What Does a Broken and Contrite Heart Mean?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:17 KJV).

The Psalmist reveals that God values a broken spirit so highly it serves as a sacrifice, surpassing even animal offerings. But what does it mean to have a broken and contrite heart before God?

Scripture describes at least two types of broken hearts. The first originates from life’s challenges, like relationship struggles or financial woes. Paul refers to this as “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10), and Isaiah speaks of an anointing that heals these kinds of broken hearts (Isa. 61:1). However, this is not the brokenness David addresses in Psalm 51:17.

The term “broken” in Psalm 51:17 aligns with its parallel term “contrite,” revealing its meaning through the Psalm’s backstory. Contrite refers to the “pain or sorrow for sins or offenses,” akin to Paul’s “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). It implies sincere remorse for our sins and genuine sorrow for offending God.

The story behind Psalm 51 illustrates this clearly. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then arranged for Uriah’s death. Confronted by the prophet, David humbly acknowledged his sins, broke down in sorrow, and pleaded for God’s mercy.

God values such contriteness so much that even Ahab, considered one of Israel’s worst kings, prompted God to reverse His judgment when Ahab humbled himself before God (1 Kings 21:29).

Only one thing is worse than committing a sin: either refusing to acknowledge it or, even worse, attempting to justify or defend our actions. This leads to a dangerous state where the conscience becomes seared (1 Timothy 4:2) or the heart hardens like a rock (Hebrews 3:13).

There is only one safe place for humanity after we commit sin—at the feet of the cross, not in shame, guilt, or self-justification. At the cross, God’s mercy is guaranteed. 

Meditate

Reflect on the two types of broken hearts described above. Which aligns with your experience?

Apply the Word

A contrite heart recognizes sin and turns away from it. In contrast, a proud or stony heart seeks to justify or even defend sin. Always keep your heart tender before God to prevent your conscience from hardening.

Pray

Ask the Father to help you sustain a soft, receptive heart in His presence at all times.

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