Hope Builder #7: Stop Scrubbing, Let God Clean Up

Humorist Erma Bombeck wrote, “Dirt. It’s what makes your life miserable. There’s dirt on the dishes. There’s dirt in the diaper. There’s dirt on the rug. There’s dirt everywhere. You spend all your time fighting against dirt…and what do you get for all your years of trouble? Six feet of dirt!”  

Cleaning up our lives is harder than we imagine! Cars, floors and clothes don’t clean themselves. After visiting a friend’s home, my wife wondered how they kept it so tidy.  Having once stopped by their home unexpected, I encouraged her with truth, “They’re not that clean!”

Dirt is everywhere. It is an unyielding competitor. Attending a funeral, reminds us dirt will win the championship match.  What’s true of physical dirt, is also true of spiritual dirt. Sin is everywhere. Sin is an unyielding competitor. Sin always ends in death. These are sobering words for any person aiming to clean up their life.

In Haggai 2:11-14 God shares a miserable secret about the power of dirtiness:

“Ask the priest about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat… and [it] touches…stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’”

The priests answered, “No.” 

“If someone who is unclean… touches any of these, does it become unclean?” 

The priests answered [yes].” 

“So it is with this people. . . every work of their hands and what they offer there is unclean.”

You don’t have to be an expert in the Levitical law to understand the point. Dirty things are more powerfully contagious than clean things. Israel’s efforts to clean up their situation was not working. They were like doctors operating with bacteria infested hands.   

The Bible (not merely Haggai) caustically reflects a reality we hate to admit – all things being equal dirty things win. Sickness will eventually defile health, guilt will stain innocence, aging will rot away beauty (and strength), and death will end life. Try as we might, dirt clings like a relentless malignancy. You may fight it off for a season, but it comes back with a vengeance. Like Sauron’s ring, in The Lord of the Rings, no man can resists its power.

You might ask, “How does such a despairing thought lead to hope? George Bernanos said, “In order to be prepared to hope in what does not deceive, we must first lose hope in everything that deceives.”

Haggai gives us a gift because he detaches us from unrealistic expectations. Not that we despair of cleaning messes in our lives.  We simply expect constant and exhausting scrubbing. Plus we don’t expect cleanliness to last. Haggai forces us to abandon the false hope that we are sufficient to wash away the grime — of our sinful hearts and our sinful world. Haggai forces us back to God. Only God has the power to wash away all forms of dirtiness.

When we touch dirty things — disease, sin and death; the result is contamination. But when God touches dirty things the result is transformation. Jesus touched the Leper and did not become unclean.  Rather, He cleansed the Leper.  Jesus touched the dead and raised them to life. The cross (even as a political symbol) was cleansed of its shame and became a sign of God’s love and power.  

The next time you are frustrated and exhausted by your war against dirt (in all its forms) stop scrubbing so furiously. Instead ask God to cleanse it.

Surprised by your dirt? Confess your pride, jealousy, greed, anger, lust, and bitterness to God. Ask God to forgive you. He will wash away all shame. Jesus’ blood is the only cleansing agent that cuts through the stain caused by sin. Let his lovingkindness and beauty captivate your heart for purity. Let his abiding presence protect you from defiling yourself again.

Grossed out by other’s dirt? Maybe you’re nauseated by a self-absorbed roommate, an apathetic spouse or a hypocritically harsh boss. Ask God to grant you patience and humility. Commit yourself to loving with honesty. But spend less time arguing with them and spend more time asking God to show them their dirt. Trust God’s power to reach into the nooks and crannies of their heart and cleanse them.

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