The Spiritual Practice of Purity

UNPACKING THE BEATITUDE:

“Blessed are the pure in heart

for they will see God.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:8, NIV

Blessed are those who are innocent and still able to trust, who aren’t cynical or skeptical, who engage life at face value and believe that there is still a lot of good in our world, for they will see God. 

Blessed are you when you see the way God sees—out of an integrated sense of being, with no preconceptions or stereotypes—for then you’ll see the goodness, dignity, and value that God has woven into his world. 

Blessed are you when your heart is undivided and you don’t have to hide your dark side because God has cleaned things up for you, for you will see God.  

“Purity of heart is the very antithesis of the cynicism of worldly wisdom. Where cynicism sees through all that it beautiful and good and simple, to find murkiness within, purity of heart sees through ugliness and sin and pain and failure to find God within.” 

Father Simon Tugwell

A QUICK PRACTICE

When was the last time you saw the world with childlike eyes (trusting that it wasn’t when you were a child)? What did it feel like to be in that simpler, purer place? What’s keeping you from engaging life in this kind of way going forward? 

Keep this last question in mind over the next week and write down any reasons that come to mind. Then tape your list to the bathroom mirror and, every time you see it, ask God to make you young again. If you get a chance, read Psalm 51.

GOING DEEPER 

People come by their cynicism honestly. They’ve been ripped off enough to know the game is rigged. Everybody always wants something—and they’re going to take advantage of you. The truth is, bad things happen to everyone, and yet some manage to maintain their innocence—their positive outlook and purity of heart. They choose to stay soft and thoughtfully naïve toward the world. Because they’re pure in heart, they see God everywhere. 

If you want to see God everywhere then you need to become more pure in heart—but how? Ironically, you need to begin by looking at God. 

God, by nature, is pure in heart. God doesn’t manipulate, lie, or engage you under false pretenses. God keeps his promises (even when we can’t fully see how) and can always be taken at face value. So, if you want to become pure in heart again, you need to enter into a renewed relationship with God and replace all of your broken relational stories with a new story—with an “I will never leave you or forsake you, I promise” story. 

One of the challenges in stepping into this story is your cynicism. Is there a way to resolve this conundrum? 

The first step is to get honest with yourself and acknowledge that sin plays a huge part in your cynical heart. Even as others often “want what they want” in relationship with you, you want the same. This is hard to admit (selfishness always is), but it’s crucial for defusing duplicity. This is where a confession psalm like Psalm 51 can help. If you really want to step into a more innocent, childlike, and pure place, you need to let go of the things that have prematurely aged your heart. You need to let God clean you. While cynicism is fueled by two sources—we’ve been hurt, and we’ve hurt others (both create a hard shell)—the only source that we can really control is ourselves. 

When we come clean, we will be in a purer place—a more integrated place. Once we’re in that place we’ll get a clearer view of God’s face because, “blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God”.

A 21 DAY PURE IN HEART CHALLENGE

So, what if you chose to read Psalm 51 in a serious way? Say for 21 days? Every day you could follow the same pattern—first, you’d read the whole psalm through and then you’d focus more intensely on just two lines of the psalm. 

There’s an ancient spiritual practice called “breathing prayer” where you sync prayerful thoughts to your breathing pattern. 

For example, the first two lines of Psalm 51 would go like this:

(While inhaling you say in your mind) – “Have mercy on me, Oh God”

(While exhaling you say in your mind) – “According to your unfailing love”

Try it a few times. Of course, you can’t do this all day and still do life, but you can start your day this way and spend maybe 5 minutes in this meditative, prayerful state. 

Then maybe later in the day, there might be moments where you can pick up the practice and breathe a few more prayers. Then, for day two, you move on to the next two lines of the psalm, and so on. Following are 21 pairings of Psalm 51 lines—a 21 day pure in heart challenge. Why not try this for 3 weeks and see what difference it makes? 

“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.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.


Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;


so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.


Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.


Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.


Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.


Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.


Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.


Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.


Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,


 And my tongue will sing

   of your righteousness.

 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.


You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.


My sacrifice, O God, 

   is a broken spirit;


 A broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”

One last bit of context on Psalm 51, it was written by King David after he got busted by the prophet Nathan for lusting after and taking advantage of Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah—one of his soldiers). To cover his tracks, David had Uriah killed. 

It’s important to know that this psalm was born out of a lack-of-purity context. Yet, even as David committed this horrible crime, God still used him to do many good things. In fact, God considered David, “a man after his own heart”. God could have been cynical toward David, but God’s not like that.

SEEING WITH A PURE HEART

The apostle Paul wrote, “To the pure all things are pure.” 

Who we are impacts how and what we see. Those who are pure in heart can recognize purity everywhere. Their openness to goodness gives them more with which to perceive God’s goodness. Like a fully opened aperture on a camera lens, their lives are wide open to God. Their purity enables a receptivity that lets God’s light in. 

So, practicing a pure in heart stance in life is a way to exercise your capacity to see God. God still needs to be the first mover in any experience of God, but when God does move, the pure in heart will notice.

Because the pure in heart have honed their sensitivity to beauty, they’re able to see God’s beauty. Because they radically trust others, they’ve stretched their capacity to more fully trust God. Because they are the kind of person who always sees good in others, they really are better able to see the goodness of God.

A PURE IN HEART PRAYER

Lord, it’s a struggle to be pure in heart.

Sometimes I’m just like King David—my desires are so corrupted.

Too often I feel like I’ll never find my innocence again. 

My pride and selfishness constantly disintegrate me.

And so, I pray,

Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord, 

and renew a right spirit within me.

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