My daily devotional, Alive Now, directed me to the psalter reading for this week, which is Psalm 51:1-12. I decided to read the whole thing, and that gave me inspiration for a different kind of post than the ones I've been doing recently. I was feeling that my posts had gotten, um, not-so-inspirational and more like a book report every day, so this should be a good change. And maybe I'll take tomorrow off from posting, since it's Sunday...I mean, I will be preaching on John 12:20-33 and teaching on Joel 3:1-16, plus whatever I'm teaching for the youth Sunday School class, which I've temporarily forgotten at the moment. But then, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the Old Testament lection for tomorrow, and maybe I'll post a little something about that...while I watch basketball. So many decisions to make...
Anyway, without further ado, some thoughts on Psalm 51.
You don’t want sacrifices.
I've read these verses lots of times. We read this psalm for Ash Wednesday every year (well, when the weather lets us have an Ash Wednesday service!). It's a good one to kick off the season of Lent. It reminds us that even those whom God calls "friend" can still do terrible things to others through their decisions and actions. As Christians, we know the truth of David's words about sacrifices. We know that physical sacrifices can't change our hearts to the righteousness God desires for/of us. Well, we say we believe that, at least. Living into that truth is far more difficult than confessing it with our lips, for me, at least. How much of my life do I spend pursuing works righteousness, cloaked in terms of "good works" and "loving my neighbor"? Both of those are ways that we show fruit of God's grace, and I don't want to look askance at either of them. I believe they are very important to growth in grace. What seldom occurs to me, though, is how often I might be offering those things to God in place of, not in addition to, a broken and contrite (or crushed, as the CEB says it) heart. Am I getting by without really turning to God with my broken heart and relying on God's healing in my life? When I preach about repentance, especially during Lent, how well am I doing at practicing what I'm preaching?
Well, the answers to these questions require a significant amount of introspection, which is something I'm not bad at, really. I tend to be fairly self-aware...but that doesn't mean I'm always honest with God, even if I am honest with other people. At my current appointment, I've realized the need for recovery ministry in the community. In this particular town, there are few churches that host opportunities for those affected by the rampant drug problem to come and experience healing. As I consider how my community (with my church) may be able to change that, I've been attending services at a recovery ministry 30 miles down the road, Recovery at Lebanon. While I've never experienced chemical dependency, I've experienced brokenness just like everyone else. And like most of us, I've learned to cope with it and keep it pretty well out of sight, except for when it's convenient. By attending worship services focused on recovery, though, I've been challenged to heal instead of cover up. I've been challenged to live even more into the belief that God really does love me and want me to be my best, not just to try to do the best I can on my own. I've been challenged to let God into my broken places more than I have before, and to rely on God for healing.
If you have any familiarity with AA, you know that the first of the 12 Steps is "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction--that our lives had become unmanageable." Recovery ministry adds "and compulsive behaviors" to "addiction" for this step, since many of us may not experience addiction, but we do experience behaviors that are harmful to ourselves and others. To bring this post back to Psalm 51, though, I think this is where David was, when he wrote verse 17. I think it's where we all find ourselves at times, when we are willing to admit that God is God and we are not. I don't mean this to say that everyone experiences addiction, but that part of our human condition is that we can't piece back together our broken parts on our own, no matter how hard we try. (Believe me, I've tried!) Today, can I stop trying to make all my other sacrifices enough and really offer to God my heart, as it is, and let God heal it? It's worth a try, eh?