Psalm 51:10-13 (NLT)
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.
When I was in eighth grade, my family went on a month-long vacation to the island of Bimini. There is a tiny church on the island which will house a pastor if the pastor agrees to preach on Sundays. My father decided this sounded like a good idea. While we there, we were invited to go visit Three Sisters Rock to do some snorkeling. It didn’t take long for my brother to discover a tunnel through one of the rocks and convince me to follow him through. I should have said no. The tunnel was about 20 feet long and four feet wide. As soon as I entered, I regretted the decision. I immediately floated up and hit the top of the tunnel. The sharp edges hurt, and I exhaled in pain. There went 90% of my oxygen. I thrashed my legs and one of my flippers came halfway off. This was not good. I could not turn around, and I had 15 feet left to go. So, with the little oxygen in my lungs and a flipper halfway off my foot, I pushed forward out of the tunnel and back to the surface. I learned a valuable lesson that day: it’s not smart to take someone where you have never been. And that lesson has stayed at the forefront of my mind as I do ministry.
The church exists to introduce people to Jesus Christ in a way that compels them to surrender their lives to Him. This is why we do what we do at Mt. Bethel-to see the lost saved. What I think we sometimes forget is that we cannot lead people where we have not been. My brother had never been through that tunnel and had no business asking me to follow him. Following him almost cost me my life, and if he had ever asked me to do it again I would have said no. He only had one shot and he blew it. I was never going to trust him again with something like that. I think there is a lesson in that for us in the church. We are dealing with life or death decisions, and we are trying to lead people places we have never been. That is why what David says in Psalm 51 is so crucial for us as Christian leaders. There is a process found in this passage we need to practice.
Step 1: You and Jesus
The first thing we need to do every single day is make sure we are right with Jesus. How is you heart? Is your heart pure? Have you protected your heart by protecting your eyes (what you look at)? Too often we bemoan the state of the world while the state of our own heart is in shambles. Our daily prayer should begin with, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me.” Again, we cannot hope to lead people to Jesus if we are not being led by Jesus daily.
Step 2: The World and Jesus
David’s prayer is for his heart to be made right, for him to be willing to obey and then he will teach the ways of the Lord. Putting the cart before the horse, focusing on the sins of the many before focusing on our personal sin, has gotten many in trouble. Our ministry to others should be the byproduct the Lord’s ministry to ourselves.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As a church, we are preparing for thousands of people to attend our Easter celebrations. Before that amazing Sunday, what if we spent this Lenten season praying, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me,” so that, when the unchurched walk through our doors on Easter morning, we are so overflowing with the Holy Spirit that they are compelled to want to follow us to this man Jesus.
John Wesley would open his small group meetings with this question: “How is it with your soul?” Let us choose this Lenten season to ask ourselves that question daily. How is it with my soul? Let the transformation of the world begin within each of us.