Enigma. Mystery. Puzzles and conundrums. Scripture is full of what we interpret as paradox. We, fallen, with finite minds, are unable to grasp God’s ways apart from the Spirit’s illumination. We are but dust, after all.
And so when God speaks, we often initially interpret His ways as self-contradictory. As paradox.
For when He tells us that the way up is down, we pause in confusion. When He says that those who are the least become the greatest, we wrinkle our brow. And we certainly live among those who laugh at the idea that washing feet equals leadership. Or that dying to self is living. (John 13:1-7, Romans 8:12-14)
And here’s another truth we, even as Christians, initially hear as paradox: In true contrition for personal sin, we are able to draw closest to our Father. When we admit our spiritual need, hating our sin, yearning to be rid of all that separates us from the Father, the place for cleansing refreshment flows from His presence alone.
We are not meant to turn away and hide from His face in our guilt. Rather, we are meant to rush to Him, finding that a contrite heart is a living heart. We, with Christians through the ages, are meant to discover that broken hearts carry home the water of grace. Listen to God’s words to you:
Jesus, to the gathered crowds:
“Blessed are those who are spiritually needy. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:3)
God, through Isaiah:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit…” (Isaiah 57:15)
Paul, after following Christ for many years:
“… I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate … For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7: 15, 18-19, 22-25)
A prayer prayed by Christians for hundreds of years:
“O Changeless God, under the conviction of the Spirit I learn that the more I do, the worse I am, the more I know, the less I know, the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am … O wretched man that I am!
O Lord, how little I love thy truth and ways! I neglect prayer, by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly, by knowing thou hast saved my soul. Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be an evangelical hypocrite, who sins more safely because grace abounds, who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell, for he is saved, who loves evangelical preaching, churches, Christians, but lives according to the flesh.
My mind is a bucket without a bottom, with no spiritual understanding, ever learning but never reaching the truth, always at the gospel well but never holding water. My conscience is without conviction or contrition, with nothing to repent of. My will is without affection, and full of leaks. My memory has no retention, so I forget easily the lessons learned, and thy truths seep away.
Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace.” (The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions)
And so, our prayer today:
Father, give us contrite — penitent, regretful, remorseful — hearts. Give us hearts full of sorrow for our sin. We live in a world indifferent to, or committed to masking, the evil of personal sin. Make us different. Make us understand the desperate state of our spiritual neediness, and then give us bold honesty before you. Help us to truly believe that you dwell with the contrite and lowly, so that we never fear to come to you, or admit our inability to you.
O Father, give us broken and contrite hearts, suited to carry home the water of grace.