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75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

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Three Small Words from John 15

In John 15, Jesus lays out our position in Christ and the key or path to the Higher Christian Life in the story of a vine and its branches.  I mean, it really couldn’t be more clear.  This key is found in the simple word abide.   We are to abide in Him— which means “to rest, remain, dwell, to make our home.”  Or, literally, “to be united as one with Him in heart, mind, and will.”  It is the definition of a fully surrendered life.

Yet before we discover the concept of abiding in verse 5, we first must move through the first three verses of John 15, which often present a disturbing picture of God as our Father and is, more often than not, misinterpreted by well-meaning preachers and Bible scholars.  And by misunderstanding the definition of three key words— takes away, prunes, and clean— we can fail to find the amazing encouragement Jesus offers those who are not quite up to meeting His standard of faithfulness or righteousness.


Takes Away, Prunes, and Clean

So, let’s look at these three verses as they are found in our Bibles, compare them to what they say in Greek, and see if something is “lost in translation.”

“I am the true (real, genuine, one who cannot lie) vine, and My Father is the vinedresser (farmer, one who tills the earth or ground)” – John 15:1

This simply sets the stage and introduces the cast of characters:

God = Vinedresser
Jesus = Vine
We = Branches of the Vine (John 15:5)

He continues,

“Every (pás) branch (where) in Me (Christ, vine) that does not bear (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) takes away (aírō – G142); and every (pás) branch (implied, in Me) that bears (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) prunes (kathaírō G2508), (why) that it may bear (to bring, carry, have) more fruit” – John 15:2

We are now introduced to the first two of our three important words: aírō and kathaírō.  The third one, katharós, is found in verse 3.

“You are already clean (katharós – G2513) because of the word which I have spoken to you” – John 15:3


Three Key Words

We now have three Greek words that we need to define to see if our English translation does them justice.  And I think, after you see the definitions for yourself, you will see it does not.

From The New Testament Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhaites:

“takes away” – (aírō – G142)

This word is translated as “takes away” in our English Bibles.  But that is not what it means.

prunes – (kathaírō G2508)

And this word is translated as “prunes” in our English Bibles.  And, yet again, that is not what it means in the Greek.

clean – (katharós – G2513)

Finally, this word is correctly translated as “clean.”   So now, what does this verse look like?


Vine and the Branches

The Vinedresser, our Father, no longer takes away unfruitful branches but lifts them up, supports them, and helps them once again become fruitful, just like a natural farmer would do to his crops.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise);

In a phrase, he builds a trellis to support the fallen branches of His vine.

But it gets better.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise); and every branch (implied, in Me) that bears fruit He prunes (to clean, make pure and unsoiled), that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean (pure, clean, without stain or spot, to be cleansed from filth, to purify) because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

Now, verse three seems to make sense as the Vinedresser cleans the fruitful branches to make them more fruitful and then states His disciples do not need that form of cleaning since they are already clean by the words Christ has spoken to them.


Be Encouraged

There is so much more to these three words than we can reveal in this post.  To understand more fully, please listen to the podcast and follow along with the PowerPoint slides above.

And be encouraged, you who do not, nor have not, lived a perfect life.  God doesn’t take you away when you sin.  He lifts you up, strengthens you, and puts you in a better position not to sin and become fruitful once again.  I hope this has put a smile on your face, because I am still smiling… from ear to ear.

Isn’t this just like our Father?


The Higher Christian Life

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74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

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The Problem: Dry Ritual Without Relationship

For many believers, Christianity has become a religion of rules devoid of a relationship.  We know we should have a quiet time, serve in church, avoid sin, and so on.  But all this outward conformity easily lacks the inward reality of actually connecting with God.  We act spiritual, without ever experiencing the presence of the Spirit.  And that is a sad, yet common experience for many today.

How did this happen?  Partly because we’ve made faith all about knowledge over an encounter with God.  We prize book learning, doctrinal precision, and intellectual comprehension of Scripture— forgetting you can memorize the Bible and miss the Lord of the Bible.  Information in our heads doesn’t necessarily lead to transformation in our hearts.  Why?  Because head knowledge alone breeds pride, heart encounters with Christ breed authentic life change.


The Pattern: Experiencing God Transforms Us

Yet Scripture shows us a better way.  When Moses saw the burning bush, he experienced God’s awe-inspiring presence (Exodus 3).  After Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he walked with a limp— an everyday reminder of his personal encounter with God (Gen. 32:22-32).  And when Isaiah had a powerful vision of God on his throne, he was utterly transformed forever (Isaiah 6).

