June 16, 2022
If you’ve ever felt the need to start with a clean slate after a rough spell—and who hasn’t?—it helps to have a clean heart at your core. Like king and prophet David in Psalm 51:10, you can ask God to “create in me a clean heart.”
I think of the woman at the well. She was drawing drinking water, no doubt, but I like to think some of her water was drawn for cleaning. She wanted to clean up her home, get rid of grime on walls and floors. Her personal life was also messy, with five husbands and in a relationship with a sixth man. She has a long conversation with Jesus and no longer needs water from the well. She drops her pot and runs to tell others in her village the good news of living water flowing from Jesus, the Messiah.
This woman’s spirit was cleansed in her encounter with Jesus. Instead of drawing water from the well, she drew “living water” from a different, spiritual source. She changed from being a skeptical, rote follower of her religion to a fresh new believer knowing Jesus as God’s Messiah. Her image in the village changed from outcast to hero when she told other people about meeting Jesus. Most importantly, after her conversation with Jesus, she saw herself as someone worth loving because God loved her. She saw herself as God saw her—fresh and clean.
In Jesus’ ministry on earth, he cleaned or cleansed many people’s bodies and hearts. The lame, blind, and diseased were healed; those bitter from life’s experiences gained a new perspective, and people possessed by evil spirits were relieved. All these afflicted people were made new or clean by contact with Christ.
A particularly popular time for cleaning our hearts and inside our homes is in spring, during the Christian observation of Lent. While property owners clean out the garage, steam carpets, and rake the lawn, Christians traditionally pray, fast, and give to charity to reflect on and prepare for the ultimate clean-up act of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.
When David prayed “Create in me a clean heart,” he used the same Hebrew verb that is used in Genesis 1:1 for the creation of the world, a cosmic cleansing before starting anew from scratch. The scope of this type of cleansing is as wide as it was in the years of Noah’s voyage on the ark. Noah and his family walked on to dry land with nothing cluttering their hearts, minds, and physical world. The sins of the previous world were washed away.
David knew a redirection of his desires and thoughts could only come about through the intervention of God, a cosmic cleansing, when he prayed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). David received a clean heart from God. His sins were washed away.
When we confess and pray for a clean heart, God will give us a new life, pleasing to Him.
As it is written in the New Testament: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
David wrote Psalm 51 when he was feeling guilty for sins that he thought could sever or disrupt his relationship with God and ruin his career as king of Israel. David wanted a fresh start and a clear conscience. His actions were huge mistakes, and he wanted his spirit to recover and his life to move on.
David sinned by having an affair with Bathsheba, a beautiful, married woman he had lusted after when he gazed at her bathing from the roof of his palace at night. David sent for her to come to him. Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child.
Her husband Uriah was a soldier in David’s army. David tried to arrange for Uriah to go back to his house and wife at night during Uriah’s military service, to make it appear he was the father of Bathsheba’s baby, but Uriah remained with his fellow soldiers.
Since he couldn’t set up Uriah as the father of Bathsheba’s baby, David had his general Joab put Uriah in the front lines of battle, intentionally positioning Uriah to be killed. After she mourned her first husband, Bathsheba married David, but the child of their affair died.
Life did not look good for David at this point. He was downtrodden and suffering for his sins. The prophet Nathan told David God was angry with him.
David’s adultery and premeditated murder added up to quite a laundry list of sins. He prayed to God for forgiveness in Psalm 51, and his life was restored. He prospered as king of Israel, leading his people. He had a child, Solomon, the next great leader of Israel, with his second wife of many in a polygynous society. His last words in 2 Samuel 23: 3b-5a reflect David’s clear conscience at his death:
“When one rules over men with righteousness, When he rules in the fear of God, He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning . . . Is not my house right with God?”
In a New Testament nod to David, Paul praises the second king of the Israelites in his summary of the Jewish people’s history. Paul prophesies, “I (God) have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). Paul is preaching to the new church, telling its history from their ancestors’ days in Egypt to the birth of Jesus, a direct descendant of David.
