When You Don't Want to Go Back to the Way You Were
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 (NIV)
I just got my braces off … again.
I’ve had braces on my upper teeth three times. Count them. One. Two. Three.
As the orthodontist explained, “Teeth have a memory. They always want to go back to the way they were.”
As soon as he said those words, I felt convicted. I have a tendency to go back to the way I was.
We all do.
Karen (not her real name) admitted to single-handedly destroying her marriage with passive-aggressive coldness, destructive words and disrespect of the worst kind. After her husband walked away from the marriage, she said she felt the Holy Spirit speak to her heart about what she had done. Karen’s heart softened and she vowed never to be that woman again.
She immersed herself in Bible study and began to pray for her ex-husband even though the marriage was over. Karen took on the beautiful holy glow of a woman who knew she was totally forgiven and completely loved by God. Miraculously, her ex-husband saw the change, and the marriage was restored!
However, after a few years, the destructive behavior began to creep back in.
A word here.
A cold shoulder there.
A retreating into self for weeks at a time.
Ten years after the miraculous restoration, the marriage crashed and burned.
“Teeth have a memory. They always want to go back to the way they were.”
Jesus saw this tendency to fall into old ways when He cleaned out the temple. In the beginning of his ministry, after his first miracle of turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana, He traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’” (John 2:14-16, NIV)
Three years later, during his last week of life on earth, Jesus came upon the unholy mess again.
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:12-13, NIV)
How did the corruption happen the second time? I don’t think it happened all at once. After Jesus cleared out the temple initially I suspect it stayed that way for a time. But one day, a money changer set up his table. Then another brought in a few birds, followed by a couple of sheep, and then here came a cow.
The next thing you know the temple wasn’t any different than it was before Jesus cleared it out three years earlier. In three years it had reverted back to an unholy mess.
And God whispers in my ear: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, NIV)
Sometimes I am that messy temple.
Swept-clean sinful behavior, ungodly thoughts and jump-off-the-cliff emotions are itching to creep back in at all times. It is up to me (and to you) to keep our temples clean.
Perhaps you’ve had a Holy Spirit moment at some point in your life — a moment that caused you to make a major lifestyle change.
But for the moment to maintain momentum, we need to be constantly aware of our tendency to revert … to go back to the way we were. That’s why our key verse has become a constant prayer in my life: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
I am so thankful that Jesus went back to clean out the temple a second time. It lets me know that He will graciously return to my messy self again and again with broom in hand.
I don’t know about you, but I never want to go back to the way I was. If you’re willing to take a few moments and ask God if there is something you’ve allowed to creep back in, join me in praying Psalm 51 in the prayer below.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and restore a steadfast spirit within me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NIV)
James 5:16b, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Can you think of any behaviors or habits that you’d committed to change in the past but that have crept back into your life?
If so, today’s task is simple but not easy. Renew your commitment to clean out the temple once again. Then cooperate with the Holy Spirit to keep your resolve. Remember, God’s mercies are new every morning.
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