Psalm 51: You Desire Truth

Throughout the our lives, people of faith pray a variety of prayers; some are big, some are small, some are easy, some are difficult, and some ask things of God or of ourselves that if we fully understood, we wouldn’t dare ask because there is no way to be unchanged by them.

This evening’s psalm, Psalm 51, is, it seems, a prayer that can be prayed with various levels of sincerity and intent, but to have God truly hear the prayer and to be moved to action, would actually be scary. We recite this psalm on Ash Wednesday, and while it isn’t quite as common as Psalm 23, it is close.

Psalm 51 is a cry for God to know the psalmist intimately, not just as God knows God’s people, but for God, within the psalmist’s interior world, to truly know him. It is less a cry for help than it is a cry for intimacy. The psalmist wants the whole of his life, heart, and mind to be directed toward God.

We pray it so often, and so many lines in our Prayer Book are pulled from this psalm, that I think it’s easy to miss how giant this prayer is; it is easy to miss what we are truly asking of God when we ask God to, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” To pray this psalm is to ask God to turn our whole world upside down; it is to ask God to truly and wholly transform our lives. Most of us, understandably, are quite comfortable with how our lives are, and even if it is uncomfortable to admit, we are satisfied with our relationship to God. However we feel, close or far, most of us feel like it’s good enough.

Perhaps we pray this psalm at the beginning of Lent because it Lent is a time in which we should all pray, throughout the whole season, this big, scary prayer that invites God not just to be aware of your joys or concerns, but for God to, “therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” The challenge that this psalm presents to us is to know that to truly ask God to know us and to reorient us requires more of us that what first meets the eye, but it is during this holy season that we should do our best to pray these prayers and to truly desire the transformation that comes with God putting a new and right spirit within us.

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