The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

Psalm 51:17

The book of the Bible that you will hear quoted most often in church is the book of Psalms. There are Psalms read at Orthros, Vespers, Paraklesis, Compline, Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, the Salutations and at all the Holy Week services, and there are references to the Psalms in hymns at baptisms, weddings and funerals. During the Divine Liturgy, there are also references to the Psalms in certain hymns and the priest prays Psalm 50/51 quietly before the Great Entrance.

One of the things that makes reading the Psalms so beneficial is that the 150 Psalms captures every human emotion and circumstance. You can read all 150 and make a list of which Psalms evoke which emotions, and which Psalms match your various moods and then you can return to the appropriate Psalms at the appropriate times in your life for comfort and encouragement.

This Prayer Team unit has focused more on our setbacks than on our triumphs and that is because Great Lent is about the need for repentance, not a time for self-congratulations. As we are at the half-way point of Great Lent, hopefully these messages are striking a chord within you in some way.

Today we will focus on two selections from the Psalms, that reassure us that God is near to us in our difficult times. First, Psalm 51:7 reads “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise.” This verse answers two questions: What can we bring to God? And Where do we begin when we’ve become lost in our spiritual journey? The answer to both questions is “humility.”

Sin is caused by a focus on ourselves and our needs. The two great commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. When we sin against God, we take our focus off of Him and put it on ourselves. When we sin against our neighbor, we take focus off of both God and our neighbor. The first step in coming back to God, regardless of what sin we have committed, is to take the focus off of ourselves and put it back on God and our neighbor. This idea of taking focus off of ourselves is one of the important aspects of being humble. The thing that God wants from us is US, all of us. He wants us to be putting Him first. There are plenty of people throughout history who have made offerings of money to God, but whose lifestyle is not in sync with Him. God wants our hearts, He wants us, and once we give ourselves to Him, all the other things naturally follow.

When we’ve become lost on our spiritual journey, undoubtedly the reason is that we’ve fallen through sin, or have forgotten about God. We either live for Him, or we live for ourselves. There can be only one priority, one “number one” focus, and that’s either God or it is not. When we’ve fallen away from God, the best way to come back is through humility, an intentional refocusing on Him.

The second Psalm selection is Psalm 34:17-22. This Psalm is read at the conclusion of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. It sends us out the door, back into the world, with words of encouragement:

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

When we feel like we’ve been kicked to the curb in life, either because of our own doing, or because we’ve been a victim of someone else’s sin, these words provide comfort that God is near, especially in the times we feel brokenhearted and when our spirits have been crushed. There is a warning to everyone who tries to follow after the righteousness of God, to anyone who is sincere about their faith, and that is that afflictions will follow. Every human life is afflicted with something—it might be a physical or mental limitation. And certainly we are continually assaulted by temptations from the devil. Those who are seeking righteousness are attacked even more. The Psalmist warns those who oppose the righteous, those who assault God’s people and tempt them—they will be condemned. However, no one who seeks after God will be condemned; rather, they will be redeemed.

We are to be assured that the Lord indeed is near when our hearts have been broken. And we are also encouraged to stay close to the Lord in these moments. He is near to us, whether we realize it or not.

Most of us are familiar with the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” There are several versions of this and authorship of the poem is disputed. Here is the version of Carolyn Carty, published in 1963.

One night a man had a dream.

He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My son, My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried You.”


The contrite heart recognizes that it is too self-absorbed, and puts it focus back on God, confident that God is near to us at all times, particularly in the times when our hearts are breaking. Humility helps us to wait for the Lord, and to allow Him to carry us in our moments of confusion and sadness.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
For me You are the Fountain of life and the Destroyer of death; and form my heart I cry to you before the end: I have sinned, be merciful to me and save me.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Three, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Humility and contrition are good places to start, or restart, when we get off track on our spiritual journey. And they are the best to focus on when the journey is going well, so as to not get off track.