Doing “Spiritual Laundry”

The Lenten season, as I said in my last blog, is a time of self-reflection. It is a time of confessing sin, and seeing our own lives through the lens of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Periodically and consistently we need to seek God’s forgiveness and be cleansed and renewed by him.

Laundry, for me, is inevitable. It never goes away permanently. Clothes always get dirty and always need my attention. My washer and dryer are my friends, since we spend so much time together….

Indeed, “spiritual laundry” is the daily, weekly, constant task of coming before God with our confession of sin. Lent is a perfect time to reflect on our lives and prepare for the sacrifice of Christ. “Spiritual laundry” is a cycle of joy, reality of sin, unclean depths of sin, brokenness and judgment, forgiveness, renewal of the Spirit, and joy again. We live in a “cesspool,” in a corroded “Worldpool.” Therefore, God is the “launderer;” he is the detergent that can cleanse us, inside and out. Only God can wash us “white as snow,” and he has promised to do so in his grace and lovingkindness. No matter how great the stain, God can recreate the repentant person, and can renew and restore joy in our lives. Thus, we can be free of the fear of judgment of God.

Psalm 51 is King David’s “spiritual laundry.” It is his humble prayer for forgiveness and cleansing after he recognized his dreadful sins. David, of course, had a great deal of power and influence in the nation of Israel. He was a “giant killer,” a military genius, and even “a man after God’s own heart.” Surely, he could do no wrong. But he did – adultery and murder. He could not hide his sin from God, and the well-being of the nation was a stake. Psalm 51, then, is a sincere lament of a contrite sinner, reflecting on his own “dirt” before a holy God.

King David teaches us that:

  1. God is gracious and shows lovingkindness and great compassion (v. 1).
  2. When we sin, we sin against God (v. 4).
  3. God is a just and holy God who is blameless when he passes judgment on us (v. 4).
  4. God cleanses us when we seek forgiveness (v. 2).
  5. God wants us to become wise and see truth in ourselves and in our mistakes (v. 6).
  6. God creates in us a clean heart when we ask him to forgive us (v. 10).
  7. God renews the correct (Holy) Spirit within us after we are forgiven (v. 10).
  8. God restores to us the joy of his salvation after we are renewed (v. 12).
  9. God sustains us with a willing spirit to seek righteousness and obedience after we have sinned (v. 12).

“Hyssop” (v. 7) is the new laundry detergent. This little bushy herb was used to cleanse and purge wounds and disease (i.e., leprosy). It was used to sprinkle blood on the alter during cultic sacrifices in the temple. Later on, in the Gospel of John, we read that hyssop was used to give Jesus a drink of vinegar (or “cheap wine”!) on the cross (Jn 19:29). This was (and is) a visual reminder of the sacrificial blood of Jesus spilled for the forgiveness of our sins (see the Passover reference, Ex 12:22).

The “great disparity” is that King David knew he acted absolutely against the will of God; but it was his desire to be “clean.” In spite of what he had done, he wanted desperately to remain in a relationship with God, and to continue to be filled with God’s Spirit (“do not cast me from your presence,” v. 11). He acknowledged his own sin and recognized that only God is his Savior (v. 14). Can you identify with this? Even the Apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do….For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Rom 7:14-20). Even the most pious believers have seeds of sin and rebellion in them. Like dirt and laundry, there is a persistent nature to sin (Rom 7:17), and it cannot be ignored (it gets stinky!).

Furthermore, David had a strong desire to praise God publicly, and to testify to others about God’s forgiveness and grace (vv. 13-15). When we confront our own sins, ask for forgiveness, and feel cleansed by God, it is easier to be more empathetic to other people. When we are truthful about our own short-comings and sins, we can more easily forgive the failures of others.

Confessed sins release the “dirt” in our lives, and we can rejoice in God’s cleansing. The renewal of our intimate relationship with God leads to a renewal of relationships with others. Forgiveness reconciles and reunites. This smells sweet because fear is gone, and our souls are refreshed.

Bless you as you reflect on Jesus this Lenten season!

Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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