a Contrite Heart
What is a contrite heart? It is a heart that is repentant, it is a heart that is broken. You may wonder why God would say that He will not despise this type heart, but He does. Let's look at the namesake Scripture in Psalm 51:17 which states,
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God thou wilt not despise."
Also in Psalm 34:18 the Scripture states, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
To understand better what God is teaching here is to first understand our heart. In Jeremiah 17: 9, the Scripture states,
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
This Scripture is defining for us our sinful nature due to the fall of mankind. Since the fall of Adam, mankind has been conceived and born in sin, condemned to eternal death. The book of Romans speaks considerably of the state of an unrepentant mankind. The Scripture tells us in Chapter 3 that there is none that understands, there is none that seeketh after God, there is none that doeth good, they are all gone out of the way. This paints us a pretty gloomy picture of mankind. Yet, in the same chapter, God be praised, He also tells us of the salvation through Jesus the Christ. Salvation that secures us from His wrath and delivers, signed, sealed and delivered, eternal peace for those who are appointed to eternal life. This is not at this point the peace of God but rather a peace with God. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Sound familiar, read Chapter 3 of the book of Romans.
From just these few Scriptures, we can see that mankind is in a bad way. You could say that mankind is "hellbound" with out salvation in Jesus Christ. So where does that leave us and what does that have to do with a contrite heart? The word repentance is the answer. All of mankind has been condemned to hell and it is only by God's saving Grace that one can be converted from this eternal death into eternal life. Now Grace is a much misunderstood word in this world today. Many speak of it and even name churches after it, but many don't embrace it's power or value.
Grace is often defined as the unmerited favor of God. Although this is true, this basic definition leaves room for a wandering mind. Grace simply put, is God not giving us what we deserve. According to Scripture, we deserve hell, but God, by His grace, saves us from this and gives us what we absolutely don't deserve, and that is eternal life. If you are confused at this point, pray and reread this so we can continue this journey of truth.
How many times have you heard, and may have even said, that " I am basically a good person and God loves me". First of all, look back at Jeremiah 17: 9 and tell yourself what kind of heart or nature you and I have. This is where you will begin to understand Grace and repentance. Scripture plainly tells us that we are dead in our trespasses and sin. But God, through Jesus Christ raises us up from that state into a state of life. That is from being condemned to eternal death unto eternal life. How does He do it? Scripture states in Romans 2: 4,
"Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance."
It is God's goodness that causes us to come to a state of repentance and the fruit of this is a contrite heart and thusly salvation unto eternal life. It is certainly not according to Scripture that our "basically good person" attitude gets us to heaven. We are as "filthy rags" to God prior to repentance. Afterward, we become His children. This is such an extraordinary event that I believe most seem to never quite grasp its unique importance. In one moment, we are hell bound and in the next we can be resting in the saving grace of God forever! WOW, what an incredible ordeal. Yet to many, it is quite mundane because the severity of being in a fallen state is never understood to any great depth. If we don't understand, to a great degree, how lost we are, then we will not understand and cherish how saved we can be. Our reverence, love for, and fear of God are directly proportional to how well we understand ourselves and thusly Him. Actually, the two are inseparable.
I have written enough theology for now, journey with me through my salvation experience. Since I was a little boy, I can remember my mom always going to the catholic church. When I was about six years old, I began to attend church with my mom and study its way. As I progressed through the younger years of my life, I attended church and went to catechism. I remember being a person with, what I would call, a soft conscience. Anytime something hurtful would happen, I would be upset within myself, and my heart would grieve. As I continued through life, I remember well of saying my prayers to God every night. I was aware as I could be at the time that there was a God and I was taught to confess and repent of my sins. The only problem with that was that I had to confess what other people taught me were sins. I certainly didn't know enough Scripture to be convicted by it, but I was convicted by what I was taught was sin. As I look back, I realize that my mom truly tried to lead me down the path of uprightness. To me, she was a saintly and gracious woman. She was never given to strong drink, I never heard her gossip, I never heard her talk down to anyone, I never heard her curse or even raise her voice until the day she died. I never knew of any bad habits that she had. And most of all, she respected my dad, no matter what. Now my dad never went to church with us. He told me after my mothers death that he believed and was baptized, but he never taught me Scripture from the bible. His lifestyle taught me a whole lot about hard work, honesty, and being a friendly person. My dad would give to many people when they were in need. And he loved my mother as if she were the only woman on earth. I only saw my dad angry twice in my entire life. Once was when I had been in a car wreck and I knew I was not in the wrong. My parents heard me out and believed me whole heartily. When we went to the police station to ask about some evidence from the wreck that would prove my story, they seemed to have misplaced it. My dad let them know quickly how wrong and crooked they were. I was glad to get out of the police station that day with my dad unfettered. The second time was when my mom died. I visited my dad often after her death only to find him in great grief. I grieved for him because I knew how much he loved my mom, and he missed her presence terribly. I didn't realize until then that my dad had placed her on the highest pedestal he could. He was angry with God for letting her die so suddenly. I was a babe in Christ at the time and attempted many times to console him. He had hardening of the arteries for quite some time and it had caused him to be very forgetful. But, he would not forget that momma had died. After a period of time, we had to place him in a nursing home for his own protection. Until the day he died, I don't know that he ever reconciled this with God. Even though I hope that he did, it is between him and God.
