An Ash Wednesday Prayer

Written by on February 22, 2023

Psalm 51, the Ash Wednesday psalm, is the acknowledged masterpiece of biblical self-knowledge. “I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.” No human being has ever looked at himself more unflinchingly than the author of this incomparable penitential psalm. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” On Ash Wednesday we acknowledge that God has a case against us, and we throw ourselves on his mercy.*

Fleming Rutledge


Psalm 51: 1-3 Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.


4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.


7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.


16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.


18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in,
repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us,
acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls
they can heave onto your altar!

Reflect and Respond:

  • Which paragraph within Psalm 51 (MSG) grabs your attention most today? And why?


  • As you read aloud and reflect upon this biblical prayer 3-4 times through, see if you can gather all the thoughts that come to your mind, and turn them into a written prayer to God…


*Fleming Rutledge, Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions (Eerdmans, 2021), 77.


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