For early followers of Jesus, faith wasn’t a dead tradition, but a living, vibrant relationship.  Acts 2:42 says the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  These early disciplines led to a powerful encounter with the Lord: “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (v. 43).  Even repentance is meant to be an encounter, as we turn from sin and into the forgiving arms of Christ.


The Invitation: Taste and See Jesus

This is God’s invitation to us: not just to know about Him, but to experience Him— to taste His goodness and to know that He is good (Psalm 34:8).  And as we behold the Lord’s glory, we are transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18), which is the goal of the Christian life.  The more we experience His presence and power, the more we reflect Christ to the world.

So, what areas of your faith have become dry rituals rather than genuine encounters with the Living God?  Consider these aspects of the Christian life that are meant to connect us with God:

Experiencing God’s Presence in Worship

Worship isn’t just singing songs or listening to a praise band— it’s meeting with the Lord, captivated by His beauty.  Through worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:24), we experience God’s presence in a life-changing way.

Experiencing God’s Power in Trials

Even our trials can lead us into deeper encounters with God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7), comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), and strength that carries us through.  As we turn to Him, we experience His sustaining grace.

Experiencing God’s Character Through the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are not just moral qualities.  No, as we walk in step with the Spirit, He produces His fruit in our lives, whereby we experience His patience, joy, and kindness from the inside out.


The Invitation: Draw Near to God

God promises if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (Jam. 4:8).  So the ball is in our court.  Will you accept His invitation?  Will you ask the Lord for fresh encounters with Him, pray daily to behold His beauty, and let your head knowledge fuel your pursuit of heart change through experiencing Jesus?

Remember, God invites us into an intimate walk with Him, where we encounter His presence daily through prayer, worship, Scripture, and simply seeking Him.  As we taste and see His goodness, we are transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.  So, let’s shed religious rule-keeping and wholeheartedly pursue a relationship with Him.  Let’s draw near to Jesus today, and every day, expecting divine encounters that change our hearts, fuel our worship, compel us to share about Him, and ultimately fulfill our deepest purpose— which is to know and experience God through Christ our Lord.

So what are you waiting for?


The Higher Christian Life

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73:  Experiencing True Repentance from Psalm 51

73: Experiencing True Repentance from Psalm 51

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How to Experience God Through Repentance

In our quest for a deeper relationship with the Lord, we have been talking about what genuine repentance looks like in real-time.  And we found ourselves in the middle of Psalm 51, examining six key words in David’s prayer of repentance that show us how to not only receive forgiveness from the Lord, but how to experience His presence in the process.  And, as a reminder, the six key words found in Psalm 51:10-12 are as follows:

Please DoCreate in me a clean heart, O God, and
Please Dorenew a steadfast spirit within me.
Please Don’tDo not cast me away from Your presence, and
Please Don’tdo not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Please DoRestore to me the joy of Your salvation, and
Please Douphold me by Your generous Spirit.

But what do these words mean?  And how do they point us to a deeper Christian life of experiencing His presence when we come to Him in repentance?


(You, God) Create in Me a Clean Heart

After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David pleads,

“(You) Create (bārāʾ – to bring into existence, to create out of nothing, ex nihilo) in me (personal) a clean (ṭāhôr – clean, pure, genuine, free from moral impurity) heart (lēḇ – the immaterial part of man, the seat of a person’s mind, will, knowledge, volition, and emotions), O God (ʾelōhiym – the One True God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Sovereign One).”

He understood that he couldn’t make himself righteous through willpower alone.  No, David needed God to create something completely new in Him that he couldn’t do by himself.  The word “create” means to make something out of nothing, just as God created the universe by His word.

Likewise, we need the Lord to give us a pure, undefiled heart when we come to Him in repentance.  On our own, we can’t clean up the mess inside us.  God must perform heart surgery, transforming us from the inside out as we yield ourselves to Him.


(You, God) Renew a Steadfast Spirit Within Me

David also prays,

and (You) renew (ḥāḏaš – to restore, reestablish on a new or improved basis, to revitalize and make new or like new) a steadfast (kûn – to be marked by firm determination or resolution, to be unshakeable, to stand upright) spirit (rûaḥ) within me (personal).”

Though God cleansed David’s heart previously, he lost that wonderful experience through sin.  Now David asks God to restore what was lost, to “renew” and reestablish the steadfast spirit he once had.  David now understands he needs help staying firmly rooted in his commitment to the Lord because, left on his own, he will once again fail.

When we walk in sin and disobedience, we become spiritually unstable, often losing our zeal for God’s kingdom.  But through repentance, God renews our spirit, revitalizing our passion for Christ and His righteousness.