I said all this to lead up to the point of my true conversion. You see, until now, I thought I knew God and that I was O.K. with Him. I was married, working, had children, a home, and friends. I believed I was on the right track in life, according to the world around me. I even had people witness Jesus to me and I exclaimed that I knew Him. I was as lost as a cup cake in a ding dong factory and didn't have a clue. I can say that now, but then I didn't know any better. I hadn't yet experienced God's meeting with me.
It was Jan 11, 1991, and an unusually warm day for that time of year. My supervisor and friend at work had recognized my lost state and had been talking to me about God and Jesus. I was helplessly caught up in many grievous sins at the time and their talk of Scripture weighed heavily upon me. I remember on that day that I began to feel like I was going to crawl out of my skin. I couldn't concentrate and I couldn't sit still to save my life. I kept making excuses for having to leave the office for most of the day. I suppose it was about mid afternoon and I couldn't take it anymore. I told my supervisor I was leaving for the day and I proceeded toward home. You see I had announced to them that I was contemplating divorcing my wife. I used all the age old excuses for my decision and they knew it was junk. As I headed home, I began to weep without control. My body felt like I was going to throw up, but nothing would come out. I was absolutely terrified of what was happening to me because I had never felt this way before. I didn't know what to do or where to go for relief. All I remember about the trip was that I was heading toward my home. God was filling my mind with His goodness and I was grieving terribly at my wretchedness. I went for 35 years of not having a clue to an intense visit by God and His goodness. As I drove I continued to have periods of denial and self-justification with periods of remorse mixed in. I really thought I was losing my mind. What I didn't know at the time was that I was losing my "heart of stone". God tells us in Ezekiel that He will take our heart of stone and give us a "heart of flesh". That is to say a heart that He can mold toward goodness and righteousness in Jesus. I had to stop many times that evening so I could compose myself enough to finish the drive home. When I arrived, my wife asked me what was wrong and I told her to call a preacher friend of ours. We had gone to him previously to counsel about the divorce. I went into our bedroom and sat on the floor at the foot of the bed where I wept and recovered and wept more. It kept cycling in me from justifying my actions to remorse for them. I remember my preacher friend coming in the room with my wife and I told them both that this had nothing to do with them. I didn't know why I kept saying that to them, but I did. My preacher friend never said a word, but sat quietly on the bed and remained silent through the whole ordeal. I literally struggled with God for about 2 hours in that room, crying and talking back to God. The more I would struggle, the tighter grip He would get on me spiritually. In my flesh it felt like I was smothering to death and when it would get unbearable, He would release me momentarily. I could literally feel myself spiritually slipping away from Him, kind of like trying to get out of His presence. My mind was working so fast that I had no concept of time. It seemed as if my whole life passed through my thoughts in an incredible hyper speed. It was as if I were watching a movie in 100x fast forward. The only difference was that it was only the sinfulness in my life that I saw. I don't believe the human mind is normally in this high a gear lest we burn a fuse, so to speak. But God knows what we can and can't take, He created us and He created that exact spot in time that we think we are going to lose it. I am thankful to Him for being so brutally kind to me, it was for my good.
It was a couple of days later that I went to my preacher friends house and asked him straight out what happened to me. He told me I had been converted. I had to ask him what that meant. He explained it to me and I just soaked it in. I was still floating on that spiritual high that came with my conversion. There is no sensation greater than the sensation of freedom from condemnation. To realize that we are transparent to God and that He has totally forgiven us is absolutely euphoric and quite humbling. That is where the contrite heart comes in. When God executes His most timely conversion upon us, He will show you just how filthy you are before Him. When we see, in our minds eye, the contrast between His Holiness and our fallen state, we can't help but be humbled and broken before Him.
I began repenting soon after about everything that God reminded me of. I remember repenting for things that happened in my childhood. Things that I hadn't remembered until that time. It was becoming apparent to me that He would leave no stone unturned until He was through with my initial conversion. After a short while, I thought that there was no way I could be disobedient to Him again. Boy, was I in store for a shock. I guess about 8 years passed and I had been growing spiritually at an alarming rate. It seemed that everything I read in Scripture soaked in immediately. I was quoting Scripture and part time preaching and teaching and thought all was well. I didn't remember back then that I had prayed to God for those attributes many years before. Well, as God will do, He saw to it that a great adversity came into my life. I didn't realize that it was time for round two with God. I was caught so off guard by this trial that I questioned God. I literally fussed with Him and asked Him the most horrendous questions. My speech was not vulgar in regard to cursing, but I acted like a spoiled child with Him. It didn't take too many of these conversations before He saturated me with conviction. All this time I had thought that He and I were caught up with everything. Boy was I ever surprised. This time it was at a whole new level of conviction. It was an area in my life that I didn't know I had. It was the area that Scripture refers to as "secret faults". It is a level of sin that is so subtle that we walk right past them. It is sin that is deeply rooted in our being and is solidly deceptive.
