DANGEROUS PRAYERS-CLEAN ME UP!
September 9, 2018
I’m afraid I’ve become a person who likes to play it safe.
Given my previous mishaps with kayaks, you won’t find me venturing into water that’s over 3-4 feet deep. And rarely will I climb up a ladder more than six feet off the ground, much less get up on a roof. And I could never bring myself to sample the pickled sushi at Captain Crab’s Cajun Seafood and Asian Fusion Raw bar. I’m more of a meat and potatoes guy
And when it comes to prayer, I must admit it’s easier to pray it safe.
Yes, safe prayers that are rote and unemotional, generic and nebulous. Prayers that effect little or no personal change. Nice, innocuous prayers such as Lord, bless me and all my friends. Lord, provide food for all the world. Lord, please don’t let it rain on my picnic today. And my brother-in-law Donnie’s favorite: Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat!
Yes, benign, safe prayers that do no harm but maybe do little good to impact our daily lives. We go through the motions of talking to God, but it’s always a one-sided conversation. We are not deeply invested in the outcome. We forget that prayer is not so much about God changing circumstances as it is about God changing us to act and react to those circumstances.
I would submit to you that faith becomes kindled and energized and real to us when we learn to pray dangerously. Yes, when we lay aside our electronic devices and focus like a laser on our Lord and pour out our hearts in words and groans that reflect our brokenness and frustration, becoming bold, loud and specific. Such times of brutal honesty with God often mark a turning point in our life’s journey, providing clarity as to which direction we need to head in.
Such dangerous prayers might include the petitions asking, pestering, perhaps demanding that God Shut Me Up, Fill Me Up, Sign Me Up, Coach Me Up, Use Me Up…. and today – Clean Me Up!
What might it mean to pray with all our heart, mind, soul and strength Lord, clean me up?
TO PRAY CLEAN ME UP, LORD IS TO…
Well, consider the following example – Psalm 51:
1Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
It sounds like something off of a Neflix originial movie, and yet it happens in real life—some 3,000 years ago. King David, the most beloved leader in all of Israel’s history, is on the run not from some enemy but from God. He is a spiritual fugitive. He has committed adultery with a young woman named Bathsheba. A child has been conceived.
The web grows even more tangled as David orders her husband Uriah, who is a general in his army, to the frontlines in a fierce battle with the Ammonites.
David then gives the command for the Israelite troops to retreat, leaving Uriah behind to be slaughtered by the enemy.
David then takes Bathsheba, who is now a widow, into his household, thinking all will be well with the world. But it is not well with God. David cannot hide his sin from God. God sends Nathan, a close friend of David and a trusted adviser, to confront him. And finally, this spiritual fugitive from God is brought to penitence.
Yes, Psalm 51 is David’s agonizing prayer of confession to God. He is begging God to clean him up, to forgive him, to scrub his sin away.
And yet, such a prayer seems so foreign to us. The word “sin” is not in our vocabulary.
The word in the original Greek language is hamartia. It means to “miss the mark” – like an archer shooting an arrow at a target and falling short. It is missing the target of what God would have us be and do.
In our society today, there is no missing the mark. No one falls short. If our arrow misses the target, something must be wrong with the bow. Or maybe the target was not set up properly. Or maybe the wind was blowing unpredictably. Give us our participation trophy. But don’t blame us for missing the mark. It’s not our fault!
We have no sin. We are pretty well perfect.
And yet, there is something nagging in the deep recesses of our lives that keeps us restless at night and miserable during the day. It is where we have missed the mark of what God would have us be in our attitudes and actions, in our relationships. We need to name it and call it what it is – Sin.
The famed psychiatrist and theologian Dr. Karl Menninger once commented that 75% of his patients could be healed of their psychoses if they would acknowledge and confess their sins and receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness for their guilt.
Indeed, many of us carry around the heavy baggage of sinful guilt, the guilt of hurtful things we have done and left undone, guilt that God wants to set us free from.
- To pray clean me up, Lord is to acknowledge there is sin in our lives. It has broken our moral compass and convoluted our conscience.
One afternoon, when I was about six, I was horsing around in our living room, pitching a football up in the air and making a diving catch of it as I landed on the couch, just like Charlie Taylor of the Washington Redskins always did it. Well, not being the most coordinated kid in the world, the ball got away from me and shattered an ornate, antique table lamp that had belonged to my grandmother.
I quickly picked up the pieces and hid them underneath some old quilt in the closet. My mother wasn’t at home, but my brother John had heard the crash and he immediately began making plans to extort money from me. I had to give him my lunch money each day to keep him silent.
