The Great Spring Clean

I love spring. Spring holds the tantalising promise of green pastures, warm summer breezes and long summer days. However traditionally, before the invention of the vacuum cleaner Spring also heralded the time for the annual "Spring Clean" of the home. Spring was often seen as the best time for dusting because it was warm enough to open windows and doors (but not warm enough for the insects to swarm through the open windows). And it was a time of year when the coal furnaces weren't running during the day so you could wash all the soot, left by the furnace, from the walls and furniture and you could put your sheets out on the line without fear of them coming back covered in soot.

While Spring Cleaning found prominence in the West in the 1900's researchers have actually traced the origin of the annual Spring Clean to the ancient Jewish practice of thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the feast of Passover which happens in the Northern Hemisphere in Spring. As most of you will be aware the Passover Feast not only remembers the Angel of Death passing over the Jewish homes that had their door lintels covered in the sacrificial blood of a lamb, but also remembers the Jewish's people hasty flight from Egypt following their captivity. Immediately following Passover the Jews observe seven days where there are strict prohibitions against eating anything which has been leavened or fermented with yeast (Exodus 12:15, 19) - you can't wait for bread to ferment if you are on the run. Not only are Jews supposed to refrain from leavened foodstuffs they are also expressly commanded to rid their homes of even small remnants of leavened bread for the holiday period (Exodus 12:15). Therefore, pious Jews conduct a thorough "Spring Cleaning" of their house, followed by a traditional hunt for crumbs by candlelight on the evening before the holiday begins to ensure that the house is crumb free. In the Bible, leaven or yeast is almost always symbolic of sin. Like leaven which permeates the whole lump of dough, sin will spread in a person, a church or a nation, eventually overwhelming and bringing corruption and decay to whoever comes in contact with it.

In light of the origin of "Spring Cleaning" it's perhaps surprising that while many of us see it as an opportunity to clean our houses and even our churches (the Roman Catholics for example clean the altar at the front of the church at this time of year), few of us see it as an opportunity to inspect and cleanout the building or temple that really matters – ourselves. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?" Spiritually we need to be regularly cleansing ourselves of sin and worldly habits just as the Jews before Passover cleansed their houses of leavened bread. Psalm 51:10 says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me". How do we get a clean heart? Our hearts can only be cleansed through asking Jesus to come into our lives, asking him to forgive us of our sins and forsaking the sin we have sought forgiveness for. Once we have a clean heart the best way to maintain it is by meditating on Scripture (to be washed by the Word so to speak). It acts like a mirror in which we see ourselves as God does. Through it, we discover the areas where we have veered from His path and need to clean. The Holy Spirit also plays a part in this process by convicting us of the sin we commit and prompting us to keep short accounts when we have sinned. The longer we hold onto sin the harder it comes for us to seek forgiveness for it, and it blocks our intimacy with Christ. Psalm 32:3-5 says, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"—and you forgave the guilt of my sin."

Romans 12:2 also speaks of having to clean or renew our minds. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Our mind is one of the most important areas where we should carry out a Spring Clean – it's so easy to clutter it with worldly things –and from there it spreads to our hearts and souls. What we pour into our minds finally works itself out in sinful actions. So we need to ask ourselves what am I pouring into my mind – what am I watching on TV, reading or listening to? Does it meet the test in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things."? Such TV shows as "Game of Thrones" or 'Shortland Street" I am confident fall far short of being noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable".

We also need to get rid of old baggage – those things in our lives that are getting in the way of us growing spiritually. Metaphorically it's cleaning out our spiritual closet. Hebrews 12:1 says, "let us throw off (and throw out) everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Ephesians 4:31-32 similarly says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Long kept unforgiveness and bitterness is like old baggage you just can't seem to part with. You get so familiar with it you don't even realise it is hindering your spiritual growth. So this Spring you need to ask am I harbouring bitterness against anyone? Am I in the habit of slandering people or do I gossip? Do I regularly forgive people when they hurt me or do I carry a grudge? If the answer is ''yes" to any of these you need to do a spiritual Spring Clean. Ask God to help you learn how to deal well with difficult people and those whose personalities differ significantly from yours. Whenever people offend you in minor ways, be willing to let the issues go and be quick to forgive and put things right. Remember that God expects you to forgive others since He has forgiven you. Trust Him to empower you through each step in the forgiveness process. Do all you can to live at peace with others and resolve conflicts quickly and wisely.

Finally we need to finish our Spring Clean with a bit of polishing. As I read in an article by the Salvation Army, "make your relationships shine by serving others as God leads you. Be creative about figuring out how often you can bless others through your words and actions.

Remember that even a brief encouraging comment or small act of kindness can make a significant, positive difference in someone's life. Every day, look for opportunities to encourage or help the people with whom you come into contact. Be willing to commit to longer-term service (such as volunteering for special projects) when you sense God calling you to do so". This way you will shine and sparkle for God's glory.

So this Spring don't just clean the house but clean your heart, mind and soul and go into Summer with the joy of renewing your intimacy with God and having cleaned not only the outside of the cup but also the inside.

'Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world' James 4:8


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