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40 Days of Prayer, Day 8

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Day 8, Sunday, August 28

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51:1-2

The Prophetic Voice

“Be gracious to me…” with these words David began pouring out his heart to God. We don’t know how much time had elapsed between Nathan’s confrontational visit to David’s palace and the crafting of this psalm. The title of the psalm, which many believe dates back to the time of the original writing, says, “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This psalm may have been an immediate reaction to that encounter, written that very day by David. During the confrontation Nathan told David a story, the account of a wealthy man who had stolen the family pet of one of his neighbors. He stole the neighbor’s one and only pet lamb in order to serve lamb chops to an out of town guest. The wealthy man had plenty of lambs in his own herd from which to choose, but instead committed a theft that left his poor neighbor devastated. Nathan was a known prophetic voice in Israel at the time. David may have assumed that this “pet theft” account was what prompted Nathan’s visit to the palace. Nathan, as a voice of righteousness may have advised David on God’s standards of righteousness within the nation of Israel on several prior occasions. With the trap set, David took the bait. Incensed at such a callous disregard for another citizen of the kingdom of Israel, King David declared, “Surely this man must die.” Nathan, in one of the most dramatic moments in human history, pointed his finger at David. He revealed the true identity of the villain of the story with these words. “You are the man.”

With a flood of emotions, David’s heart must have nearly stopped. “I’ve been found out.” “What have I done?” “Who else knows?” “God knows!” “What was I thinking to get myself in this mess?” “What happens when my family finds out?” “What happens when nation finds out?” “I am guilty of adultery and murder.” David must have also realized the significance of the condemnation he pronounced at the end of Nathan’s story of the wealthy sheep stealer. “That man must die!” If the unconscionable violation of a neighbor’s human/pet relationship warranted a death sentence, how much more did the theft of a neighbor’s wife followed by the murder of the faithful husband warrant a death sentence? I can imagine that during that sleepless evening or maybe the following day, David sat down with a pen in hand to attempt to put into words the volume of emotion in his heart. Guilt, shame, embarrassment, fear, despair, helplessness, and a host of other emotions surely dominated David’s thoughts as he picked up his pen.

As serious as David’s violation of God’s standard for righteousness was, in some ways, David speaks for the needs of all of us.   All of us need the grace of God. All of us must come to realize that God is absolutely holy and we are not.

Prayer Focus

God, I confess that you are absolutely holy.  You are justified when You hold me to a standard of righteousness.   You are also merciful.  I confess that I am in need of Your mercy.  Forgive me for the times I have sinned against You. Amen.

From Bunyan’s The Acceptable Sacrifice

God not only prefers such a heart before all sacrifices, but he reserves for him his chief comforts, his heart-reviving and soul-cherishing gracious encouragements. 'I dwell, ' God says,  with such to revive them, and to support and comfort them, 'to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones' (Isa 57:15). The broken-hearted man is a fainting man; he has his qualms, his sinking fits; he oftentimes dies away with pain and fear; he must be assisted or else he does not even know what to do with himself: he wastes away in his iniquity; nor can anything keep him alive and make him well but the comforts and gracious encouragements of Almighty God (Ex 33:10, 11). Wherefore with such a one God will dwell, to revive the heart, to revive the spirit. 'To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'

40 Days of Prayer, Day 7

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Day 7, Saturday, August 27

“By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.” Psalm 51:18-19

The Joy of Religious Expression

God takes no delight in heartless sacrifice. He does not delight in religious expression when the heart is far from Him. When sin dominates, religious rites offend God. However, God loves our tangible acts of worship. He loves our worship when our hearts are engaged. In verse 16, David stated God’s displeasure with sacrifices. However, just two sentences later in verse 18, he states that God delights in sacrifices. What a difference verse 17 makes! When we have contrite and broken hearts before God, He receives our worship. The heart of the worshiper is the difference in God’s attitude toward our worship. David distinguished between the sacrifice offered in verse 18 from the rejected sacrifice described in 16 with the word “righteous.”   God loves “righteous sacrifices.” God distains religious expression offered without a right relationship with Him. God is a God of relationships. If our relationship with Him isn’t right, no amount of religious actions can bridge the relationship. But God loves it when we use tangible expressions to worship Him when our relationship with Him is right. When we approach Him in humility and contrition for sin, He welcomes our worship because He is a God of relationships. As we approach this coming Sunday, now is the time to prepare our hearts, minds and bodies for a time of worship. There is great joy in bringing to God tangible expression of our love for Him.

Prayer Focus

God, prepare my heart for worship. Use the gathering of the church and our offering of song, prayer, service, fellowship and giving as a means to please You and to fill our hearts with joy. Reveal to us any areas that are causing a barrier to our relationship with You. Refine us and restore us. Maximize our worship for You and Maximize our joy in our relationship with You. Amen.

From Bunyan’s The Acceptable Sacrifice

Here, therefore, is suitableness. 'Can two walk together, ' asks God, 'except they be agreed?' (Amos 3:3). The broken-hearted desires God's company; when will you come to me? He asks. The broken-hearted loves to hear God speak and talk to him. Here is what is fitting. 'Make me, ' He says, 'to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice' (Ps. 51:8). But here lies the glory, in that the high and lofty One, the God that inhabits eternity, and that was a high and holy place for his habitation, should choose to dwell with, and to be a companion of the broken in heart, and of them that are of a contrite spirit. Yes, and here also is great comfort for such.