To my surprise, my mother never said a word about the lamp. I knew she had to notice it was missing. As each day went by I grew more and more miserable from the affliction of guilt. Five days later I fessed up and opened up the closet door and showed her the pieces of her beloved lamp. She had known all along I had broken it. She was more upset by my trying to live a lie by hiding it.
I was grounded for a week, but it sure felt good knowing I had come clean and my mother still loved me.
God’s love is like a mother’s love. We feel lost and miserable when we are separated from it. There is nothing God cannot cleanse us of. That is why God gave his only Son Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross, to remove the stain of sin from our lives.
Yes, there are consequences to our sins. There are reparations to be made to persons we have injured. What we sow we do reap.
But the good news is we do not have to carry that awful millstone of guilt around our necks for eternity. We do not have to run as fugitives from God.
God is not out to bust us, but instead to blot us—to blot out our transgressions, to wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and to cleanse us from our sin. He does not desire to lock us up, but rather, to free us up.
David prays, 1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
If we would get cleaned up, step #1 is to acknowledge sin has broken our moral compass.
Step #2 is to
- Accept responsibility for hurt I’ve inflicted.
David again prays, . Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgement.
David is not denying he has wronged other people in this conversation with God. However, David realizes his sinfulness has hurt God more than anyone else. Above all, he has let his Lord down and has estranged himself from his Creator. Above all, it is to God that David is the most accountable. His life will never know any peace until first he accepts responsibility for the extreme hurt he’s caused God and others.
I had a couple in my church in Lynchburg, Bill and Laura, who had been married about three years. I was helping them prepare a small worship service to celebrate Bill’s adoption of Laura’s 4-year-old daughter Jennifer from a previous marriage.
I was intrigued by their story of faith. They shared that both of them had been through tumultuous marriages that had ended with a lot of pain. Laura’s first husband had physically and emotionally abused her and Jennifer. Bill’s wife had left him for another person.
Neither felt particularly responsible for their previously failed relationships. And yet, they also shared that their own marriage had not felt right from its beginning—that although they loved each other deeply something still was just not right in their relationship.
And finally, they stumbled across the answer. They had not accepted responsibility for the hurt they had caused God. They had not conceded that the break-up of their former marriages, even though they were not the ones most at fault, was still a broken promise to God. It hurt God. And they needed to come clean before the Lord before they could move on to intimacy in the present relationship with each other.
It was only when they were able to give their past to God and receive forgiveness of that past that they could move on to the present and future as a loving couple.
Bill and Laura discovered an insight of faith I wish more couples going through divorce and remarriage would discover. In fact, all of us need to accept responsibility for broken promises in all areas of our lives—our sinful actions toward God.
After acknowledging our sin and accepting responsibility for the hurt we’ve inflicted on God and others, there comes the final step in which we…
- Accede to God’s new normal
David prays Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a new and right spirit within me…Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you
To know that we do not have to suffer forever under the weight of our past mistakes is a tremendous thing. God’s forgiveness is not a case of holy amnesia that wipes out the past. Instead it is an experience of healing that drains the poison from the wound, in the present, helping us to make a new beginning.
This is the new normal. Yes, there are scars that remain, and we must do our best to heal what we’ve inflicted on others. We must be adult enough to seek to restore what we’ve wrecked.
And then, like David, we must pray for the power to not sin again. Above all, David wants a clean heart that can stay clean. He knows such power is beyond his human ability, but it is not beyond God’s ability.
David also desires that something good can come out of his past. He hopes the hard lessons he has learned can somehow help others avoid similar troubles. And he will share those lessons the remainder of his life. He’s wallowed in grit and welcomed grace, he’s suffocated from sin and sought sanctity, he’s traveled the hard path from lowliness to holiness. And he wants others to find God’s good and without experiencing the depths of the bad.
Yes, a desperate, dangerous prayer to pray is Clean Me Up, Lord. Yet, maybe you’re at that point today. Your life if filled with brokenness and frustration. And maybe it’s of your own doing. Well, perhaps…
It’s time to acknowledge that sin has broken your moral compass.
It’s time to accept responsibility for the hurt that you’ve inflicted.
It’s time to accede to God’s new normal, to turn the page, to make a new beginning.
Yes, like David, we may be on the run, hiding out as spiritual fugitives. God knows our hearts. God knows exactly what we’ve done, even after years of running. But God’s not interested in locking us up. No, God only wants to clean us up and free us up, that we might be restored to the joy of his salvation!
As we close this service today, I invite you to join me in a prayer of confession:
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed,
by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.
I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself.
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, now and forevermore, through Christ I pray. Amen.