How is your prayer life? When you pray, what do you pray for? Are your prayers more self-centered . . . or other-centered? Inevitably, when I teach on prayer, some Christians insist that we should always be praying for others and never for ourselves. What do you think?
To be sure, we live in a self-centered and self-absorbed age—both inside and outside the church. Our sin nature, which will contend against the Spirit until the day we pass into glory, is easily seduced into praying for all things personal. Yet there is one personal prayer petition that should be on the heart of every believer, every day of our lives. It is David’s prayer In Psalm 51.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
When was the last time you prayed this prayer? David knew how sinful he was, and he knew his sin was rooted in his heart, not his hands or even his head. Jesus patiently explained to His disciples, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
David desired a clean heart more than anything else, because without a clean heart nothing else would be clean in his life. And he knew there is only place where he could receive one: at the throne of grace. It is grace that first gives us the desire to want a clean heart; and it is grace that determines to do it by the power of the Gospel and the Spirit of God.
Sin makes each heart black and ugly, and only the Holy Spirit can clean it. David knew this, and he cried out to God for deliverance from his broken, fallen condition. Grace reorients the human heart and empowers it to beat for the Savior, rather than for self.
David knew that what shaped his heart ruled his life. He lived this truth when he plunged deep into sin with Bathsheba . . . dragging all of Israel down with him. Before he cried out to God for a clean heart, leisure and lust shaped his heart and ultimately ruled his life. But after grace showed up, David’s heart was reshaped by the desire to beat as one with God’s heart. And springing from this desire we find the perfect personal prayer petition: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
We must remember that our hearts will never be totally clean on this side of the grave. But that should not stop our desire to possess one! Only the awesome power of the Gospel can take a sinner and make him a saint . . . while he is still a sinner! The Gospel is at work scrubbing away the sins of the flesh, and the Divine Cleaner will not stop until our heart is totally clean and devoid of all sin. It will be painful! It will be a prolonged process. But it has been promised, and so it shall be performed.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!