Purify my heart

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is another devotional song, “Purify my heart”.  Although relatively recent (like all the songs in this book – this one was written c.1990) it has become popular in many churches. Unlike yesterday’s song which was corporate (“Father, hear our prayer”) this one is personal (“Purify my heart”) and it fits the theme of Lent, as it asks Jesus (not named but it is obviously He who is being addressed) to “purify my heart” in various ways.

The first verse asks that I become “as gold and precious silver … as gold, pure gold”.  This, and the chorus (addressing Jesus as the Refiner’s Fire) refer to Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, where the Lord’s messenger is said to be coming like a refiner’s fire to “sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” to refine the descendants of Levi (i.e. the Temple priests) “like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).  In other words, it is asking Jesus to strip away all the impurities that are preventing me from serving him as I should.  

The second verse is more direct: “cleanse me from within and make me holy … cleanse me from my sin, deep within”.  It recognises that sin is not just my relationship with the outer world – the things I say and do wrong – but also my inner life, my thoughts, desires and attitudes.  Those are harder to deal with, and that’s why I have to ask Jesus to deal with them.  The other prayer in the chorus is that I should be “set apart for you, ready to do your will”.  So the purification of the inner person is not only for my own sake but so that I can serve Jesus better.

1 thought on “Purify my heart”

  1. This song is popular among the younger end of our congregation here, so features regularly at St Luke’s Eccleshill. It functions as a cross between confession and dedication: the imagery of purifying and refining a precious metal seems to ring bells with people nowadays, and the line “I choose to be holy” is helpful in reminding us that we have the choice of cooperating with God’s Holy Spirit in the activity of changing us for his greater glory.

    On the other hand, there is something stronger than conscious choice keeping us from being perfectly good and holy, and I guess we all feel a little hypocritical when we are asked to join in singing “My heart’s ONE desire is to be holy” – of course we all have many desires, some of which wage war against the Spirit within us. I cannot say I’m completely easy singing this song!

    I’m reminded of one of C S Lewis’s books in which he says something like “vice is all the same, but virtues are all different” – we imagine all the saints are clones of each other and all the villains are individual in their villainy, whereas actually the opposite is true. When God has refined us, we may all be pure gold but we will be gloriously individual as working together for God’s good purposes.

    * * *

    On the music, I suppose I ought to repeat what I said earlier about off-beat syllables. The ends of lines 1 and 3 are notoriously difficult for congregations to sing together. In its conception this is a soloist’s song, and it shows.

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