The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,
that he may be glorified.
Pastor Michael spoke at a worship night recently about how brokenness is the place from where our true worship begins. He echoed what I've been reading in the Psalms. Psalm 51:17 puts it this way: "The sacrifices of God are a broken Spirit, a broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise." Contrite means "expressing remorse," and it made me think. All through the Old Testament, when the Jewish people mourned, they wore sackcloth to show their sadness, and in times of national disaster or repentance of sin, they would add ashes to their heads. Ashes were a public sign of repentance and humility, of remorse and distress, an outward sign of an inward condition.
But our God is a redemptive God, and His story for us never leaves us in mourning or distress. Like a bookend to the psalm is Isaiah 61:3. Isaiah's words are prophetic about how Jesus will save His own, that He will "grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit." God promises He will replace the worthless ashes on our heads for a headdress (or coronet, a crown worn by lesser royalty…isn't that extravagantly graceful) and restore our spirits with praise. What an amazingly beautiful truth, especially for people like me. Maybe you can relate, but there have been times in life when I've found myself in mourning over my sin. A great place to start, right? But even at the Lord's prompting, I've refused to be lifted up from that place by Him. God's word is infallible, yet sometimes I find myself tripping on concepts like grace. There have been times when I've allowed myself to think that surely this time, this time God is annoyed with me. Surely, this time I've pushed Him too far. But it's in those times we have to take our thoughts and our hearts captive, and meditate on the truth of these psalms and the character of God. We have to allow God to finish His work of restoration, the one that David understood in Psalm 30:11: "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness."
A contrite heart is a beautiful thing. May we all ask God daily to search our hearts like David (Psalm 139:23-24) and be broken-hearted about our sin against the Father. But may we also allow Him to restore us, to lift up our heads (Psalm 3:3), and replace our ashes with a crown, that we would live our lives with joy and faith-full praise.