The value of a pure heart and steadfast spirit?

‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’ (Psalm 51v10)
Interestingly, the verses before this give us an insight as to why David requests that God renew a steadfast Spirit within him.

‘Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity. ‘(Psalm 51v7-9)

Now, while many people believe the psalm to be David’s confession to God having sinned with (Uriah’s wife) Bathsheba, the thing that I take from this is how reflective the king becomes in the light of the mistake he has made.

Almost instantly, David recognises he has done wrong and he identifies the problem: that being that David has a wayward heart. One that is prone to wander and lust for things that are neither glorifying to God nor himself. And what is David’s solution to the problem?

  1. He asks God to (re) create in him a pure heart that will make him obedient in future.
  2.  He requests God renew a steadfast spirit within him so he won’t be inclined to wander in future.

David’s request of God tells us something about his contrition and sorrow at his mistakes. Moreover, his desire to change and become wiser from the events that have come upon him. Something that all of us can learn from in order to be more obedient to God.

verses indicate that David is in meltdowne realise how

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How is God close to the brokenhearted?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’             Psalm 34v18

This is a familiar scripture – I wonder how you read it? I think all of us can relate to those times in our lives when we have been brokenhearted or weighed down by circumstance so much so that it felt like our spirits were being crushed beyond repair. Interestingly, the verses that come before it in v13-16 carry this instruction and insight:

‘Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.                                                                                 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;                        

Does this mean that God is promising that if we turn away from evil that tragedy will never befall us?

No! The very fact we live in a world  where people have freewill means that they will misuse this freedom to make choices that affects both themselves and others. This alone should be evidence enough why this world is never going to be a harm-free place. Moreover, it explains  why God’s heart is directed towards that are brokenhearted – who, through no fault of their own, have been crushed and disregarded by others.

So what does this mean for us?

Well…in v19 we read that ‘The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them, he delivers them from all their troubles.” Here, what is most important to recognise is that for us to be delivered from something, necessitates that we are in a place or circumstance from which we cannot save ourselves. Here, we understand the insidiouness of sin in which ‘all of us  have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

In summary, it has never been a case of them and us – just those people who recognise they have sinned and  need of a saviour and those for whom it never crosses their mind.


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The stark cost or truth and redemption?

‘Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.’ (Psalm 32v2)
It is perhaps not  surprising that the same verse should be found in the Book of Romans several centuries later. The only difference being that while the psalmist  imagined the ‘Lord’ as some sort of ethereal entity, the apostle Paul understood ‘Lord’ as referring to Jesus Christ who he was shocked to discover was both God and incarnate. Moreover, a risen and glorious saviour in his transformed state.
For the psalmist, the statement “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” sounds more like a theoretical hopefulness rather than a rock solid promise of God’s future reality. However, for Saul – the persecutor of Christians everywhere – his call is more stark as he is questioned by God as to why he continues to persecute by arrresting and imprisoning the Christian community? Saul can utter nothing other than one question:
‘Who are you Lord?’ (Acts 9v5)
And so from this encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul’s old way of life and doing things is swept away as he takes the first step into becoming useful to God’s purposes as the apostle Paul –  a journey into which he will truly learn  the meaning of how ‘Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.’

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What it means to be delivered and why?

‘Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.’ (Psalm 31v5)

I always find it strange how many Christians see this verse as directly applicable to their own life and trials when clearly the resonance is squarely with that which happened  to Jesus. This is not to make light of what befalls us in that we too may be so overwhelmed to the point where we cry out for deliverance – though unlike Jesus, our prayer for rescue is often directed to us being spared the pain and anguish of what is to befall us.
Unlike us, Jesus’ cry for deliverance occurs becasue the weight of the world and all its sin  has been placed upon his shoulders.  However, unlike us, Jesus does not ask to be delivered from the pain of what he is carrying but rather to be delivered in spite of it. To be strengthened and emboldened to bear the weight of sin that will come upon him and not be found wanting by seeking to be freed from the task that is ahead. Something that in our straightened times, each of us would do well to remember…

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God, life and existence.

‘If it were (God’s) intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust.’ (Job 34v13-14)

Okay, back to Elihu who is still trying to instruct Job on the way God operates. Having explained the neccessity of God’s Spirit to breath life into the lifeless, Elihu turns his attention to God and the inevitable demise of humanity should God ever choose to withdraw His Spirit away from Creation.

Now, while Elihu’s explanation is intended to show that life is fragile and dependent on God to sustain it,  he does not really answer Job’s questions about what has befallen him. Instead, he chooses to sidestep the issue by focusing on the nature of existence and non-existence rather than deal with Job’s more pressing need to understand what has happened to him.