(You, God) Do Not Cast Me Away From Your Presence

Haunted by his grievous offenses, David worries about losing fellowship with God.  So he implores the Lord to,

“(You) Do not cast (šālaḵ – to throw, fling, to toss casually away, to dispose of) me (personal) away from Your (God) presence (pāniym – face, being before or in front of someone, proximity), and (You) do not take (lāqaḥ – grasp, seize, take away) Your Holy (qōḏeš – sacred, sanctified, set apart and consecrated to God) Spirit (rûaḥ) from me (personal).”

David fears being flung from God’s presence like worthless garbage because of his sin.  And we too, like David, must zealously guard our relationship with the Holy Spirit, who now permanently indwells believers under the new covenant.  Through Him, God makes His home in our hearts.  Sin still grieves and quenches the Spirit today, distancing us from intimate fellowship with God.  Thus, we must continually rely on Christ’s blood to cleanse our conscience and keep our access to the Father through the Spirit open and unhindered.


Restore to Me the Joy

David also prays,

“(You) Restore (šûḇ – to turn, return, to back, do again, to bring back into original existence, use, function or position) to me (personal) the joy (śāśôn – exultation, gladness, rejoicing, jubilation, an emotion of great happiness and pleasure) of Your (God’s) salvation (yēšaʿ – deliverance, rescue, help, preservation, the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil),”

David isn’t worried about losing his salvation.  Rather, he wants the delight and gladness that should flow from his salvation by God to overflow again.  He remembers the exuberance that once accompanied his walk with the Lord, but now, his tank feels empty.  He longs for that joy to bubble up afresh to energize his pursuit of Christ.

Many of us need to plead David’s prayer in our own life.  Do you “rejoice with exultation” over the salvation graciously extended to you in Christ (1 Peter 1:6, 8-9)?  Does your heart swell when reflecting on the wonder of being delivered by God from sin and condemnation?  If not, cry out to Him as David did.  Ask God to “restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”  Ask Him to unclog anything hindering the river of joy that should water your soul.


Uphold Me by Your Spirit

Finally, after begging for inner cleansing and transformation, David requests the Spirit’s ongoing sustaining grace:

and (You) uphold (sāmaḵ – sustain, support, bear up, establish, to supply with everything needed) me (personal) by (what) Your (God’s) generous (nāḏiyḇ – willing, noble, an attitude of heart that consents or agrees, magnanimous, is disposed or inclined towards, gladly willing) Spirit (rûaḥ).”

Even with a renewed heart, David knows he will stumble again without the Spirit’s help.  He needs the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide him to live faithfully before God and walk uprightly according to God’s truth.

And like David, you and I desperately require the Spirit’s daily empowerment to put sin to death and mirror Christ in our lives.  As Paul explains, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  So make it your continual prayer to depend completely on Him to uphold and steer you along righteous paths for God’s glory.


The Pathway to Restoration

We all need times of intensive spiritual repair and revival to realign our affections with Christ.  And God uses genuine repentance to bring us back to Himself.  But true repentance requires ruthless honesty, not superficial lip service.  So follow David’s example.  Pour out your heart before God.  Confess ways your love has grown cold.  Ask the Spirit to cleanse, renew, and uphold you afresh through His indwelling power.  Then, walk forward in newness of life and joy.

And go tell someone what God has done in your life.


The Higher Christian Life

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72:  Our Identity — Stop Striving, Start Abiding

72: Our Identity — Stop Striving, Start Abiding

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Embracing Who We Really Are

D.L. Moody, while on his European crusade in 1873, was so inspired by a conversation he had with British revivalist Henry Varley that he prayed:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with, and for, and through, and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  By God’s help, I am to be that man.”

This is the essence of the desire to be all God created you to be— to be “all in for Him,” as they say.   The problem is, after we conjure up the desire, we come face-to-face with the “how to.”  In other words, how do I surrender my life to the Lord?  How do I yield everything to him?  And how do I live a truly sanctified, higher Christian life?

In any other endeavor, we would find someone who is where we want to be and model our lives after them.  But we live in the Laodicean church age, and sold-out Believers are few, especially in the West.  So what are we to do?  What’s the next step?  And is there anything we can learn about surrender from even the obscure passages in Scripture that point us in the right direction?


What Does it Mean to be God’s Servant?

After God gave David rest from all his enemies and after he consolidated the kingdom to himself, David made what he thought was a pretty good request from the Lord.  After all, he reasoned, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains” (2 Sam. 7:2), and we can’t have that.   So he decided, after receiving less than stellar advice from the prophet Nathan, to take it upon himself to build a dwelling place for God, or more specifically, for the Ark of the Covenant.  And, on the surface, it seemed like a good idea, even somewhat noble.

