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Sustain in me24. Sustain in me

“. . .  and sustain in me a willing spirit.”     – Psalm 51:12b

I used to work for a foundation and had the occasion to do some grant writing.  One thing you learned quickly was that funders often embraced the opportunity to provide financing for a brand new initiative, to get something going, but they were much less enthused about funding something that had already begun.   And even in those new initiative grant applications, your chances for funding increased significantly if you included a robust description of how the project would become “self-sustainable” in the future.

I also had the opportunity to work for a company that helped people go from welfare to work.   The catch-phrase in the industry was that we were helping people to become “self-sustainable.”   While I appreciated the intent of that idea, it always struck me as something of a myth.  Who among us, really, is self-sustainable?   Who among us doesn’t rely upon on others?   Who among us doesn’t depend upon God’s grace every day?

I love the interplay between parts A and B of Psalm 51:12.   The psalmist calls on God to first “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” — which is about recreating something.  Establishing something anew.  Funders would jump at part A of verse 12.   But not only does the psalmist seek this restoration, this renewing, but he also asks God to “sustain in me a willing spirit.”    Which is to ask God to do something continuously — something funders generally have less an appetite for.

So we can ask our gracious God to help us begin again.  And then we can ask our Lord to stay with us, day in and day out, over the long haul.  We can depend on this creative and sustaining power of God.  Today, tomorrow and every day.


Dear Lord,

As the writer of Psalm 119 wrote,

Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live;

do not let my hopes be dashed.   

Uphold me, and I will be delivered  (Psalm 119:116-117).



Do not take 22.  Do not take away

“. . . and do not take your Holy Spirit away from me.”

– Psalm 51:11b

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of a broken relationship.   Maybe you were dating someone and then it came to an end.  Maybe you know the pain of divorce.   In cases like that, things that were once shared are reclaimed and taken away.  Home furnishings.  Pictures.  Sweatshirts.   Pets.   Rings.

There are times in the Old Testament when prophets such as Hosea described the relationship between the Lord and the people of Israel as like a marriage — and how the unfaithfulness of the people could be leading toward divorce.   But a more enduring image of God’s presence in our lives emerges across scripture.  One of my favorite is from the time when the people of Israel were making their way through the wilderness after their escape from Egypt.   God’s presence is captured in an ever-visible pillar of cloud by day or fire by night:

22a. pillar of cloudThey set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.   The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.   Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the  people (Exod 13:20-22).

Ever wish for a pillar of cloud in the uncertain times of your life to show you the way, or just to remind you that God is there, with you?

On this side of the cross, the view can be bleak at times.  Life can feel overwhelming.  All the expectations or “to dos” can mount and mount until we feel so weighed down, so burdened.  And we may feel dismayed by our own limitations — be they spiritual, physical or financial.  And then there’s the mountain of ‘could’ves, should’ves.’    But then, as I said, that may be the view from this side of the cross.


Precious Lord,   In the face of discouragement, guilt or any other burdens, we give thanks for the blessing of the ever-presence of your Holy Spirit.   Guide us through the wildernesses of our lives.  And remind us that in the season yet to come, you declared “and remember, I am with you always.”







A new and20. A new spirit

right spirit

“. . .  and put a new and right spirit within me.”    – Psalm 51:10b

“The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”  (Genesis 2:7).

We remember this as that second evocative creation story where God forms humanity out of the soil and then gives mankind the breath of life.   This breath, or wind (as in Genesis 1:1) signifies the very  spirit of God which punctuates several Old Testament texts.

Our story of this royal psalm, Psalm 51, had its beginning when the Lord told Samuel to go and  identify a new king for Israel.  Upon coming before David, the Lord said,

“Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.  (1Samuel 16:12-13)

How fitting it is that after David prays in the first part of this verse for a clean heart, he defines it further in part B by asking God to once again anoint him, and to put in him a new and right spirit.  It’s as though David was asking the Lord to form him anew out of the soil and to breathe life into him once more.

It’s no accident that one of the techniques of meditative prayer centers upon our breathing as we draw in the restoring, healing power of God.  Sometimes it’s simply [inhale]  “Jesus is Lord” [exhale] — repeat.  Or we might pray [inhale] “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner” [exhale] — repeat.   Join me in the similarly structured breathing prayer below (inhaling before each line and exhaling after each line)  as we call upon the Holy Spirit to renew and cleanse  our lives.


Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.


Wash me (part II)  14.  Wash me (part II)

  “. . . wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”  – Psalm 51:7b

So I was skeptical.     “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.???”   Sure, it will snow in the Golan Heights perhaps.   But how often does it snow in Jerusalem or the other typically arid places in Israel?  How could the psalmist know just how white snow was?

Well, a quick Google search will surprise you.  They aren’t common, but there have been substantial snow falls in Jerusalem — usually, as it turns out, just once every couple years or so.   But when it happens, the city is blanketed.  And there are pictures of the devout praying at the western wall in snow boots, a rabbi in an igloo, even a skier takes off by the western wall.