Indeed,  many humans in the world still struggle with understanding the tragic outcomes that befall them and their loved ones. However, what is now needed from the Church is for God’s People to show the same generosity of love towards the grieving,  irrespective of whether the person continues to love God or turn his face away.

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The Holy Spirit’s role in Creation

‘The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.’ (Job 33v4)
In the middle of Elihu’s lengthy speech about what God has shown him, there is one moment of absolute lucidity in which he points to how God and Spirit are jointly active in the creation process. In Genesis 1v27 we read this:
‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.’
Interestingly, the word ‘Spirit’ in Greek is ‘Pneuma’ and translated as ‘breath.’ In religious context, the term is life being given to the soul as in the act of life being breathed into a lifeless vessel.
In this regard, Elihu is correct in his assertion that both God and Spirit are active in the process of Creation. Indeed, it is as they cooperate with the Living Word (Christ) who we know speaks – and so brings – all things into existence. e.g.) “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen 1v4) . Thus, Creation is made complete and active.

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When calamity strikes?

‘But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.’ Job 32v8

With his family dead, Job undertakes a period of mourning and is joined by four friends who sit in silence with him. However, it soon becomes clear that each of them have their own theory as to why this tragedy has befallen Job and they are rather desperate to offer their explanations as to what happened and why. Among them is a young man (Elihu) who says to Job –
“I am young in years, and you are old;
that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.
 I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in a person,the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.” (Job 36v6-9)
Suffice to say, all four friends fall short in their explanations as to why Job is experiencing such a calamity. Moreover, each of them is keen to lay the blame on Job. Even Elihu though what is quickly apparent is that although articulate and presenting himself as mindful and considerate, he understands nothing of the grief that Job is experiencing.
Yes, Elihu has learnt that it is God’s spirit in a person – the breath of the Almighty – that gives understanding. However, in recounting this to Job what we see is that it is nothing more than theory to him. Elihu does not know it as a reality in his own life and so he is really no more use to Job that the three friends that went before him. The truth being that only an Almighty God can reveal an Almighty Truth  – something that each of us on such occasions will do well to remember.

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Who is the author of Job?

‘Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?’              (Job 26v4)

I don’t know how you read this but presumably the answer God is expecting of Job is for him to reply that it was the Divine who gave him words to speak: that God Himself placed the spirit within Job’s mouth to help him find voice. And yet, I imagine that at this moment as Job stands before God – broken by the death of his family –  giving an answer to the obvious does not come high on Job’s agenda  (even when the question is asked by God).

Job is hurting. True, God will provide the ultimate help but Job needs time to grieve. Words may pour forth from his mouth but Job can barely understand what he’s saying right now as he tries to make sense of all that has happened to him – or put another way,  the nonsense of existence and and its unfair outcomes.

Now – at the risk of upsetting some  – I would be less then professional with this passage if I did not address the elephant in the room. That is, when God grants permission to the devil to test Job? Why would a God of love grant permission to a fallen angel – who is seeking to overthrow creation – to do this to Job, especially when it goes against the nature and love of God?

And here, we must return to the question of who is the author of Job? Who is this unseen  eavesdropper who is privvy to the discussion between God and Satan and then feeds it back to us. Moreover, is the character of God – as portrayed in the Book of Job  – in anyway reminiscent to the God revealed in the person of Jesus who is God incarnate?  For God not to be consistent is for us to accept a dualistic rendering in which the God in the Old Testament is wholly different to the one revealed in the character and person of Jesus Christ.

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Job – a man true to his emotions?

‘You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit‘….’My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.(Job 10v12, 17v1)
Interestingly,  the contrasting sentiments expressed by Job in the midst of his grieving are not all that dissimilar to the emotional swing that people experience when caught up in the highs and lows of romantic love.

On the one hand, we have that which looks back to the throes of courtship in which the person remembers the kindness and providence shown to them by their loved one. Then – tragedy – as they consider the depressing future that awaits them now that their  spirit has been broken,  their days cut short and the grave their solace.

Clearly, in this context, the term ‘spirit’ is perhaps better rendered as ‘heart’ in the sense of the conduit through which our emotions are displayed. For Job – caught up in the raw emotion of remembering better time – grieving, bereavement and reflection are hard for him to engage with…yet do it, he must!

In summary, Job enters into his angst, asking questions, reasoning the meaning of what he has experienced and exits no less hurt if not perhaps slightly wiser. However, if there is one practical lesson that can be learnt from Jonb’s travails it’s that he did not run away from his emotions or bury them. Instead , he engaged with what was happening to him and grew out of the experience.

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