But God was not amused, for neither David nor Nathan had sought the Lord in this matter.

In fact, God rebuked David twice for forgetting who he was as God’s servant, or “slave” (doúlos)— which, by definition, makes God the Lord and Master of all, including David.  So, in response to God’s stinging censure, David humbled himself profoundly before God’s rebuke.  He owned his true identity as a “servant” or “slave” (doúlos), and acknowledged it ten times in his brief exchange with God (vv. 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29).  That’s ten times in just eleven verses.

So, what transformed David’s perspective?  He simply recognized his true identity before God— not as a self-made king, but as a submitted servant or faithful slave (doúlos) to the Lord.

David’s example highlights that discipleship stems from knowing we belong wholly to God.  As Paul wrote, “You are not your own… you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Have we grasped this liberating truth?  We cannot experience God’s depths while still stubbornly clinging to personal rights and claims over our lives.  True freedom, paradoxically, comes through bonding ourselves permanently to our Master as His faithful servant, longing for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant (doúlos)” (Matt. 25:21).  Remember, God did not save us to be independent contractors employed in His service.  He has something much greater in mind.

Just like assuming a new family name changes the way we view ourselves, likewise, our core identity in Christ transforms how we approach life.  Living “all-in” starts by accepting that we now belong to Another— to Someone far greater than we can imagine.


Time to Re-Calibrate Your Identity

Perhaps it’s time to let Him recalibrate your identity like He did David.  His Word invites us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice… and be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2).  When we grasp God’s complete right to direct us, surrendering fully becomes the only reasonable response.  It is a natural outflow from the identity we now embrace— a faithful slave to the Most High King.

Let God begin the transformation of your identity today.


The Higher Christian Life

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71:  “Uh, My Bad,” Doesn’t Really Cut It Anymore

71: “Uh, My Bad,” Doesn’t Really Cut It Anymore

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Ten Aspects of True Repentance that Gets God’s Attention

Giving God a flippant “my bad” when we mess up just won’t cut it, no matter how hard we try to make it work.  Too often, we deal with our sin through superficial apologies, not grasping the gravity of how our choices offend our Creator and grieve His Spirit.

But in Psalm 51, David shows us a better way.  His raw, honest prayer of remorse models how genuine repentance can thoroughly transform us and restore our fellowship with God.  In his plea to God, David holds nothing back.  He pours out his grief and hope with both humility and longing, providing a template for the kind of confession that gets God’s attention and purifies us deep down.

David’s prayer reveals that repentance goes far beyond crisis management or trying to mitigate the consequences of our sins.  Instead, David walks through an intense spiritual restoration, launching him into greater intimacy with God and a commitment to remain faithful to his first love.  David finds joy and wholeness on the other side through his uncompromising honesty and hunger for spiritual renewal.

As we walk through ten key truths David models regarding repentance, may his prayer challenge each of us to put into practice what we will learn.  We, like David, cannot experience God’s full forgiveness and empowerment while still clinging to our besetting sins and flimsy excuses.  So, let’s look at these ten truths in the hope they will compel us toward the kind of soul-changing repentance that revives our passion for Christ and allows us to experience His presence.


One, David Owned Up to His Sin and Made No Excuses

The first step of repentance is openly admitting our wrong actions or attitudes without making excuses to justify ourselves.  David begins his prayer with raw honesty, saying, “For I acknowledge (yāḏaʿ) my transgressions, and my sin (singular) is always before (present) me” (v. 3).  He does not try rationalizing adultery and murder or to come up with some excuse for his actions.  David faces his evil deeds head-on, keeping no sin hidden from his awareness or accountability before God.  We display genuine repentance by owning where we have fallen short, without downplaying or explaining away our sin, or blaming someone else for our own actions.  The devil didn’t make you do it, you did.


Two, David Understood Who He had Sinned Against

Though David’s actions horribly wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, he confesses, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (v. 4).  Even when our sin affects others, we must recognize that all transgression violates God’s holy standard first, which is the greater sin— because all sin repels His glory.  So, by focusing on the root issue of offending God’s righteousness through sin, we gain a proper perspective of the evil of our actions, leading to our repentance.  Our sin grieves the very heart of God, and to Him first, we must repent before any others.


Three, True Repentance Comes from a Broken Spirit

David says a broken spirit and a contrite (crushed) heart reveal genuine humility (v. 17).  Religious sacrifices alone don’t move God’s forgiveness— contrition does.  Repentance requires altogether abandoning stubborn pride or entitlement or clinging to our self-justification and supposed “rightness” by honestly coming to terms with the gravity of our sin.  We must approach God, broken and shattered over the arrogance and self-centeredness corrupting our hearts, crying out for Him to create purity within us once again.


