I will never forget the moment I realized I was lost in the city of Florence, Italy. I set out on my self-guided tour excited to take in the history and architecture and as much colorful gelato as I could handle. I wandered the cobblestone streets for hours, absorbing the culture and romance of the historic city. As the sun began its slow descent behind the buildings, dread began to set in. Darkness was approaching and I had no idea where I was. A panic of vulnerability seized me with the reality that I had no way to communicate for directions. I frantically began walking back the way I came, in hopes that something would look familiar. An hour later, I finally recognized a piazza close to our hotel.
I took a deep breath and fought back the tears of relief.
The fear and dread of being lost can be felt in our spiritual lives as well. We begin our relationship with God with a clear and fixed aim—Him. He is our goal, our treasure and our path. But as days stretch on, it becomes easier to exchange Him for the goal of work and the treasure of family. Our path becomes littered with questions: Where am I going? Why was I headed there in the first place? Do I know Jesus anymore? Whether you are at the beginning of your relationship with God and have no idea how or where to begin, or whether you have been in a relationship with Jesus for quite some time and have lost sight of Him, David serves as an example of what it looks like to chase after God with all our heart and soul.
David was a shepherd, poet, king, and slayer of lions, bears and Philistines. David’s life reads as an action-packed, rags-to-riches hero story. He rose from a lowly shepherd boy to a great warrior king over all of Israel. He was loved and respected by the people he served and led. Yet the description that stands exalted above all the rest is that God called David “a man after His own heart—a man who willed to do God’s will” (Acts 13:22). When God looked at David, He didn’t see a perfect man, He saw a man whose heart was devoted to Him. David was a man who knew the path to return to the God he loved. David was rooted in God’s Word, connected to God in prayer, repentant of his sins, and undivided in His worship.
R O O T E D I N G O D ‘ S W O R D
It’s been seven years since my dad passed away. In the first few years after his death, he remained clear in my mind. I could remember what his hands looked like when he played his guitar. I could remember what his voice sounded like. Then as years wore on, details that were once so sharp, faded. When my memory fails me, I go back to his journals, which tell the story of his day-to-day, his greatest desires, his struggles with suffering and his walk of faith. It’s in his words that I am reminded of who he was. His words bring him clearly into focus.
God gives us His Word because He wants us to know Him, to be reminded of who He is and what He is about, and to know how to live a life that pleases Him. God’s heart is His Word. We know God’s heart when we know His Word and we love God’s heart when we love His Word. A major theme of David’s poetry is his love for God’s word. He proclaims, “Oh, how I love your law! ...How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:97, 103). David loved and trusted that God’s Word was the best thing for him.
For seasons in which darkness surrounds us and our path to righteousness is cluttered with sin and stress, God gives us His Word that He will show us the way back to Him. David prayed, “Your word is
a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV). When we lose our way or our memory of the work of Jesus begins to fade, we open our Bibles and ask the Holy Spirit to light our path back to where our heart belongs.
C O N N E C T E D I N P R A Y E R
I often wonder what type of person is willing and unafraid to stand up to a giant. When an entire army of trained fighters cowered from the Philistine giant, Goliath, David stepped up ready and willing to fight. He was just a teenager at the time—a young shepherd boy on a food run for his older brothers. When King Saul asks David what made him think he could stand up to Goliath he responds, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 NIV). David defended his sheep from the attacks of the lions and bears and defended the Israelites from the Philistine army, all in the name of the Lord. There was no beast, nor man, whom David was afraid of. He trusted that God would deliver him.
From where did this courage come? David’s courage came from the connection he had with God through prayer. David was a man of constant prayer. He poured out his soul in honesty and vulnerability to His God. He didn’t put on airs, he didn’t say what he thought God wanted to hear, or what he thought made him sound holy or good or righteous. He went to God with his doubts, fears, disappointments, and desires. There was nothing David felt he couldn’t say to God.
Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father in heaven,” which acknowledges who God is and establishes that we are submitting ourselves to His authority and care. He is God “in heaven,” above all and over all, stronger and more capable than we can imagine. Yet He is also “our Father,” compassionate and close, always leaning toward us with a listening ear.
Charles Spurgeon says that “prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly. Others give but an occasional pluck at the rope. But he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.” David’s example in prayer is to pray to God fervently, honestly, boldly and often.
It is my joy as a parent to answer my children’s requests. Often, they don’t get what they want, but they always get an answer, and they always get a reason, whether they understand it in the moment or not.
A person after God’s heart is a person of prayer, not because they see God as a genie who grants all his wishes, but because he trusts that God is equally gentle and strong. He is not annoyed by us “constantly pulling the rope with all of our might.”
R E P E N T A N T O F S I N
One well-known story of David is the same story that raises the question: How could God consider David a man after His heart? At the height of David’s kingship, he fell deeply into sin and tried to cover it up in wicked ways. Our hero falls, and falls hard. How could God call a man who cheated on his wife, had a baby with another woman, lied about it and conspired to murder his mistress’ husband—a man after God’s own heart? What was it about David that made it true for a holy God to give someone who committed such un-holy actions such an exalted description?
When David’s sin is found out, he prays this prayer: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Acknowledging the full weight of his sin, David repents before God. God looks at the heart of David and sees a man who can see his sin clearly, believes fully that his sin is against God, and trusts that it is God only who can make his heart right again. David prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:10-11 ASV).
No plan, strategy or renewed effort to make better choices can create in us a clean heart. It may appear so to everyone else. We can change our ways and do better and others might believe that we are set back on the right path. But God doesn’t care about what we look like externally. God cares that our external obediences come from the overflow of a heart that has been transformed by his glorious grace. David doesn’t care if others accept him after his sin is made known. His fear is that God will cast him out of His presence (Psalm 51:11). David’s desire is that his relationship with God be restored.
