“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
ONE OF THE HARDEST TRUTHS FOR US TO REMEMBER IS THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUE PENITENCE. Even when we’re conscious of a desperate need for God, we often seek His favor by offering Him nothing more than the outward actions of worship. But what God is more interested in is the condition of our hearts, and if our hearts are not truly given to Him in godly sorrow, then there is nothing else we can offer Him that will be acceptable.
However, when David said that the sacrifices God desired were those of a contrite heart, he did not mean that the physical acts of worship which God had commanded could be disregarded. It would be a mistake to use this text to support the view that it does not matter how, or even if, we worship God outwardly as long as we love Him in our hearts. The familiar “not . . . but” construction in the Scriptures simply means that the “not” is less important than the “but,” and that the former has little meaning apart from the latter. For example, when Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27), we do not understand Him to mean that working for our physical food is wrong or unimportant; rather we understand Him to be saying that our efforts in the physical realm are less important than those in the spiritual and that the former has very little significance if it is not connected to the latter.
Similarly, David is teaching us in Psalm 51 that the outward aspects of worship are relatively meaningless by themselves. If these deeds don’t come from a humble heart that is conscious of its own sin, then God is not pleased by them. This, as we have said, is not an easy truth to remember. The temptation is always to give God this or that physical “offering” and suppose that He surely must look upon us favorably for having worshiped Him as we were commanded to do. But such “worship” does not honor God. The thing that He desires us to offer Him, far more than anything else, is “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.”
Give me a pure heart — that I may see thee,
A humble heart — that I may hear thee,
A heart of love — that I may serve thee,
A heart of faith — that I may abide in thee.