There is a prayer of repentance in God’s Book that puts into words and music the deepest cry for forgiveness and cleansing, and the greatest hope to experience God in his merciful kindness and love, all within the context of God always being who he is no matter how contrary we act to who we are.
And so it begins with this expression, “Have mercy on me, O God…”
I’m continuing to pray through this whole song with a sense of adventure. I have written music to the first two verses, obviously not knowing the original score that King David had in mind. Others have captured various expressions of this psalm with their own songs. Even if the flow of the Hebrew poetry doesn’t match our contemporary or cultural feel for music, there is no doubt that the truth expressed here is something the amazed heart will love to sing.
My quest in going through this Psalm is to know how David’s expression of repentance and faith regarding his sin of adultery would help people pray for their own freedom in Christ about anything at all. It is amazing to consider what a genuine attachment to God’s merciful grace would do for someone who has all kinds of bondage-issues telling them they are unworthy of any good thing from God. That makes us prime candidates for his mercy!
The Hebrew word translated “mercy” means to show gracious kindness to someone. We often bring the words mercy and grace together as two sides of the same coin. Both address the idea of God relating to us in ways we do not deserve. Mercy is God withholding judgment from us that we do deserve (something we can’t deserve), while grace focuses on God favoring us with blessings we could never deserve.
The negative side of praying according to God’s mercy and grace is that we never limit our praying based on the fact that we do not deserve anything from God. Because of God’s merciful grace, we cannot put a limit on any prayer out of a sense that we are not good enough for it, or that we didn’t have a great week, or we aren’t doing well. Knowing the horribleness of David’s sin magnifies the freedom he had in asking God to not treat him according to his sins, but according to his merciful grace.
The positive side of praying according to God’s mercy and grace is that we are emboldened to ask for everything we see that applies to us no matter how undeserving we feel. There is almost a sense in which, the more undeserving we feel, the more the reality of God’s merciful grace invites us to ask for what we could never earn. David’s example shows a sinful man asking his heavenly Father to do good and wonderful things for him he couldn’t possibly deserve.
The more we understand God’s merciful grace and kindness, the more we know that it actually honors God in his mercy and grace when we expect him to treat us far better than we deserve. We glorify him when we read a Scripture of relational promises and ask to know him in those ways because we are so convinced that his mercy is not holding anything against us and his grace is superaboundingly ready to do good for us based on what he is like, not what we are like.
As I was praying about this, I realized that the disgust, disappointment and dissociation people have expressed to me have been primarily about things that are inherent to who I am (being a boy, not being able to read minds, being broken), meaning they were not deserved.
But then I understood that I do deserve God’s disgust, disappointment and dissociation, but he is so mercifully gracious that he is the one person who would never treat me like that! In fact, his own words are, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. Which means that no matter what I deserve, there is far more merciful grace and kindness coming from God than any sin coming from me!
How does this affect my praying, including meeting with God’s children for prayer?
It calls me to remove any limits from my praying for God’s promised blessings that are there because I see myself as undeserving of those things. Of course I am undeserving!
And this invites me to identify all the promises God is giving me in his word that I could and should pray for earnestly and eagerly because I am convinced that where sin abounds, merciful grace abounds all the more.
As I continue my journey through David’s Psalm 51, the path ahead of me will be customized with praying for things that I must expect God to do because of how mercifully gracious he is. This will contribute something meaningful and wonderful to my own journey of freedom in Christ that leads to new realities of experiencing God in real and personal ways. I am eager to find out what he wants to do in me, and in us, that we couldn't possibly deserve to be part of.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)
 Psalm 51:1