Four, Restoration From the One Offended

Though wracked with guilt, David focuses his hope on God’s power and willingness to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and (You) renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10).  He seeks inner renewal from the very Person his sin grievously hurt.  David’s hope of forgiveness and restoration rests securely in God’s compassion and drives out his guilt and shame by trusting that God wants to redeem this failure in his life— which, of course, He does.  Note: This doesn’t mean you can skate on asking others you have hurt for their forgiveness.  No, that will come, but only after you have first repented before God.  Restoration from Him is your first priority.  Restoration from others will follow in time.


Five, True Repentance Demands a Commitment to Change

Part of David’s appeal says, “Then (afterward) I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (v. 13).  He knows receiving such lavish grace now compels him into a life radically different from what he was before.  True repentance marries confession with an action plan to live differently by God’s standard.  We will inevitably slide backward if we only feel sorry but never address root heart issues.  Repentance demands embracing personal transformation and then allowing God to bring glory to Himself through His redeemed child.


Six, Repentance Means Trusting in God’s Overflowing Mercy and Love

Though David feels that the abundant mercy of God may seem inadequate for the wickedness of his actions (v. 1), he nevertheless rests entirely in God’s divine compassion, remembering God forgives even the chief of sinners.  He calls out, hope against hope, trusting God’s unmatched lovingkindness to triumph over the evil in his life.  So, no matter how far we have fallen, crying out in repentance means believing God can redeem anyone who comes with authentic humility— especially you and me.


Seven, We Must Walk in Freedom from Condemning Shame

David now begs for joy and gladness to replace his sorrow, asking God to uphold him by the Holy Spirit (v. 12).  He understands wallowing in self-hatred after forgiveness solves nothing and is an insult to the promises and nature of God.  Experiencing true repentance frees us from the paralyzing grip of guilt and shame.  Though sin’s consequences remain, and rightly so, we must embrace the healing God provides as no longer condemned sinners, but cleansed children of His.  And we glorify His mercy by walking forward in renewed peace and purpose.


Eight, We Must Use Our Restored Life to Bless Others

Forgiveness launches David into a new ministry, as it should each of us— as David now pledges his tongue will sing of God’s righteousness and teach others His truth (vv. 13-14).  Genuine repentance multiplies the ministry of redemption.  Like David, sharing our testimony offers fellow strugglers empathy, proving God patiently awaits every prodigal.  Our renewed lives remind others of how His mercy triumphs over the judgment of our sins.


Nine, We Should Desire Growth in His Wisdom and Character

Beyond removing sin’s burden, David urgently pursues deeper depth in his spiritual life by asking God to nurture truth and integrity and teach him wisdom within (v. 6).  Repentance sparks a revived appetite for the Word, prayer, and worship with others.  Remember, repentance is not about crisis management, but a launching pad for lifelong growth in understanding God and His character.


Ten, We Can Now Rejoice in His Complete Restoration

Even though the consequences of his sin remain, David ultimately sees past them to embrace the joy of full redemption his repentance provides.  He cries for God to “Make me hear joy and gladness, (why) that the bones You have broken may rejoice” (v. 8).  Repentance stands on God’s commitment that confession leads to a renewed relationship as our Father waits, ready to turn our mess into a message of hope for others.


Conclusion

David leaves no aspect of genuine repentance unaddressed through this raw, honest prayer for repentance.  He shows us exactly how to tear down stubborn strongholds and find complete redemption in Him.  Through brutal honesty, a desire for inner wisdom, commitment to change, and a firm trust in God’s mercy, David finds his supernatural restoration that is the byproduct of true repentance— and so can we.

David’s journey must now become our own.  We cannot run from pockets of willful sin or spiritual blindness, thinking God will fully use compromised vessels.  So, like David, we must do the hard part and plead for His Spirit to inspect every hidden corner in our lives— because shortcuts will not produce the deep spiritual health and wholeness we long for.  But as we fully open our lives to His correction, true forgiveness and restoration wait on the other side.

David discovered firsthand that true repentance opens the floodgates to renewed joy and purpose.  There is simply no better place to be than fully surrendered at the feet of Jesus.  In Psalm 51, David guides us step-by-step through confession, cleansing, and revival, which is critical for walking in new life.  I pray David’s bold prayer softens and strengthens us to experience the fullness of Christ’s promises to those who confess and forsake their sin.

If you need renewal and restoration because of your sins, no matter how small you may think them to be, follow David’s example.

And do it today.


The Higher Christian Life

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