What do you do after you’ve given in to temptation? At this point, you’re probably already feeling shame and regret for compromising on your principles and distancing yourself from God’s presence. You realize that you missed the mark and want to get restored as soon as possible. The first thing to keep in mind is that God is a merciful God. There will probably be consequences for your actions, but the grace of God is what empowers us to move forward. And the Bible has a number of model prayers that teach us the posture that is required to access this grace.
Psalm 51 is the famous prayer King David prayed after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet for murder and adultery. It’s a Biblical story that most Americans are familiar with. King David saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing on a roof and sent for her to his palace. You can guess what happened next. After he found out she was pregnant, he arranged for her husband Uriah, who was away in battle at the time, to be murdered. He then married her so that everyone would assume the child was conceived after the fact. Sometime after David’s sin was exposed and judgment was uttered, he prayed the prayer of Psalm 51, a prayer of restoration.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says that “For grief according to God produces repentance to salvation without regret; but the world’s grief produces death.” Psalm 51 is an example of godly grief because it centers on a broken relationship with God, not merely the worldly consequences of sin. It contrasts with the worldly grief expressed by King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:30 after he was confronted by the prophet Samuel. King Saul was primarily focused on saving face in front of his leaders rather than on restoring his relationship with God.
Prayer is about the posture of the heart as much as it is the precise words uttered. Do your part, then wait for God to do his.
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 what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.