(Reading List: Theme 1 Bonus)

This is the last post on our first theme, “Relating to a Personal God.” We have looked at different scriptures that talk about finding our identity in Christ, and living in an awareness of his great love for us. We’ve looked at poetic prayers in the Psalms, how habits of prayer shape us, the importance of thanksgiving, and several different models from the Old and New Testaments. There is so much the Bible says on this topic, but I don’t think even this small overview should be wrapped up without a look at a prayer of repentance, and a prayer of praise and thanks.

REPENTANCE

Psalm 51 is a prayer of repentance from the famous King David after he committed adultery, and then when the woman, Bathsheba, became pregnant, David sent her husband to the front lines of a battle, arranging for him to be left exposed and killed in battle. Adultery and murder. By the one who was called “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Wow. When kids grow up from Sunday school and realize little David who killed Goliath and was the greatest king ever – little David grew up to commit adultery and murder, and by the way, was not a fabulous father – this David is still called the man after God’s heart? How disillusioning. How can this be? I guess no one is perfect.

The funny thing about the Bible, compared to other ancient texts, is that it is honest. Most ancient histories only contained the great exploits of their kings, battles won and so forth. And if they didn’t win, they rewrite history to skew it more favorably. We know this by comparing archaeological findings with recorded histories of different nations who interacted. But the Bible? The Bible is honest. There are no perfect heroes. Even Noah and Moses had their failures, Abraham and Elijah had their moments of fear; no one is perfect.

In fact, the heroes in the Bible are not the men and women who interacted with God. The hero is the God who interacts with humans. This is God’s story, and when we see the failures of the human heroes, we realize all the more the grace, steadfast love, and faithfulness of God. David was a man after God’s own heart not because he never failed, but because of how he responded when he failed. Failure is inevitable. If we realized this, we’d probably be able to love each other a lot more effectively, and wouldn’t be burdened by fear, guilt, and shame. Failure is inevitable. What shows a pursuing heart is how we respond to failure. David responded in repentance. Not a shallow “forgive me father, I have sinned now I will perform penance” kind of prayer, but a deep, heartfelt, soul-searching, dust-and-ashes humility. David knew that some kind of prescribed penance would never do, because “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Whatever you have done, be it murder and adultery, or some other sin, it is not too much that God will not forgive. You may have some broken shards of a life to pick up, but God will help you pick them up. That is why the Holy Spirit is called a Helper. Not a fairy godmother to wave a wand and everything is okay, or a Mary Poppins to snap her fingers and the mess is gone. Not a Godfather either, who will help you then control you by fear the rest of your life. A Helper. One who will be there every step of the way, guiding and sharing the burden, so you are never alone, and have the courage to face the process of restoration.

THANKSGIVING

Psalm 18 is also written by David, this time on a joyous occasion, when battle ended and he finally received the promise he was given many years earlier, when anointed to be king. Though I can’t relate to what it is like to finish a hard military battle, I can certainly appreciate the bold imagery and relate to the feeling of victory after difficult circumstances. I love the way David praises God, in the second half of the psalm, giving all the credit to God.

It is interesting to read these two together. The God whom David knew as his strength and protection in 18:1-2, is still the God David runs to in 51, when he is far from the 18:25-26 man of purity, faithfulness, and integrity. David knows what it is to be in the center of God’s will, and the center of God’s blessing, which may be why he was so eager to return there in 51. He felt the separation that sin causes, and longed to again be right with God. He knew that freedom can only come we are humble and repentant.

WHERE ARE YOU?

The reflection prompt for this reading was to write our own prayers of repentance and thanksgiving. Though I am not sharing my own prayers today, I do want to ask a question… When do you run to God? Only to thank? Or to repent? Do you see him fighting for you while you are still amidst the battle? When it is won, do you give him the glory? Do you let sin push you away from God due to shame, or do you let it drive you to God, for restoration? Again I think of that marriage metaphor – it is for better and for worse. In good times and bad, David ran to God. What a great example. I want to be a (wo)man after God’s heart, too.

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