My Secret Heart

My Secret Heart

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” With these words the God of Psalm 50 gathers us together to hear a word from Him. What is our gut reaction to this invitation? Joy? Intrigue? Hope? Dread? Within Psalm 50, dread might be the most appropriate reaction, for God continues, “O Israel, I will testify against you.” But before God names His complaint, He first, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, establishes what His complaint is not. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.” God’s rebuke of Israel has nothing to do with their ability to be properly religious and pious. The big religious machine is well oiled and running fine. Worship and ritual proceed precisely on schedule. But there’s an alarming ignorance just beneath the surface of these sacrifices. “I will not accept a bull from your house, for every wild animal of the forest is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world an all that is in it is mine.”

When ritual happens by mere inertia, God speaks up to say, what is a sacrificial animal supposed to actually mean to me? That animal already belonged to me! Instead, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you.” When worship and ritual are devoid of gratitude and an honest appraisal of our broken lives, they come to mean less and less, so much so that God starts asking, What are we actually accomplishing here?

I can hear the God of Psalm 50 saying something similar to the Church. What are you actually accomplishing in your songs, prayers, Bible studies, Lord’s Supper and baptisms? Has something mysterious and transformative happened to you in your baptism? Or was that water a mere transaction by which God now owes you a reward? Let your baptism create in you a swell of gratitude and the ability to cry out in the day of trouble. Let your baptism be a true surrender to the Holy Spirit. Give me something real. Show me the truly raw parts of your heart.

The book of Psalms is, among other things, a conversation. The God of Psalm 50 makes an accusation. And a broken, desperate human voice replies in Psalm 51 with all the rawness that Psalm 50 is asking for. “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity… I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me… You desire truth in the inward being, so teach me wisdom in my secret heart… Create in me a clean heart… Do not take your Holy Spirit from me… The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.”

Here is an honest, raw appraisal of human brokenness if ever there was one. The Psalmist looks inward and struggles to see anything but sin and darkness, from which arises a prayer for forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal. The Psalmist bypasses sacrifice, ritual and piety to a truer form of worship – crying out in the day of trouble, crying out that God would reach into the “secret heart,” the depths of our humanity so deep that they are secret even to ourselves but not to God, and create something new there.

May our worship, our songs, our prayers, our rituals, our communion, and our baptism arise  not from mere inertia, but from what God has done in the secret heart.


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