The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit
The window is a perfect square with no pains, just one large glass plate. The ledge starts at my waist and the exposed wood there is broad enough to set down my coffee and Bible, as long as I lay it lengthwise.
Since the window is in the house’s basement, I can look straight out and across the bent blades of grass and the loose leaves, many of which were froze in their wandering last autumn to the places they occupy now sometime. About 75 feet away is a fence row that mark my neighbor’s backyards, and several hundred feet from there are the outlines of their houses, which in the 5 a.m. darkness are yet to come awake with their own squares of light.
This is my favorite part of the morning. Standing there at the window, looking out into the world that will remain still for another 30 minutes or an hour before alarm clocks announce the start of the day. My Bible is usually open to the book of Psalms and when I read it, I’m almost always catching my breath or resting after between sets on the weight bench behind me.
My morning routine is about balancing mind and body, but it’s also about this moment at the window. Experiencing silence and calmness. My mornings were never like this before my heart changed. I seldom spent any real time on myself, and when I did, it didn’t have any sort of spiritual meaning. I’m not sure how I made it through so many years without having moments like this.
In the summer, when the temperatures aren’t hovering around 20 degrees, I can expand these solitary moments to bike rides, hikes or long distance runs. But nothing quite compares to the quiet darkness on a winter’s morning, followed by the sudden rise of the sun and lighting of the world.
I read Psalms because this hour of the day, though peaceful, seems also to be an hour when someone facing desperate times might be awake praying. I realize you can pray desperately any time, but 4-5 a.m. seems like the hour where someone awake all night pouring their heart out might finally break through to the Lord — might hear from God, and worn out from the rigors of being on their knees all night, are finally able to fall asleep knowing that their prayer – while not yet answered – has at least been heard.
Pslams is, of course, a book from the Old Testament. Written by David, a man after God’s own heart, it’s a collection of raw songs – cries to the Lord, really – that make abrupt shifts from praising and thanking God to asking God to curse enemies and bring death to those who trample his name. When I first began reading it, I naturally started at the beginning. Eventually though, I lost my place, so to avoid re-reading the same material, I started at the back of the book and worked backwards.
Now my Bible always falls open to Psalms 51, which says:
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit— with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
Initially, the phrase that kept bringing me back to this Psalm was “For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.” I could deeply relate to not being able to get beyond some of the sins I’ve committed and the feeling of being haunted. Something wouldn’t let me go. And while I associated that with something dark, I can see now there might have been another reason.
After several mornings contemplating that one verse, I started reading past it until I reached “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
Those words took me to my knees. What opened up my path to the Lord was a string of relationships – brought on by myself – that left me in pieces. My will had been broken and I knew the answers for my own life were beyond me. I needed someone else’s strength to carry on. I needed a father to set me straight. I didn’t realize until well after I was saved that the Lord had been surrounding me with believers and people who loved me, preparing me for the very moment my heart turned toward him. I am a believer because I have experienced the Bible’s truths in my life – before I knew they were in the Bible especially the ramifications of sexual sin.
I felt the Lord make me a new being. Every day, now, is a new day in my new life. Each morning is a chance to live out a new prayer, to see God’s plan for my life unfold. Every day, I strive to make my life a sacrifice to him. Some days do not go as planned given my own failures or due to the strange courses life takes. But that hour in the morning, looking out on the frozen ground and winter cold on the other side of the glass, I feel his love. His warmth. I gave him a broken spirit and an ashamed body, and he gave something I didn’t deserve: love enough to look forward to new days, never behind.