A Prayer of Contrition (Part One)- Psalm 51

We have examined so far the general principles of prayer, studied Jesus instructions on how we are to pray and seen the basic principles of intercessory prayer. We will now examine a specific type of prayer, this one from the Psalm 51. This Psalm is essentially a prayer of contrition, a prayer through which we confess our sins to God. The background to this is that Kind David had slept with the wife of one of his most loyal and faithful military leaders, then sent this man on a suicide mission so he could claim this man’s wife as his own. He has been confronted by a prophet about this and is admitting his guilt to God. He begins in verse 1 by asking God for mercy according to His unfailing love. The word translated unfailing love here is chesed, which is the OT word for grace. David asks for mercy according to grace. Asking for mercy from God is basically asking Him not to give us what we deserve (David will tell us what he deserves later in the Psalm), and David asks so according to grace. He realizes he does not deserve mercy, and asks for it not as one who has earned it. As a child of the covenant, he appeals to God not to give him what he deserves, basing his appeal not on any merit in himself but purely upon God’s grace. The first thing we must notice about this prayer is that it is not merely a prayer to soothe a guilty conscience, but an appeal for transformation. We see David asking not just to be forgiven but to be transformed He asks God to “blot out my transgressions” (Hebrew-pasa, to rebel), to eliminate once and for all any spirit of rebellion from his heart, to remove anything in him that makes him want to deliberately disobey God. He also asks God to “Wash away my iniquity” (Hebrew-awon, to deviate from the path), to cleanse him from his missteps and make him a person who does not sin “unintentionally”. He then asks for God to “cleanse me from my sin” (Hebrew-chatta, to come up short), to gradually make him a person who no longer misses the mark and comes up short of what God wants him both to be and to do. We can immediately see that this is not simply a prayer for forgiveness but for transformation. David here asks not only to forgive of his sin, but to transform what he is, and that transformation is to be in his entire person. He asks here for God not only to forgive what he did, but to transform what he is. It can readily be seen, even in the first verse, that this is a prayer which would apply not just to OT believers, but to Christians as well, and thus praying this Psalm is still an excellent way for the believer to deal with his “sin”. We can, through this prayer both confess our sins to God and seek to be transformed into someone who does not do what we are confessing anymore As we continue in our examination of this Psalm, we will discover many more principles of confession and repentance, and see how they also apply to NT believers.

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