40 Days of Prayer, Day 6

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Day 6, Friday, August 26

(Note: We will have a few group prayer times for the next few weeks.  We will meet in the conference room on Sunday mornings at 7:50 AM and Sunday evenings at 7:50 PM.  We will meet in the worship center at 12:15 PM on Tuesdays.  We will also meet in the conference room at 8:15 PM on Wednesday evenings.)

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

Marks of a Broken and Contrite Heart

We are now on our sixth day into the 40 Days of Prayer. We have spent all six days on just two verses from Psalm 51. The theme of the entire 40 Days is “Praying with a Contrite Heart.” It seems fitting that we should take a few moments to define the terms. What is a broken and contrite heart? What is a broken and contrite heart with specific reference to our relationship to God? When speaking of a broken heart we need little outside assistance. All of us have been betrayed by a friend or spurned by a potential love. All of us have had our hearts broken over the loss of someone or something significant to us. From deep seated emotional stress to physical symptoms, when we have badly broken hearts, our broken hearts control our every waking moment. We even struggle when we are not awake, as our sleep is restless. We battle feelings of hopelessness and despair. Physically our energy may be low and our motivation may be stymied. We feel distant from others and alienated even from our own self. Someone betrays us and life changes dramatically in how we think, feel and act because of a broken heart.

We can also experience this same sense of brokenness when we are the offending party. When we hurt someone or betray them, we are heartbroken for the harm done to that person and for our own sense of failure in the relationship. Husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and co-workers have all experienced both being betrayed and being the betrayer. When those relationships are damaged, the next step to restoration involves a brokenness and contrition of heart. “I feel terrible about the pain I have caused you.” “Please forgive me.” “I am so sorry for what I have done to hurt you.” These are statements of contrition. For David, he had committed adultery and then murder. He spent a year without any consequences for his actions. He even took Uriah’s grieving spouse, Bathsheba, into his home and married her. Did Israel perceive this as an act of mercy by David? Did David give the illusion of doing good while covering his evil? For a year David maintained life as usual. He probably attended religious activities at the tabernacle. He may have even shown support for the priests and Levites in their function as spiritual leaders of the nation. Did he offer sacrifices? Did he bring animals for sin offering? All of this external appearance of wholeness was a fraud. All of this was simply a cover for a corruption of heart, mind, body and soul. One year later Nathan the prophet confronts David. David responds with repentance through which he crafts this psalm. The psalm opens with the words of contrition. “Be gracious to me, Oh God.” Even though David’s sin greatly impacted Bathsheba and Uriah along with their families, his sin ultimately was an offense against God Himself. God had established David as King of Israel. God had placed him in that position through the anointing ministry of God’s prophet, Samuel. For David to then use that position in order to commit such incredible sins against others was particularly offensive to God. However, despite David’s unique position and unique sin, all sin really falls in this category. God has created and given to us incredible opportunities for good. He gave us minds, bodies, relationships, gifting, and many other resources. These were given to us by God to honor Him and to serve others. Sin violates the purposes for which these gifts have been given to us by God. When we sin against others, we ultimately are sinning against God.

The first step in forming a contrite heart is being confronted with the reality of our sin against God. David had surely offered sacrifices during the time of his year of duplicitous living. However, none of those offerings reached the heart of God because the relationship between David and God had been severed through David’s rebellion. Our sins, the sin we commit every day, both big and small, are sins against God. Our sin separates us from Him. Contrition begins with an acknowledgment of our sin and its devastating impact. We have to own this. We can’t blame someone else. We can’t blame God. Our sin is our own. When we see God has He really is and our sin as it really is, guilt, heartbreak, isolation, desperation all flood the soul. And God loves the fact that we are now seeing our sin the way He sees it. This humility before God is met with the compassion of God. God is a God of relationships. And He loves restoring relationships with repentant, contrite people.

Prayer Focus

Oh God, I confess that my sin violates all of the purposes for which You have created me.  I have used Your gifts and Your resources for my sinful own purposes.  Please forgive me.  I am so sorry for failing to see You as You really are, holy and pure.  I am also sorry for failing to see myself as I really am, sinful and rebellious.  Thank You for Your unending mercy.  Thank You for how You wait patiently for me to turn to You.  Work in me so I may experience the very purposes for which I have been made.  Amen.

From Bunyan’s The Acceptable Sacrifice
Behold both the majesty and condescension of the high and lofty One; that He is high, and the inhabiter of eternity; 'I am the high and lofty One, ' He says, 'I inhabit eternity.' Truly this consideration is enough to make the broken-hearted man creep into a mouse-hole to hide from such majesty! But behold his heart, his condescending mind; I am for dwelling also with him that has a broken heart, with him that is of a contrite spirit; that is the man that I would converse with, that is the man with whom I will cohabit; that is, I will choose for my companion. For to desire to dwell with one supposes all these things; and truly, of all the men in the world, none have acquaintance with God, none understand what communion with him, and what his teachings mean, but such as are of a broken and contrite heart. 'He is near to them that are of a broken spirit' (Ps. 34:18). These are they in the 14th Psalm, where it is said, 'The Lord looked down from heaven, - to see if any understood and seek God'; that he might find somebody in the world with whom he might converse; for indeed there is none that either understand, or that hearken to him. God, as I may say, is forced to break men's hearts, before he can make them willing to cry to him, or be willing that he should have any concerns with them; the rest shut their eyes, stop their ears, withdraw their hearts, or say to God, Be gone (Job 21:14). But now the broken in heart can experience it; and therefore is fit to have an encounter with God. There is room in this man's house and heart and spirit, for God to dwell, for God to walk, for God to set up a kingdom.

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