There is a beauty to a freshly fallen snow.  We haven’t had much of it here in Kansas City (to my chagrin!), but when the snow comes, it leaves a beautiful scene of a pristine landscape.  The marks on driveways, the potholes in streets, the mix of fallen leaves and dirt patches on the yard are all covered up by a perfectly smooth blanket of white.  It’s idyllic.

But with one rain, sunshine or rise in temperatures, that snow will melt and reveal the imperfections beneath.  The psalmist is praying for a cleansing that endures, for a redeeming that goes well below the surface.

In yesterday’s verse segment it was hyssop.  Today, it’s a comparison with snow.  In both cases, and throughout the psalm, the writer is asking God to do what the writer cannot do for themselves.  In the same way, perhaps we can pray that God will cleanse us and our world.  Perhaps we could pray that prayer as fervently as children pray on a weekday evening when snow is in the forecast and there’s a glimmer of hope for a day off of school.  Let is snow, let it snow.



Gracious God,

We pray for cleansing, for renewing, for the wiping away of the dirt of our lives.   Cleanse us not just on the surface, but cleanse us deep down.  We can’t do it ourselves;  it’s a gift from you.  A gift that you’ve actually already given.





Purge me               13.  Purge me

  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean . . .”     –  Psalm 51:7a

What do you use to purge yourself, to rid your body of toxins, to cleanse?

One resource used in Biblical times was the plant hyssop.  In its first occurrence in the Bible, the Israelites used hyssop to help ward off the angel of death at the time of the Exodus:   Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning (Exodus 12:21-22).

Later in Leviticus, hyssop is used to cleanse lepers:  The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing . . .  The priest . . . shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water.  He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field.  (Lev 14:1, 5-7)

Leprosy was a disease that would lead to the banishment of a person from the community.   Custom demanded that if anyone was unwittingly approaching a person with leprosy, the leprous person had to shout out “Unclean!  Unclean!”  so as to steer the uninfected away.   Could you imagine having to take such a step to enforce your own exile?   So what an extraordinary moment it would be if one was cured of this disease, if they could once again be considered clean.

In asking God to “purge me with hyssop,” the psalmist is seeking to be cleansed from all that stains their life and causes them to be isolated from others.  What stains separate us from one another?   Do we have our own shames and blotches which either lead society to push us to the outside — or do we just remove ourselves — a silent rendition of “Unclean!  Unclean!”


Dear God,

If only there was a plant by which we could remove all the blemishes and ailments of our lives.  Instead, we turn to you and ask you to purge from us the impurities and offenses that have separated us from others, and separated us from you.



Done what is evil8.  Done what is evil

“. . . and done what is evil in your sight . . .”      – Psalm 51:4b

The psalm continues its litany of David’s sinfulness, and our own.  This phrase relates closely to the scene where the prophet Nathan confronts David and in a thundering speech says:

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  .. .  Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.     (2 Samuel 12:7-9)

Two aspects of today’s verse bear considering.  The first is the naming by the psalmist of their sin — “done what is evil.”  The evil wasn’t just contemplated;  it wasn’t mused upon;  it wasn’t simply considered.  It was done.

But secondly, the action that was taken was evil in your sight, in God’s sight.  And that is just a reminder that we are not the arbiters of good and evil.  We may at times make mental accommodations for what we do.  We may rationalize that something is acceptable given the circumstances.   But how does it look in God’s eyes?

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul offers a few words about evil and his prescription for the way we ought to live out the gospel.   Let that be our prayer for this 8th day of Lent.

Prayer from Romans 12:9-18

Let love be genuine;

hate what is evil,

hold fast to what is good;

love one another with mutual affection;

outdo one another in showing honor.

Do not lag in zeal,

be ardent in spirit,

serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope,

be patient in suffering,

persevere in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the saints;

extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice,

weep with those who weep.

Live in harmony with one another;

do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;

do not claim to be wiser than you are.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil,

but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you,                                                                                                                     live peaceably with all.


Cleanse me4.  Cleanse me

           “. . . and cleanse me from my sin.”      – Psalm 51:2b

Many of the psalms follow a pattern which is very much in evidence in Psalm 51.   Verses often have a Part A and a Part B.   (You may have noticed that my notations from our devotionals thus far have been Psalm 51:1a, 51:1b, 52:2a and now 52:2b.)   The Part A phrase makes a statement, and then Part B develops that thought further.   What does it mean for God to have mercy?  God blots out our transgressions.   How does God wash us of our iniquities?  God cleanses us from our sin.  Watch this pattern as we continue thru Psalm 51.

