In addition to my usual post-church grocery shopping routine, this morning I took the time to take my van through the automatic car wash. It was about six months overdue. As I unpacked my groceries, I admired my mostly clean and shiny car and thought to myself, “I need to do this every week.”
Clean feels so good.
Having a clean van is like that “so smooth, so clean” feeling I get after my six-month dental checkup. Or when I clean my refrigerator or windows and screens… or reorganize my pantry or closet… or weed my yard… or clean my desk after grading an entire stack of essays… That feeling of freshness feels so good, it motivates me. I leave the dentist determining to either floss or use my WaterPik every day in addition to brushing. I view my cleaned, organized refrigerator or pantry or closet and pledge to rotate stock and keep everything in its place. I admire the shine on the windows and lack of spider webs on the screens and believe this is something I can maintain. I walk through my yard and see the plants smiling and thriving because the weeds aren’t there choking them, and I think if I “just” pluck a few weeds every day, I can keep the yard looking this good. And if I could figure out a way to swiftly grade essays so to keep the pile from forming, I would resolve to keep my desk clean too.
Maintaining cleanliness seems so easy. Right?
But, like my typical list of New Year’s Resolutions, I carry out my great intentions—only for awhile. My van gets dirty and the car wash is on the other side of town, which I never seem near except when I have frozen food in the car and no time to stop. Late night follows late night, messing with my intention to floss. Someone else puts away the dishes or the groceries or the items we cleared from the dinner table—and my organization has fallen by the wayside. My job calls much louder than my plants, and so the weeds encroach once again. I find I simply must offer students feedback on their writing and begin to stack high the pile on my desk…
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, we say. So is the road to uncleanliness—in my house and yard, my classroom, my car, and my heart.
Several months ago we replaced our dishwasher. Our previous, more than a decade old, dishwasher had been failing for years; to get our dishes clean, we had to add bleach to every load, and we still didn’t have the results we wanted. When we started using the new machine, we got dishes that looked like new—shiny and clean—without adding bleach! But several weeks ago, I began to notice a change. Instead of shiny, sparkling glasses and spotless dishes, the dishes I was putting away seemed to have a milky coating. The machine itself seemed to smell bad, too. Was my new machine failing so soon?
Turning to the source of all knowledge and hope (the Internet), I found my problem was likely a combination of hard water and government regulations that removed phosphates from dishwasher detergents. Thus began a search for the best detergent for my situation and a happy solution—and sparkling glasses. But it required an intense desire, a thorough search, a deep cleansing of my machine, as well as a new detergent and routine use of it. Now I have an effective cleaner and will be using it to keep this level of cleanliness in my dishwasher.
All of these situations remind me of the state of my spiritual life.
It seems I have many instances in which I cry out to God David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). In those moments, I sense God’s presence, feel the changes He makes in my heart, and determine to muscle out my faith, retaining the clean heart. It is often a painful, introspective process that requires action, though it is worth whatever it takes. Clean feels so good. What if I could simply maintain that clean feeling?
But like the thorny weeds in the parable of the Sower and the seed, I “hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b-19, ESV). Like my van, my dental care, my home, my classroom, my dishwasher, if I am not vigilant, I will find myself moving from cleanliness to something much less.
Today my van is mostly clean but not perfect. Had I diligently maintained it from the start, it would be clean and perfect. I didn’t. Perhaps after I diligently get the vehicle washed week after week, I will find that it looks much better than it does today. I suspect it would.
I think about my heart in the same way. Mark 4 continues with the parable of the Sower and the seed, saying:
But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20, ESV).
Imagine the fruit my heart, if I had maintained its good soil, might have born in all these years. Proverbs 4:23 says:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ESV).
Like my van, with its neglected washings, I likely won’t ever achieve the cleanliness and perfection I might have had I performed my intentions instead of paving the way to uncleanliness with them. I regret the fruit I have not produced, the growth I personally have not experienced because I have allowed the “cares of this world… and the desires for other things” to pervade instead.
But I can get my van cleaned again—much sooner than six months from now—and God can clean my heart as well.
I suspect what phosphates are to dishwashers, God’s Word is to my heart.
The prescription for cleanliness? It is much like my search for an effective dishwasher cleanser. Desire, search, cleanse, and employ God’s Word daily. (It is truly the source of all knowledge and hope.)