The street sweeper came by today. My heart got happy at the sound of the big machine coming down the street, not like a child who is fascinated by its big swirling brushes, but because I love it when our street is wiped clean of its wintery debris.
Our neighborhood is filled with large old growth fir and cedar trees as well as oak, birch and other deciduous trees. As is typical of Portland, trees are spared in the midst of development as much as possible. This makes for a beautiful city, but for very messy yards and streets in the rainy, windy season.
A few people in our neighborhood try to fight the battle on their own. They get out there with brooms and shovels and fill their compost cans to overflowing. Their yard and the street in front of their house looks great, until the next batch of rain and wind blows in. I've tried to follow their example, but, to me it's an exercise in frustration and futility.
A few days ago, some city workers came by with shovels and brooms and scraped the biggest piles of debris away from the storm drains. It was a sign to me that within a few days, the street sweeper would be coming by. I was so thankful to hear him approaching this morning, and even more thankful that there were no cars parked in front of my house as happens all too often on our overcrowded street. When the street sweeper comes by on those days, he can't get his huge machine around the cars, so the street in front of my house stays dirty. But not today, today he was able to clean in front of my house, and for good measure, he backed up and did it again, since there's a storm drain nearby that gunk accumulates around.
"You need to get a life!", may be what you're thinking about now, as I write on and on about the excitement of clean streets. The truth is, God spoke an analogy to my heart about the street sweeper.
Like the street sweeper, God sent His Son, Who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, all for the purpose of doing what we cannot do on our own. We cannot cleanse ourselves from sin. Like some of my neighbors, we can try to do all of the right things, we can work and work and work, to get ourselves clean, but it's an exercise in futility. Just like our neighborhood is filled with trees, every person's heart is filled with sin. Sweep and shovel and shovel and sweep, but we all need help bigger than ourself to deal with the mess of a sinful heart.
Like the work crew that came and prepared the way for the street sweeper to come by a few days later, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God prepare our heart for the cleansing work of God. The Holy Spirit draws us to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. In the life of a believer the Holy Spirit uses things like the Word of God and worship to reveal to us the gunk accumulating in our lives. Then we confess our need for the help of Jesus to come in and cleanse us. Thank God that He is willing and able to continually cleanse us from sin.
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. 1 John 1:9 Amplified Bible
Sometimes we can be like the neighbor's cars that get parked on the street in front of my house. We can actually hinder the cleansing work of God in someone else's life. If you asked me what my spiritual gift is, I would say teaching. This can be a curse instead of a blessing when I start to try to clean up the gunk in front of someone else's house when they haven't asked me to. I park my car in front of their house, march right on into their life uninvited, and try to teach them about the error of their ways. What I don't know, is that if I would have waited and sought God I may have discerned that He was already preparing their heart, that He was already scheduled to show up with the street sweeper and do a mighty cleansing work in their life. But, with my car parked in His way, with my nose in His business, I've become a road block in His way. Is there ever a time to speak up, to talk to someone about the issues in their life? Of course there is, but in order to be a help and not a hindrance, praying for the right words, the right time, and to have the right spirit is critical. Sometimes, many times, my job is to keep my mouth shut and to pray.
I'm actually thankful for the street sweeper. I'm thankful to look out and see that the street in front of my house is swept clean. I'm thankful most of all, for the continued cleansing work of Jesus in my own heart. I'm grateful for His supernatural work in me that does what I cannot do by my own self effort. I'm also thankful for the reminder to trust His work in the hearts of those around me. How ridiculous to think I can clean up the mess of someone else's heart, when I'm totally dependent on God to clean up my own. I pray that I'll always remember today's lesson from the street sweeper.
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