I thought that God had humbled me before, but now I was to understand that there is no room for pride in a Christian. I had grown quite a big head in those 8 years with all the knowledge I had gained. People revered me as an exceptionally spiritual person. I could teach Scripture, jump up to the pulpit and preach from different Scripture, lead a choir, and have theological discussions without blinking an eye. I was a jewel to the church I was attending at the time. From what I learned through this trial, it was apparent that arrogance had subtly emerged. I didn't know what brought on this terrifying visit by God, all I knew is that I was as broken hearted as I had ever been. My conversion experience was not as intense as this trial and it lasted for almost two years. I remember reading the book of Job many times in that period and became very close to his learning experience. I didn't lose all my children and possessions as he did, but I was just as convicted as he was. The words of Job and his friends comforted me in that I could relate to them. Job was somewhat confused about his trial as I was. He had much fussing to do himself before God would bring it to an end. I asked some of the same questions Job did. The end result was that God would get our attention in His own unique way and correct us however severely He had to so as to acquire His desired result. I remember falling on my knees and laying across my bed, wetting my mattress with my tears very often. I could be doing anything and all of a sudden just burst into tears. I have never been so afraid and distraught in my life. I had never been so broken. I got a small taste of how Holy God is and how intense and insistent He will be. He always gets what He sets out after. God taught me, by His word and through trials, the wisdom that would go with all the knowledge I had previously received. That is when it became clearly apparent that knowledge without wisdom is absolutely deadly. I had plenty of knowledge about God's word, but didn't have that so needed cohesiveness called wisdom. Knowledge with wisdom produce the Fruits of Righteousness. When taught of God, it produces the "Fruit of the Spirit". These attributes will not, nor could they, co-exist with pride in any quantitative amount.
God makes it clear in His word that no flesh will glory in His presence. It is an absolute, not a suggestion and God would make this vividly clear to me. As I re-read Scripture, I would see it so clearly as compared before. I could see it as God centered, rather than shared with His creation. God shares much with us, but never His glory. He is God and there shall be no other. You see, I had held someone dear to me in higher esteem than Him. The same sin my dad had committed in regard to my mother. We both had committed the sin of idolatry which is rooted in pride. My pride had kept me from esteeming God as the Majestic Sovereign, the only wise God.
Nevertheless, God be thanked that He brought my trial to an end some two years later. When the dust began to settle, I realized how much He loved me. He caused His Son Jesus to die so that I would learn from my trial. Jesus bought my lesson first, before I knew about it. I can't help but tear up at this revelation of truth. The Scripture tells us that God chastens those He loves. I knew after this trial that all the pain I agonized over was the pain of sin. God never laid a finger on me nor left any physical marks. He did certainly brand me spiritually though, a chaff burning that I should never lose sight of lest I be a fool. I am still a sinful being but I have been taught a true fear of God. I have learned to say, "If God wills" before I act. I have learned to be watchful for His work in my life. I have also gained much patience and compassion for my kindred. I learned what Titus 3 says about never forget where you came from. We are saved by grace and also sustained by grace. There is no time in anybody's life that they are not sustained by God. Everything we have or will ever get is received from God. We bring nothing into this world nor shall we carry anything out of it. All things are God's and He disposes the matters thereof according to His good Purpose. If it were not this way, we would all be still heading for hell.
Now a days, I still teach and preach and lead a choir and sit on the church counsel just like before the days of straightening. But today I do these things knowing full well who works them in me and who will get the glory for it. I still pray that God would make a true servant out of me, and I believe one day He will.
Man and God co-exist only because of the blood sacrifice of Jesus. Without that mediator, we would all surely remain dead for eternity. You see, unless God resurrects us from being spiritually dead in our trespasses and sin, we are heading for hell. There is no "in between" with God, we are either going to hell or we are going to heaven. That human term of "straddling the fence" is a farce. Either we are slaves to righteousness or we are slaves to sin. Read the bible if you don't agree. Being slaves of righteousness doesn't mean we are not going to sin. It only means that when we realize our sin, we are remorseful for it and we repent, thus a contrite heart. One that is shaped by God to hate sin and to be broken over the fact that we sinned against our Holy God. That is why God will not despise a contrite heart, because it has been turned toward Him by His grace. Always remember, "God resist the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 1 Peter 5:5
Visit the following link, Confess and Forsake, to a page that will talk about what I learned from God's second visit with me. Lessons learned.