In Psalm 51:2, David asks God to “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” In verse 3, David expresses his guilt when he writes “my sin is ever before me.” David is optimistic that God will forgive all of his sins when he writes “…wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness” (Ps 51:7). Verses 10 and 11 are key verses. David asks directly for a clean heart and a renewed spirit:
“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.”
The Holy Spirit in this context meant the power to accomplish tasks in one’s role in life, to have a purpose. David, king of Israel, did not want to lose his position ruling over Israel. He did not want the scandal of his sins to ruin his political career.
We can bring our dirty laundry to God and clean out our closets with dingy items from our past. God will forgive us and remove our sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). God can make all things new (Revelation 21:5). I feel cleaner already.
What Does a Renewed Spirit Look Like?
When the snow finally melts and the sun shines longer each day, you might notice the mud outside and dirt and dust on the walls or floors. I’ve looked at dust particles in rays of sunshine and felt overwhelmed by housecleaning needs. After some effort in scrubbing and dust mopping, I have enjoyed looking over my cleaner house.
A renewed spirit is like a freshly cleaned house or mowed lawn. It looks and smells marvelous. The order and symmetry of a spruced-up house give peace to the person who made order out of chaos. It also gives peace to visitors and casual observers passing by. Similarly, a renewed spirit exhibits the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). These fruits keep producing in our lives and spread to others.
I wish my house could stay permanently clean. It’s nice to look at a freshly vacuumed rug, to spell floral scents in the bathroom and lemon wafting from dust mopped wooden floors. Within a day or so, however, my dogs have brought in sticks, crumpled leaves, and other debris from the yard. Pet and human smells take over in a few more days. Pretty soon I must clean again to avoid the chaos of dirt.
Rituals and cycles of cleaning are helpful for staying on track with household chores. Every May I rototill my garden to get rid of weeds and clumps of dirt. Every September I paint shabby surfaces outdoors. Every spring Christians observe the Lenten traditions of prayer, fasting, and giving alms. Out with the old and in with the new—physically and spiritually.
Sometimes I procrastinate in cleaning. The longer a cleaning job is neglected, the worse the dirt grows. If David had wallowed in his guilt and not confessed his sins to God, his heart would never have healed. Sometimes we withhold confession, believing our sin is too great for God to forgive. Or, we think that because we can’t forgive ourselves, perhaps God can’t forgive us. It is important to get past this step of feeling unforgiven. Forgiving ourselves is a difficult chore; God, however, easily forgives us. He can clean up our act.
And after Jesus healed people, he told them in numerous cases, “Your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22, Luke 17:19). The word “well” in this passage is used in a way similar to how the word “wellness” is used today. It includes physical and mental health, with renewed purpose. Like Old Testament David, who resumed his leadership role as king of Israel, God’s forgiveness blesses the rest of our life.
Change in the hearts of biblical people enabling them to flourish in a new life. Everyone touched by Christ received a clean slate after their encounters with Him. They moved on with purpose.
The same pattern of letting “dirt” build-up may affect our relationship with God. Little messes creep in the door of our hearts. Before long, without some housekeeping, our insides are a mess. To renew our spirits, we have the blessing of being able to confess our sins and receive forgiveness from God. This can occur on a regular basis. Then we get that brand-spankin’ new feeling of a renewed spirit. We are forgiven and “clean” to take on the next phase of our Christian walk.
Cleaning is continual, unfinished business. It may be a service we perform or something we get assistance with accomplishing from children or a cleaning lady. Whatever the case, there will always be dirty dishes in the sink and leaves on the lawn. In the same regard, we need to be vigilant of the cleanliness of our hearts. Regularly confessing our shortcoming to God—and receiving His forgiveness—removes the stains and cobwebs on our soul. After God works on us, we continue our Christian walk with a clean heart.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Helin Loik-Tomson
Betty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published memoir Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com.
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