An image that came to my mind initially when I thought about the cleansing of sin was that of Shout! or some other stain remover that we apply to our clothes.   Some stains come out readily.  Others are more stubborn.   But considering our verb of the day — cleanse — brought me to another passage of scripture — Paul’s second letter to Timothy.    In this passage, Paul uses the  image of dinnerware and other utensils:

In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary.  All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.  Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.  (2 Timothy 2:20-25)

Paul provides a number of  suggestions in this passage for how we can cleanse our lives.   Do any seem relevant for you?  In what ways do we need to cleanse our lives?

Psalm 51 had focused on what GOD will do to remove our sin whereas Paul focuses on what WE can do.   And undoubtedly we can do much.   But certainly Paul’s prescription for OUR actions is premised on our relying on God to give us the wherewithal, the guidance, the strength to live the life that God intends for us.


Dear God,

Help me to make the changes in my life that will honor you.  And where I run out of steam or energy or vision, please take over and cleanse me.



(Note:  My next Lenten post, for the 5th day, will be on Monday.)


Wash me3.  Wash me

 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity    –  Psalm 51:2a

I remember as a kid, when I was about 10, going over to the Engel’s home one day to play football in the backyard with my friend Chris and some other guys in the neighborhood.   Their backyard was already a bit muddy — and then it started to rain.   We had a fabulous time throwing, catching, and making tackles that sent us skidding through what was rapidly becoming a lagoon in their back yard.  Then, the game over, I trudged home.   I don’t know if I’ve ever been as dirty as I was that day.   When I stepped into the kitchen from the garage, my mom, standing in the kitchen, put both hands up and said “Hold it!”  She then proceeded to have me shed the mud-caked clothes.   Then wrapped in a towel, she sent me upstairs with directions to have a THOROUGH shower.

Jesus had gathered with his disciples in the upper room.   Then suddenly in an act that took them all by surprise:

. . . he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”   Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:5-9)

The disciples had not just come in from an afternoon on the gridiron.  But Jesus saw the dirt that sullied them. Now I sympathize with Peter when he protested against having his feet washed by the Christ.  It was unfathomable that Jesus, the Messiah, would stoop to what was such a menial task.  Plus, maybe Peter’s feet are as ticklish as mine. But then Jesus makes it clear the importance of this act that he was about to undertake — and then Peter asks to be doused from head to toe.

How about you?   Could you use a little hand-sanitizer for your iniquity, or perhaps a wash cloth — or maybe something more?


Dear Lord,

We are all besmirched — dirtied by the trials of this life.  Wash us,  from head to toe, so that we might have a total share of you.





1.  Have mercy


Welcome to this series of devotionals during the season of Lent.   Starting on February 18th, I will be posting a devotional for each of the forty days of Lent (this excludes Sundays).    Join me as we journey through this season of penance and reflection through a daily consideration of Psalm 51 — a phrase at a time.  I will juxtapose the Psalm phrase with another passage of scripture, perhaps from a gospel, epistle or other text drawn from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).   Through these two daily scriptural selections, we will probe together the Christian experience and meaning of following our Lord as he makes his way to the cross — and beyond.  I welcome your comments and reflections as we make our way along.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”      

                                                                                –  Psalm 51:1a 

Psalm 51 is traditionally known as the psalm written by King David after he preys upon Bathsheba and then is confronted by the prophet Nathan for his actions.  David crumpled to his knees, either literally or in spirit, and cried out in words and script,  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”   Have mercy. 

Across the gospels, Jesus regularly encounters those who beseech him with those same words.   Have mercy.   There were fathers or mothers crying out to Jesus on behalf of a sick child;  lepers;  those suffering demons — or this pair of blind men:

There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”   The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!”  Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”  Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.   (Matthew 20:30-34)

As we enter into this season of Lent, how mindful are we of our own need for mercy?   Has some person or event in our lives helped to make it clear to us that we need to seek God’s grace and forgiveness?   Are we so bold as to ask for this mercy — or even shout for it?


Ever gracious God,

As we step into this season of Lent and confront perhaps the pitfalls or challenges in our lives, remind us of your steadfast love — and that it is according to just this love that we may ask you today to have mercy upon us.


On this Christmas evening, I pray for:


Hope for those who are hungry or cold tonight.

Hope for those who face an illness.

Hope for those for whom life is full of stress.

Hope for those who only see darkness this night.


Peace in our own hearts, free from bitterness, resentment and yearnings for revenge.

Peace in our communities where injustice continues to plague us.

Peace in our country where matters of race — the mere color of skin — amazingly still rend us apart.

Peace in our world where people huddle in fear, are devastated by loss, and are desperate just to survive.


Joy for all Christians as we celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Joy for all people, regardless of faith tradition, as we celebrate the God who is the source of all that is, who calls us to live lives of goodness, who forgives us for our faults, and who shows us the way.

Joy for presents — be they unwrapped today, or visible in the faces of those we love.

Joy for those who have gone before us and whom we remember tonight, and for the new lives entering the world.


Love for God.

Love for our family and friends.

Love for strangers near and far.

Love for those we might find reason to dislike or fear.


May they be yours tonight and the year to come.