There is one prayer that God always answers, “Yes!” It is a take it to the bank and cash it in request. But it is more than a request. If you have prayed this prayer, you know.
It is a plea.
David, the youngest son of Jesse, had risen from a lowly shepherd boy to the highest office a Hebrew could imagine—King of Israel. In his younger years, he’d been known as a man after God’s own heart. Yet, as British Parliamentarian John Dalberg-Acton wrote to Archbishop Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
THE STORY OF A KING
This is the story of King David, whose position of unquestioned authority allowed him to get away with murder after the married woman he seduced became pregnant with the monarch’s heir. Adultery, homicide, deception—all under the royal roof. If the story were produced for Netflix today, it easily would carry a TV-MA rating.
In the wake of his treachery, David did what any of us would do. He covered it up, hoping that with time his guilt would be assuaged and that the Lord would forget his transgressions. But time cannot atone for sin. Rather than fixing what is broken, when anything is left to time unattended, it either rusts, rots, or becomes overgrown.
This is what happened to David’s heart. Once a well-tended garden in his youth, he padlocked the gate, allowing weeds to take over, choking out his love for God and sensitivity to the Spirit. Following in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, David hid from the Lord.
But David was far too well-loved by God. Just like the Lord had sought out the first humans, he sought out the cold-hearted King by knocking on his padlocked heart through the prophet Nathan. The knock came in the form of a parable.
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!1
A HAMMER BLOW OF KINDNESS
Those four words—you are the man—provided the hammer blow of kindness that broke open the padlock upon David’s heart. With a parable, the Lord revealed to David that his sin was far worse than he thought it was. The King deserved death for his crimes.
Psalm 51 is his written confession.
What initially feels like an excruciating death would lead to new life. This is how true repentance works. The early church father Augustine of Hippo relates his own experience with the conviction —> repentance —> new life continuum, calling it a “fierce struggle.”
I was beside myself with a madness that would bring me sanity. I was dying a death that would bring me life.2
From madness to sanity; from death to live. Those are the stakes in repentance. Part of the struggle is the fight to resist bargaining with God or trying to appease the law with some obedience or sacrifice on my part.
GIVING UP THE STRUGGLE
Instead, we learn from David, who gives up the struggle with a simple prayer, “Have mercy on me, O God!” He does not bargain with God. He makes no excuses, nor minimizes his offenses. He makes a simple, humble plea. A human King on his knees before the King of Kings.
While mercy is a form of grace, it may help to clarify how mercy differs. If grace is getting what you don’t deserve, mercy is not getting what you do deserve. From this point forward, David would never, never pray asking God to give him what he deserved. He would never pray for God to be fair. The refrain of his life would be the prayer God always answers, “Yes!”
It is the same prayer we find in a parable Jesus told about a self-congratulatory Pharisee and a morally distraught tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God, not for mercy but that he, in his outward moral superiority, is not in need of mercy. The other man, who alludes to himself as “the sinner,” makes no pretense. He knows what he deserves—the same sentence as David the sinner-king. Under the same conviction, he pleads to God with David’s prayer, “Have mercy on me, O God!”
Jesus provides all the commentary we need. “I tell you that [the tax collector], rather than the [Pharisee], went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”3
Jesus could provide such an unequivocal confirmation because the tax collector, like David, prayed with sincerity the prayer God always answers, “Yes!”
This is all good for folks like David and the sinner in a parable. But what about me? Will God really have mercy on me as “the sinner?” Undeserving as I am, worthy only of justice?
Really? You mean, I am forgiven. Of everything. Completely?
Is there a catch or a string attached?
But how can you have mercy on me when I deserve death?
To that question, the face of God the Father emerges with a smile. He knows that I know, but wants me to say it. He wants me to say his name.
UNLOCKING YOUR HEART
Maybe the garden of your own heart has been padlocked. You have resisted looking inside because you are afraid of what you’ll find. Or maybe you know exactly what you’ll find.
Oh, it is far worse than an overgrown garden with weeds, thistles, and thorns. Your heart is a mess. So is mine.
Yet, because God loves you, he will not let you hide forever. Whether through a Nathan or some other means, he will bring a hammer of kindness to break open the lock. Not to condemn you but to set you free from the guilt and shame for which Jesus shed his blood.
Time cannot atone for sin. But the atoning blood of a spotless, sinless lamb can. Look to Jesus, the Lamb of God with nail-scarred hands, who suffered God’s justice so that you could receive God’s mercy. Believe that his wearing the thorns of your sin upon a cross has made the garden of your heart beautiful in the Father’s eyes.
The apostle John made a promise on behalf of Jesus, saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”4
This is what mercy looks like. You are not forgiven of some or most of your sin and unrighteousness. Through the cross, the blood of Jesus covers it all.
This promise is for any who will plea like David. Have mercy on me, O God. That is a prayer he always answers, “Yes!”
So, come to Jesus. If you need a gentle push, find them in the words of Joseph Hart’s well-known hymn,
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.
Need help with family devotions?
1 — 2 Samuel 12:1-7a
2 — John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL) 52.
3 — Luke 18:9-14
4 — 1 John 4:9
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great words - under Unlocking Your Heart, "...he will not let you hide forever."
Thanks for reading, Richard, and for the encouraging words.