God wants nothing more than to restore us to the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). David trusted that when he sinned, the consequences for his sin were restorative and not punitive. He experienced the painful loss of his child. He was brokenhearted when his son breathed his last breath. But David doesn’t look at God and blame Him or begin to believe the lie that God is no longer good. Nor does David mistake the circumstances and consequences of his sin as God punishing him for his actions. The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus bore all our punishment and all God’s wrath against our sin for us. Because Jesus took on the punishment for our sins, a weight we could never have carried, any discipline or correction or consequence that follows our sin is meant to restore us back to God. He wants us to experience the joy and blessing of being in the right relationship with Him. To that end, God will use everything—obedience, sin, suffering—to bring us back to Him.
U N D I V I D E D W O R S H I P
David was a man who was committed and who submitted to God’s Word, who was connected to God through prayer, and repented when he disobeyed God’s Word. All these characterizations and actions have one unifying theme: worship. David loved God’s Word because he knew, loved and worshiped God as the ultimate authority. David prayed and talked to God about anything and everything. David’s prayer life empowered him to bravery and courage and fearlessness. David repented fully and genuinely because more than anything else—more than making things right with the people he hurt, more than enduring the consequences of his sin—David wanted to return to the God he loved and be restored to the God he worshiped. God was David’s audience of One.
When you feel too weak to fight the battles before you, when you feel too afraid to stand before your giant, and when you feel as though you have lost your passion or direction in your pursuit of God, consider the heart of David. A worshipful and undivided heart is not one that is perfect before God, but one that surrenders to His perfection. It gives Him the honor and worth He is due, and remembers that He calls us His children just the same. A worshipful and undivided heart clings to Jesus daily, and sprints back to Him when we’ve messed up. He is a never-condemning, always-welcoming Father who waits on the front porch for us to return when we’ve wandered away and become lost on unfamiliar streets.
For Christians, one of the most difficult and disheartening aspects of our walk of faith is dealing with persistent and perpetual sin.
When God makes our hearts come alive to Him, He also makes our hearts see sin the way He sees it. The ability to see sin as sin is the kindness of God. John Owen encourages Christians in their battle against sin with this, “If you are fighting sin, you are alive. Take heart. But if sin holds sway unopposed, you are dead no matter how lively this sin makes you feel.”
What is repentance? How do I repent? 1 John 1:9 says that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Repentance is turning away from the thought, belief or action that is in opposition to God, then turning to God. Repentance is not ONLY feeling grieved over your sin or the consequences of your sin; repentance is not ONLY confessing your sins to God and people; repentance is not ONLY changing our actions from disobedience to obedience: Repentance is a faith-fueled combination of all these. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer after he sins against God with Bathsheba. This prayer is a guide to repent from our sin with a heart of faith.
Acknowledge your sin
David prays to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). David felt the full weight of his sin against God. Jesus taught that those who feel this full weight of their sin, those who mourn over their sin, are blessed and will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Acknowledging the darkness and ugliness of sin is a difficult endeavor. It is painful business to admit when we fail, when we hate, when we doubt and when we are doing the very thing we don’t want to do.
We don’t sit in our sin, stare at our failures, or identify with our sinful ways, because God has given us new hearts and made us new creations. Paul reminds us and we have to remind our hearts a million times a day that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). By acknowledging our sin, we are not saying this sin is true of us. We can be honest about our sin because it no longer defines us. Jesus’ work on the cross paid for every sin we have ever committed and every sin we will ever commit. Allowing ourselves to see and feel the full weight of our sin is a catalyst to worship Jesus for his life, death and resurrection with the full weight of thanksgiving. Seeing the depth of the darkness of our sin makes way for us to see the infinite brightness of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Return to God
After David acknowledges his sin before God, he prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV).
We might ask the questions: How do I know if I genuinely repented? Does it mean that I didn’t repent if I sin again? If I have consequences for my sin, does that mean I didn’t repent right? I don’t feel forgiven ... does that mean I didn’t truly repent?
Genuine repentance does not guarantee that you will never sin again, nor does it rescue you from the earthly consequences of sin.
Genuine repentance puts your faith in the perfect work of Jesus. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are rescued from more than the earthly consequences from our sin-we are rescued and redeemed from spending an eternity in hell separated from God. Repentance is part of the sanctification process that renews our minds, transforms our hearts and teaches us to obey from a heart of faith.
Rejoice in your restoration
David prays, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:11-12 ESV).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the promise for us that we no longer have to be enslaved to our sin.
When Jesus rose out of that grave, He defeated sin and death for us. John Piper says it this way: “The resurrection is the promise of God that all who trust Jesus will be the beneficiaries of God’s power to lead us in paths of righteousness and through the valley of death.”
Take a moment to rejoice in a God whose promises are true, whose love is steadfast, who chooses to forget our sin and who removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.
Confess to others
David prays, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Psalm 51:13 ESV).
Being a Christian is being part of the family of God. Our honesty in confession should not replace our confession and repentance to God, but it should be part of our spiritual healing. Our community cannot forgive our sins or save our souls, but they are the people who God has put in our lives to help us grow in His grace and mercy. David didn’t stop at wanting to experience repentance and renewal for himself; he prayed that God would also use him to teach others His ways.
The hope of confessing our sins to one another is that God would use His people to pray for us and bring healing to our hearts. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ESV).
We confess honestly and authentically, not for the sake of getting our sin off our chest, but so we can gather with our brothers and sisters under the banner of God’s love and promise that He will heal our souls.