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Stephen R. Clark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
Joined June 1996


Fading - poems by Stephen R. Clark

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Delivered c. 1997 | Indianapolis, IN | Dayspring AOG*

Living the Broken Life Whole

Living in a state of brokenness, of contriteness, is not a bad thing

Psalm 51 was written by David after he was confronted by the Prophet Nathan regarding having committed adultery with Bathsheba. It's a gut wrenching acknowledgment of moral failure and plea for God's mercy and restoration.

This Psalm often is used as a text to illustrate how horrible the consequences of serious sin can be. And it does point that out quite well. But I believe Psalm 51 is also a model for living out the Christian life.

Given the specific circumstances of David's situation, it can be difficult for us to relate to the broader application this Psalm offers. You are probably familiar with the tragic story of how David saw Bathsheba bathing, lusted after her, and had her brought to his chambers where they had sex. As a result, she became pregnant. In an attempt to cover the sin, David had Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, brought home from war hoping he would spend time with her.

When that failed, and Uriah returned to the battlefield out of loyalty to his king, David sent orders to put Uriah on the front lines and leave him vulnerable. Uriah was killed. David married Bathsheba who gave birth. The child was stricken with illness and later died. It was after this tragedy had fully played out that David wrote Psalm 51.

Let's take a look at some of the key verses and see if we can make this Psalm more personal and relevant.

Verse one and two state, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."

These verses echo Lamentations 3:22-23: "Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." And verses 31-32: "For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love." It is these verses that inspired the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Why do we need mercy that is new every morning? Why do we need unfailing love? Why do we need the great compassion and faithfulness of God? Why isn't mercy or faithfulness or compassion applied once enough?

The answer comes in verses three, four, and five of Psalm 51: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."

I believe David isn't just referring to this specific series of sinful events, but rather he is talking about all of his sin.

As Christians who are saved by grace and washed by the blood and living the victorious life, it's often easy to forget that we are, indeed, sinful. We are prone to sin. Another hymn, Come, Thou Fount declares our condition by stating, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love." As long as we live on this earth, this is our true nature -- sinful. In our earthly lifetime, we will never be victorious once and for all. Permanent victory over sin only occurs after the return of Christ, not before.

It is against the sinful nature that we do battle daily. Yes, we will be victorious. But the victories come one at a time and they are conditional. They are conditional on living out what we know is true. Psalm 51:6 states, "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place." Victorious living is walked out minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, throughout our life. We need to get dressed in God's armor every day. And then keep it on all day.

David was a great man of God, of that there is no question. But he was also a mighty sinful man. What occurred with Bathsheba and Uriah did not just "suddenly" happen. It was the result of sin considered over time. And this was not the only record we have of David sinning. One instance involves taking a census after being directed by God not to. Frankly, I'm sure he sinned every day. Just as we do.

Despite the world's view that everyone is "basically a good person," the truth is that we are all sinful from birth and live in a world thoroughly marred by sin. Just because a person does things that are viewed as good, that does not make him or her a good or righteous person. A murderer may do good and spare one life and then turn and take another. The sparing of the one life does not make the murderer a good person. They are still sinful and lost.

Why is there disease and injustice and poverty and so much evil in the world? Because when Adam and Eve fell in the garden, sin warped everything. Every atom and every molecule and every DNA strand have been warped and corrupted by sin. While nature is glorious to behold, I do not believe the nature we see is anything compared to the perfect nature that God created in the beginning.

Why is it important to understand our sinfulness? Because when we forget that we are sinful, we forget that we need God's mercies that are new every morning. We forget that we are utterly and totally and completely dependent upon His mercies. If we didn't need them, why would God provide them new every morning, just like he provided the manna?

When we forget this dependence we have on God -- even for a moment -- we begin allowing our nature of sinfulness to have a stronger influence over our lives than His grace, mercy, and unfailing love. This is what happened to David.

When are we most vulnerable as Christians? We are most vulnerable when we are experiencing tremendous blessing and favor from the Lord. It is when God is pouring out richly into our lives that we, tragically, become most prone to wonder from the God we love. This is the character of our sinful nature!

David was blessed and he knew it. He was powerful and he knew it. He was favored by God and man and he knew it. And it was these things that fed his sinful nature and drew him into a crushing and painful failure.

