Psalm 50/51
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise.
(Psalm 50/51: 17)
We have already mentioned the story of David anointed king by the Prophet Samuel. David was divinely called to be king. He didn’t become king through conquest, but through the blessing of God. David enjoyed many blessings in his life. He killed Goliath, the Philistine warrior, with a slingshot, and became a hero and a legend. He escaped when King Saul tried to have him killed. David had not one wife but many wives and many children. Despite all of these blessings, David was not content. One day, he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. He desired to be with her, and he got her pregnant. Because Bathsheba was married to a soldier named Uriah, and David needed to cover up what he’d done, he arranged to have Uriah sent to the front lines of battle where Uriah ended up being killed. Nathan, a prophet, went to David and told him a parable about ewe lamb which a rich man stole from a poor man. Nathan told David that he is that man who has stolen Bathsheba and that one of David’s sons will die as a result. This comes true when Absalom dies.
David, who is credited with writing many of the Psalms, was now distraught. Divinely “ordained” by God to be king, he had committed adultery, he had essentially committed murder in making sure Uriah died and then lost his son. In his extreme sadness, David wrote the 50th Psalm, also called “The Psalm of Repentance.” (If you are keeping a note pad of how each Psalm hits you, this is a Psalm to pray when you have done something wrong, or when you feel defeated, or when you feel far from God because of sin).
The most well-known verse of Psalm 50 is verse 10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me.  Again, we hear of spiritual healing. David didn’t ask for a new life, or even a second chance. Rather he prayed for a clean heart and a right, correct Spirit within him. He wanted spiritual healing. He knew that only God could comfort him in his time of sorrow. Only God could repair his broken heart. Only God could forgive his sin.
What could he offer to God, in exchange for a clean heart and a renewed Spirit? God can’t be bought off with money. He isn’t awe-struck by fame. He is not even impressed with good works. What God wants from us is a contrite heart, a humbled heart. Why? Because a broken Spirit and a contrite heart are places that God can fill with His love and mercy.
If we go out to eat and we eat until we are full, there is nowhere to put any more food in us. We can only fill spaces that are empty, whether they are in our stomachs or in our hearts. It is the empty heart, the broken heart, that can be filled by God. God will not despise the contrite heart and broken spirit that cry out to God: “Please fill us!” Many of us cry to God out of material desperation:
“God, I feel empty because I didn’t get the job. Help change their minds.”
“God, I feel empty because I didn’t study for that test. Help change my grade.”
“God, I feel empty because my spouse doesn’t love me. Change his/her heart.”
These cries are not from a contrite heart or a broken spirit. They are more from a broken ego. The crushed and humbled heart doesn’t cry out to God to change someone else. It cries out: “Lord I am broken, change ME!” When we cry to God to change us and fill us with Him, this is a prayer that God always answers. God doesn’t desire “a burnt offering.” (Psalm 51:16) God desires us, our hearts. When we come to God with a broken and contrite heart, God will never despise or ignore our intention.
When we hear about David, now thousands of years after he lived, we hear about him mostly in a positive light. We don’t dwell on his shortcomings, on Bathsheeba, Uraiah, and Absalom. When we think about David, we think about his repentance. We remember him as the Psalmist. We honor him as “King and Prophet,” and we commemorate him yearly with the saints, with those who have pleased God throughout the ages.
Many times in life we will feel like David. Either we will feel estranged from God because of our own sins or we will feel crushed by personal failure. There is never a bad time to pray Psalm 50. However, especially in times when we feel God is absent because of something we’ve done, a serious sin we’ve committed, these are the times to turn to God and pray not for a renewed relationship or a restored opportunity but for a clean heart and a renewed spirit. When we come before God with a broken and contrite heart, this is how God can fill our empty spaces, because we humble ourselves before Him and admit that we are spiritually empty and can only be filled by Him.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant 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].
Rather than focusing on how to change others, let us focus on how to change our own hearts!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”