by Rev. Dr. David Welle, Professor of Theology for SEU Ohio
As we step into the new year, Christian leaders find spiritual renewal by remembering with Luther that, “All the Christian life is repentance.” Prayers of confession and repentance refresh and restore our souls, as David’s experience shows. I have often marveled at the fact that David kept his vital devotion to God and a good conscience despite his grievous sins against God. How did these awful sins, especially adultery and murder, not alienate him from God and spoil his communion with Him? How did David remain a “man after God’s heart” after committing such heinous acts of flagrant disobedience? How did he not condemn and disqualify himself from leadership in response to his disastrous moral failures?
I see two things that saved David from self-recrimination, despair and disqualification. 1) David trusted in God’s gracious readiness to forgive sin in response to a sincere admission of guilt paired with genuine repentance. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psa. 51:1,2). His sincere contrition led to sincere repentance: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10).
2) David understands that God is most concerned with the condition of his heart, far more than pious actions: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (vv. 16,17). David seeks God himself as the highest prize rather than God’s continued blessing on his leadership. Paradoxically, disregarding his status as a leader and embracing servanthood secured his authority to lead up to the very end of his life.
In a conclusive act, David exhorted Solomon to lead in the same way he had led, with wholehearted devotion and penitent honesty. “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chron. 28:9).
To every Christian leader and potential leader: Don’t let guilt over moral failures, as serious and terrible as they may be, cripple your service to the Lord and his people. Instead, admit your guilt and failure to God, repent and turn to God with the deep assurance that God has atoned for your sin at the cross and will not only forgive but also cleanse and restore. Receive this foundational blessing by faith and then, with full confidence that your sin has not nullified God’s faithfulness, serve God and His people in the way David exhorted Solomon to serve: “Be strong and do [God’s] work” (1 Chron. 28:10).
Vibrant, lasting, spiritual leadership emerges from prayers of repentance.