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.
Prayer is being broken-hearted and contrite before God. The more we become aware of our shortcomings and character flaws, the more our hearts open in empathy and sorrow for those we have hurt. The more we see our pride, our greed, our self-serving and our defensiveness, the more we live in prayerful broken heartedness.
This text from Psalm 51 is part of a larger prayer of repentance by this psalmist. He has sinned. And he has been confronted with his sin. He sees how he has turned his back on God and gone his own way, causing pain and destruction to others. He sees all of this. He longs to make it right. He knows that an increase in religious activity is not what is needed. What is needed is a broken and contrite heart.
The dynamic at work here is not one of self deprecation or self punishment. It does not help us, or heal us, or change us when we beat ourselves up. A broken and contrite heart is not a heart full of self hatred. Self hatred and shame only keep us locked in our self focus. Self hatred and shame only lead to more of the same.
The dynamic at work when we are broken and contrite before God is the dynamic that is referred to in Scripture as “godly sorrow”(II Corinthians 7:10). According to this text, it is “godly sorrow that leads to repentance”. Godly sorrow opens us to the transforming work that God’s Spirit desires to do in our lives.
The focus in our brokenness is not, “What a terrible person I am.” The focus is on the pain we have caused other people. What needs to break our hearts is the pain that our pride, our judgment, our disrespect, our deceit, our lack of compassion, our selfishness, our withholding of love, our greed, our addiction, our obsessions, our attempts to “fix,” our inability to communicate our emotions, or our self righteousness have caused other people.
Living prayer is allowing our hearts to be broken in sorrow over the hurt we knowingly and unknowingly cause. Prayer is asking God to cause the hard shell of our defensiveness to break and fall away so that God’s Spirit can enter our hearts and minds in a new way.
The good news is that God does not despise our broken, contrite hearts. God welcomes us in this state. God sees our prayerful brokenness as an act of worship. This is because we are receptive to God’s healing grace when we are in this state. When we come to God with a broken and contrite heart, God’s grace flows into this place of brokenness. This grace begins to free us and to flow through us and out to others. Our broken, contrite hearts become the fertile soil in which the love of God takes root.
Sometimes I hurt other people.
In attempts to protect myself,
I hide my vulnerability,
I horde my time,
I turn a deaf ear,
I harden my heart,
I hang on to resentments,
I judge others,
I imagine myself superior.
I see this. I see the pain I cause.
My heart is broken, God.
Have mercy on me.
Receive my broken and contrite heart.
Heal me. Set me free.
Sit quietly before God. Reflect on what you have been seeing during times of prayerful inventory and confession. Ask God to give you a broken and contrite heart about the ways you have hurt others. Ask God to fill you with empathy and compassion for people you have hurt. Offer your broken, contrite heart to God.