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A Song to the Lord

A New Heart - "I Want a Principle Within" (Ash Wednesday)

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NRSV)

Ash Wednesday is the annual beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. In some church traditions, ashes (often made from grinding down the palm fronds used the previous Palm Sunday) are placed on the forehead of a worshiper. A genuine understanding of one’s sinfulness and need for forgiveness is what the “imposition of ashes” is mean to signify, and such a realization should provoke within us both a sense of our own mortality and sincere sorrow over our sin. Yet with those ashes can also come a sense of hope in what God will do with the “ashes” of our lives when we turn to Him in repentance and faith. As expressed by the poet Jan Richardson:

All those days you felt like dust, like dirt, as if all you had to do was turn your face toward the wind and be scattered to the four corners or swept away by the smallest breath as insubstantial –
Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?
This is the day we freely say we are scorched.
This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.
This is the moment we ask for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes, that makes its home inside the soil of this sacred earth.
So let us be marked . . . for claiming what God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff of which the world is made and the stars that blaze in our bones and the galaxies that spiral inside the smudge we bear.

God is at work in our lives as His Spirit awakens us to our need of a Savior (John 6:44).  He is at work giving us the grace we need to repent and turn from our sin (Acts 5:31). But God’s work does not end there. He continues His work by His Spirit, moving his forgiven child on from becoming a Christian to a lifetime of being a Christian. By the Holy Spirit, the child of God is given a new heart, with new affections and new desires. This was what David prayed for in Psalm 19.

But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults . . . Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14 NRSV) 

This was also the prayer of Charles Wesley in his hymn, “I Want a Principle Within.”

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear;
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will and quench the kindling fire.

Timothy Tennant writes about this change of heart – this “principle within” – which is “. . . a gift from God which changes our hearts and reorients our relationship with the Triune God and with others, giving us the capacity to love God and neighbor in new and profound ways.” As Charles Wesley wrote:

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve;
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

One way to keep a tender conscience is to “keep short accounts” with God. One way to do this is through an ancient spiritual practice called the daily examen. This is an end-of-the-day review that is done by asking oneself questions. One spiritual teacher suggests a five-step process of (1) being still and becoming aware of God’s presence; (2) reviewing the past hours with thankfulness, expressing gratitude to God for even simple blessings; (3) honestly reflecting and identifying the emotions of the past hours; (4) choosing one thing from the day to give back to God in prayer; and (5) looking forward with renewed hope, with the expectation of knowing the goodness of God. Perhaps David was doing an ancient form of the daily examen when he closed Psalm 139 with these words.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NRSV)

A soul wakened to new life by the Spirit of God will inevitably know the pain and discouragement of “seeing wicked ways” in word or thought or deed.  But the provision of forgiveness that was offered at salvation is the same provision for forgiveness and cleansing throughout life – the precious blood of Jesus, which makes the person “wounded” by sin “whole.”

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again which makes the wounded whole.

Enjoy the Collingsworth family singing this hymn.

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Music from SmallChurchMusic.com.

To subscribe and receive A SONG TO THE LORD in your email, just follow this link. And if you are interested in other devotional writings by Rusty Rabon, click here. T. M. Moore and Rusty Rabon host THE AILBE PODCASTwhich you can find here. Rusty also hosts a Zoom book reading program called READING GREAT BOOKS five nights each week (Thursdays through Mondays). The Zoom link and current book information is available here.

Rusty Rabon

Rusty Rabon has served in vocational Christian ministry in local churches since 1981. He also served as a Christian radio announcer for 15 years. He married his wife Terri in 1978 and they have 3 grown children and 6 grandchildren. You can find books by Rusty Rabon here.

Rusty also hosts a book reading program called READING GREAT BOOKS on his Facebook page. You can follow Rusty at www.rustyrabon.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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