Lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, pain, or confusion, which allows Christians to process pain in God’s presence. Psalm 51 is a lament expressing personal pain over sin. Psalm 51 is traditionally associated with the time in King David’s life when he sinned by committing adultery with a married woman and murdered her husband to cover up his wrongs (2 Samuel 11-12). God sent Nathan to convict David, and David repented and confessed his sin in Psalm 51.
Psalm 51:1-7: David asked God to blot out, purge, wash, and cleanse his sin, which suggests that sin is like a stain that needs to be cleansed and purified. Unfortunately, sin is like a stain in camouflage, we either do not recognize sin as sin, or we try to hide our sins. David realized the pervasiveness of his sin and that ultimately he sinned against God.
Psalm 51:8-12: David pleaded with God to create a clean heart and renew a new spirit in him. David lost the presence of God and the joy of salvation when he sinned. Sin has a severe consequence, it destroys our intimate fellowship with God as well as leads to broken relationships with others. There is nothing David could do to atone for his sin. The penalty of murder and adultery is death. In God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy, David’s sin has not destroyed God’s love for him. Jesus dying on the cross had paid for the penalty of David’s and our sins (John 3:16).
Psalm 51:13-19: Repentance leads to restoration with God, David was able to praise and lead others to worship God again. We might think that repentance focuses on sins that leads to self-despising, but repentance actually restores our relationship with God. God is worthy of our praise because he forgives us our sins out of his steadfast love and mercy for us.
Most of us feel out of touch with our sin, we can develop a habit of self-examination to help us be aware of our sins and our sinful inclination. We can pay attention to our strong emotions, which reveal to us what really matters to us. If possible, find a trusted friend who can help you identify blind spots in your life and help you know yourselves better. When you are aware of your sins, confess them to God. You can use Psalm 51 as your own prayer, confess to God your sins, and ask him for forgiveness and restoration.
Repentance shifts our focus to God's steadfast love and mercy, and restore our fellowship with God and with others.