February 26, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right* spirit within me.
The word fad originates from the confluence of the two Latin words for foolish and vapid. To say ours is a faddish world is a laughable understatement. Our collective attention tends to dart this way and that way with the appearance of every new event, story, idea, or product. (A current example—soon to be labeled, “oh so February 2009”—is the flash mob: you hover over your social networking account until someone organizes a spontaneous gathering for everyone within network range to flock to.)
As attention goes, so goes our devotion. In this climate of faddishness, we’ve been trained to have low expectations for whatever object we fix our erratic attention upon. Most things that gleam at first glance soon pale with a longer look, so we, in effect, learn to dispense with devotion to anything. Add to our low expectations a palpable sense that we’re missing something if we devote ourselves to anything, and fidelity as a category seems an antiquated response to modern life.
Sunday revealed David’s longing for a new heart built on a renewed sense of the Lord’s presence: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. If you were reading from the ESV, you may have noticed an asterisk next to the word “right” in verse 10 with a corresponding footnote explaining how it might also be translated as “steadfast.” Elsewhere in the Psalms, that same Hebrew word is used to connote “established,” or “secure,” or “steadfast.”
So if by “right” David meant he desired a steadfast spirit, why would a clean heart, which is parallel to such a spirit, connote something unwavering, unyielding, and undistracted? Steadfastness is a function of, among other things, vigilance and discernment. Had David’s heart been vigilant, he’d have forgone a foolish second glance at Bathsheba, and thereby kept the episode from cascading into deceit, treachery, and murder. Had discernment been present, he’d have seen what was of true value and what was only vapid.
It would be anachronistic to ascribe faddishness to David’s world, but what David needed then, we still need now: a spirit—a deeply rooted inclination—that is steadfast, anchored not to the alluringly faddish but to the enduring. How is that steadfastness found?
It’s a principle of gardening that the less you water, the shallower the roots will form. Watering more sends the roots deeper, for they know there’s more water to be found there. The deeper the roots, the more robust the grass or plant, because its rootedness enables it to withstand more above ground.
It’s late February and this principle of gardening has applicability to your spirit. It’s possible that whatever vows you made in January to soak in the scriptures may have evaporated just a bit slower than an ice coating in Dallas. Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin again, to renew the soaking so that spiritual roots grow deeper and steadfastness begins to bloom. It is precisely this lack of steadfastness that the Lord Jesus came to redeem. If a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20), He is most willing and able to rescue us from our seemingly incorrigible faddishness.
Lent is now upon us, what our Orthodox friends call a time of “bright sadness.” In preparation for this time of fasting and reflection, they’ve soaked in the stories of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10-14), the Two Brothers (Luke 15:11-32), the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), and the teaching on Forgiveness and Fasting (Matthew 6:14-21). If faddishness imposes upon us where steadfastness is needed, could we not benefit from the same directed attention to what endures?