Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Fill me with joy and gladness. Psalm 50:8
The reason why Psalm 50 was written was a heavy reason. David had guilt and shame over his egregious sins of adultery and murder. We’ve discussed the need to acknowledge sin and also reflected on the secret heart that each of us has that harbors guilt, pain and shame. In verse 8, the Psalm quickly takes a positive turn, as the Psalmist asks God to “Fill me with joy and gladness.” A heart that is beset only with pain and shame would be too guilt-ridden to believe that joy and gladness could even be possible again. Imagine, how could David even think to ask God to fill him with joy and gladness after what he had done?
This is the beauty of repentance and also the power of God. We can commit an egregious sin and we all do, and through repentance and God’s grace, joy and gladness are still on the table. It is still possible to have them even when we’ve transgressed against God and one another, even if those transgressions are egregious, as they were for David. Obviously, there had to have been a great faith and trust in God to dare to ask Him for joy and gladness, and even more so, to think this request would be granted.
There are many people who feel alienated and estranged from God’s love, who lack joy in their lives because they are beset with guilt. Psalm 50:8 assures us that in genuine repentance, we can dare to ask God to restore joy and gladness for us.
Psalm 50:7 reads: “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” This is an important reminder that in order to be filled with God’s joy and gladness, one must be purged of sin, evil, pain, shame and all associated things that keep us from God. In order for this to occur, two things need to work in concert. First, we need to have our own personal desire for cleansing of sin. This is called repentance. And second, we need to have the grace of God. We know that both go hand in hand. We know that when we repent, God is merciful and quick to forgive. The catalyst, however, is our desire to repent, which pre-supposes a heart that wants to become whiter than snow, a heart that desires to be filled with joy and gladness, and a heart that understands that true joy and gladness can only come from God.
In Matthew 10: 17-27, Jesus encounters a young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked the man “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Notice the phrase that Jesus “loved him.” Jesus did not correct the man so that the man could feel ashamed. He didn’t speak in a way that was judgmental. I have often reflected on this verse, and imagine that Jesus sat with the man quietly under the shade of a tree, perhaps put His arm on the man’s shoulder, and spoke these words gently. I don’t imagine Jesus waving His fist at the man or yelling at him. It was as if Jesus said to him, “I love you and want the best for you, I want you to be with Me, but this thing is weighing you down.” For that man, it was his riches. For us, perhaps it is something else. But Jesus spoke to that man with love.
I imagine God speaking to David’s heart in the same way. This is why when we read the rest of Psalm 50:8, “Let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice,” we don’t see God in that moment as a vengeful God, breaking the bones of people in order to get them to submit to His will, but rather, as Jesus spoke to that rich man in Matthew 10, that God speaks to us in the same gentle manner. The broken bones are the habits that need breaking, the parts of us that need to be broken and refashioned.
Through God’s greatness, David’s life was transformed from adulterer and murderer to servant and king. God still planned for Christ to come into the world through the line of David. God still had big plans for David. And those plans weren’t squashed because David had taken a few wrong turns in his life.
God feels the same way towards each of us. Through His mercy and help, we need to allow our bad bones to be broken and refashioned. And in our repentance, God will again fill us with joy and gladness.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
Each day, we should be cognizant of the need to break bad habits that keep us from the joy and gladness of God. Through repentance, we can be filled with God’s joy!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.