Look at Psalm 51:16-17: "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

The Holman Dictionary states, "[Those who are brokenhearted are] People who feel their spiritual bankruptcy and helplessness, and who long for the help and salvation of God. Such people are in the right condition to be met and blessed by God." This is what it means to have a broken and contrite heart.

David had written in an earlier Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all."

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works."

What is it we are to deny? We are to deny our sinful selves! That part of our nature that craves pleasure, comfort, ease, and happiness above all else. Why did David pursue Bathsheba? Because it felt good! Why do so many pursue alternative lifestyles today that are in truth decadent and taking them straight to hell? Because it feels good. Why do parents and friends and relatives of these people stand by their sides and support their decadent lifestyles? Because all they want is for them to be happy! And it’s easier to tell someone they’re “okay” than it is to confront them with their sin.

How many times as Christians have we justified our own glaringly sinful choices, or the choices of others that we supported, by saying, "whatever makes us or them happy is all that matters1"

Is this the kind of gospel that Jesus preached? I don't think so.

Denial of ourselves is not fun. It's painful and hard. It means to utterly disown and abandon what "naturally" feels good to pursue. It is something that is really counter to our true sinful nature. Look at children, something we all were once!

As children, born into a sinful world with a sinful nature, and lacking in wisdom and experience, we did things that were harmful and disgusting, that were "natural" and "felt good" but that exposed us to injury and illness. Like eating dirt or bugs or anything else we came across. Or putting our hands down our diapers and smearing the contents all over ourselves. Or downing an entire bottle of pills that looked and tasted like candy. Or eating nothing but sweets if left to our own devices. Or jumping off a roof trying to be Superman because it seemed like fun. Or running across a street without looking just because we wanted to. Or hitting and hurting those who got in our way or wouldn't give up the toy we wanted to play with. And on and on. All of these actions made us happy! But they were all wrong.

You may not have done these specific things as a child, but there were things you did do, and had to be trained not to do. Unlearning our bad behavior was painful. And even as adults, we are still unlearning bad behavior and learning new behavior. Or as Paul would say, we are putting off the old and putting on the new.

Paul also wrote about this struggle in Romans 7:14-20: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

To deny ourselves, our sinful nature, is to live in a state of spiritual brokenness. It means being weak in ourselves so we can be made strong in Him. By recognizing how utterly sinful we are points to our total dependence on God. And as we serve God and rely on Him and seek to experience a deeper relationship with Him, our sinful state is healed and we can live whole, one day at a time, day after day.

In essence, we are to live a broken life whole.

This seems a total contradiction! But David knew the truth. He knew what he needed. He knew where he should have been spiritually and states it clearly in verses 7-15:

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise."

All of these verses underscore David's desperate need of God in His life in order to be or accomplish anything of value. All David needs comes from God's hands. And the joy David speaks of here has nothing to do with the "smile, be happy" attitude we have today.

Being a Christian isn't about seeking to be happy all the time. It is about seeking the joy of the Lord through obedience and denial. A joy that sustains one through unhappy times. It means turning away from the "I wants" and turning to God saying "I will" no matter what.

When we try to obtain happiness at all costs it will often cost us all we have, and more. We can either choose to be broken on a daily basis, and on a daily basis depend on God's new mercies. Or, we can choose to pursue our own happiness and eventually become crushed by the weight of our sinful nature compounded by our sinful behavior.

It was good to pray as David did, "let the bones you have crushed rejoice." But it would have been better if he could have prayed, "Thank you Lord for not having to crush my bones to turn me from my sinful choices."

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God as Romans 3:23 states. And we know that anyone who sins opposes God. 1 Samuel 2:10 states those who oppose God will be shattered, or broken. And that is our state.

Living in a state of brokenness, of contriteness, is not a bad thing. Being unhappy is not a bad thing either, if we are experiencing the joy of the Lord in the midst of our self-denial or trial. It is better to be broken and unhappy, than to be crushed and condemned.

These are only a few of the truths we can learn from Psalm 51. There are many more. We don't have to have "sinned big" like David did to understand the lessons of these verses. In one way or another, when we are truly honest with ourselves and with our God, and we recognize our own sinful state, we can all clearly identify with and find comfort in David's powerful Psalm. Perhaps we would do well to make it the prayer with which we begin each new day.

*Just before the magazine was closed down, this was being considered for publication, with some revision, in Discipleship Journal.










A Cup of Comfort Devotional Daily Reminders of God's Love and Grace.



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