Behavior modification is often the method sought out by well meaning mothers and fathers parenting children, whether the children come from hard places or not. See a behavior you don’t like? Let’s change it. There are a variety of methods available for behavior change, some more parent-child connecting than others, some actually harmful to the parent-child relationship. But what they all have in common is the belief that at the root of mankind’s problem are some behaviors we need to be altered by renovating or making over what is already there.
King David knew this is not the way toward lasting change. And he needed lasting change.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.Psalm 51:10-12
This is David’s prayer after becoming overwhelmed with the weight of his sin. He prays for something he doesn’t currently have – a heart clean from corruption that stems from sin. In Hebrew clean heart is lev tahor. Lev is heart and tahor is clean. To the ancients (the ones to whom the scriptures were written) heart didn’t mean that blood pumping organ, and it didn’t mean just where we ‘feel’ things; it meant the seat of the mind and will. We moderns might think of the brain to be the seat of these things, but to David it was in the heart that not only emotion lay, but also volition (the power of one’s will) and cognition (thinking).What made him him resided in the heart.
What David recognizes is that he needs something new, and a plain reading of this verse in English suggests that. But there is something wonderful that is hidden within the Hebrew language that is missed in English. Hebrew has two words that are translated as create: bara and yatsar. Of course David knows these two words and their significant differences.
David does not use the standard verb which means to do, to fashion, to make (yatsar), referring to shaping something from existing material. Instead, David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), uses the Creator verb, bara’. Bara’ is about bringing into being something that was not there before. “In the beginning God bara’ the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Bara’ is only used in the scriptures with God as the object. Only God can make something out of nothing.
David’s lev houses the essence of who he is and he knows that it is inadequate to be ‘re-built’ by anything already existing. In other words, he can not provide this building project himself – only God can bara’. David doesn’t need a renovation project, he needs a new house; he doesn’t need a makeover, he needs a new birth.
David teaches us that we can’t reform ourselves apart from God creating a new heart in the way that only He can. It is Creation week all over again.
May we look for only for that which brings lasting behavior change to your life and the lives of your children. Quick fixes through behavior modification only shape what is already there. Pray that God will bara – it is what He is so good at!
(Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Proverbs 127:1)