etc. But David flips the script that is prevalent in our tendencies. He is putting all the action in God’s hands. He asks God to move. To cleanse Him. David knows that holiness and sanctification come through the grace and working of God alone. Apart from God and His indwelling Spirit, we are hopeless when it comes to the mission of looking more like Christ.
This week, when you find yourself battling sin and needing to approach the throne of God in repentance, practice this rhythm of confessing your sin and then asking God to do the healing, cleaning, and renewing in your life according to his character. Don’t try to muster up some greater discipline or self-reconciliation, but ask God to work. Just like the man with leprosy in Matthew 8, pray, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”