Not a Clean Shirt, But a Clean Heart

Word of Life reflection: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

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4 min read

Imagine this scene with me. You have a big date this evening. You really like this person; they might even be “the one.” You pull up to the restaurant where you will meet your date for a night of conversation and wooing. You take one last look in your car’s vanity mirror. Wait. What’s that on your shirt? Mustard! How could you have missed that? As you regret your lunch choice and swear off mustard forever, you frantically lick your thumb and try to clean the shirt. But as you do, you notice something else. Your breath…it stinks! You start to look for some breath mints and can’t find any in your car. What a disaster! 

I’ll stop there as I’m sure many of us feel anxiety just imagining a situation like this. We have a sense that for something as important as love, we should do what we can to be prepared, to clean up and look good. Now, of course, mustard stains and bad breath are relatively minor things when it comes to a deep relationship, as those of you who are married can tell me. As we grow closer to someone, we realize that it is the heart that makes them beautiful and desirable. 

With this in mind, we can better sense the anguish of King David as he sings Psalm 51, where our Word of Life comes from, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” The most important relationship in David’s life is the one he has with the Lord. David had a good heart; he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). And yet, David messed up. He did something way worse than forget breath mints. David’s sin went to the depth of violence and lust that humans can commit (check out 2 Samuel 11-12 to read all about it). David recognizes that his sin has caused his heart to become unclean and there is no amount of soap and water in the world that will clean it. Only God can do that. 

Let’s go back to our imagined date. You give up on cleaning your shirt and realize you can’t do anything about your bad breath. But you really, really like this person so you go on your date anyways. As you walk into the restaurant, there is your beloved, holding a brand-new shirt and a whole case of Tic Tacs. Your uncleanness is met by mercy. 

This is a pale image of what God does in his loving mercy. He gives us a clean heart. He gives us a new spirit of holiness. He makes right everything that we get wrong. No matter what you have done, no matter how many regrets still haunt you, no matter how much shame you carry, God forgives all. 

God desires a deep and abiding relationship with each of us. In his goodness, he doesn’t wait for us to get clean before loving us. Rather, he loves us first by making us clean. This was the work of Jesus Christ in his Cross and Resurrection. We all have places in our hearts where we feel most unlovable; this month’s Word of Life calls us to receive the truth that those are the places where God most wants to love us by showing us his mercy. 

King David received the forgiveness he asked for and was restored to relationship with God. At the time of David, only clean things were allowed near God’s sanctuary, and only clean animals could be offered in sacrifice. By asking for a clean heart, David is asking to be allowed in God’s presence and to make his heart a living sacrifice before God. God accepts this sacrifice by cleansing David’s heart. 

This month do not let your sins keep you from God. Remember he is the “the one.” He is the one who wants to love us for all eternity as we live in relationship with him in Heaven. He is the one who can make us clean if only we ask. 

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”            

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