I sat on the ledge, my feet dangling off the side of the water tower, my head resting on my hand on the rail. I could see a large amount of the river and the city from this vantage point, high, above it all. Boats filled with fishermen and tourists came and went. People walked along the banks, going about their business for the day. I could hear the bells from the shrines signaling the worship taking place within. Sounds of vendors and water lapping the sides of the boats filled the air around me and the smell of dirty water and dust filled my nostrils.
We had come here to pray. We wanted to pray for the city, for one another and the things that weighed on our hearts. We had come to bear one another’s burdens and, in the process, shine a light in this dark city. It was Rina’s idea, our new but fast friend (more like sister) from South Africa. She sat next to me and she was pouring out her heart before the Lord as we listened and indicated our agreement with “Yes Lord” and nods of approval. Tears filled my eyes as Holy Spirit moved on my heart in a very real and tangible way. He was breaking my heart for the people of the city, for my squad, for my new friend. I closed my eyes and knew all I wanted was Him in that moment.
As Rina continued to pray, I looked out over the water, over this river that thousands come from all over the world to see. They come to bathe in its waters in the hopes that it will cleanse them of their sin and make them pure enough to get to heaven quicker. I looked at the water and scrunched my nose in repulsion. Loads of garbage floated by and I thought of the ashes of all the dead bodies that were dumped into this water everyday, not to mention the many people who use the river as a toilet. As I considered all of this, I watched a man below me. He was bathing in this river (don’t worry, he wasn’t naked!). He took a cloth and cleaned it, then began rinsing his mouth out with the very same water. He then took the cloth he’d just washed and began using the dirty river water to clean his boat. I watched as he wiped down every square inch of that boat, even taking the boards out of the bottom of the boat and wiping down below them. He got out and back into the water and rinsed off again, this time, even taking off his necklace and rinsing it in the river.
As I watched, my stomach turned. He was bathing in filth. He was attempting to make himself clean, inside and out, but was accomplishing the opposite. That’s when Holy Spirit whispered to me
That’s what it looks like when you try to make yourself clean and righteous without Me.
Suddenly, the verse that says our righteousness is like dirty rags before God had become very tangible and it made me nauseous. When I try to clean myself, to use works to make myself righteous, it is the same as washing myself in a disgusting river and hoping to come out clean. I will have accomplished nothing and will actually make things worse.
This process of being transformed from glory to glory was never meant to happen in my own strength. God initiated this relationship, and He is the sustainer of it. Philippians tells us that He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete that work. The real question is, do we trust Him to do the work of transformation within us, or are we determined to try to do it on our own? There is no condemnation if and when we find ourselves trying to clean ourselves up. Our Father won’t come pointing the finger in anger at us, demanding we stop. He will, however, point out the filth we are washing in. He will take our hand and lead us out of the murky water and into His cleansing water that makes us new and clean.
As I sat thinking of all of this, I thanked God for His patience with me. You see, I am one of the worst about trying to clean and “fix” myself. It’s become a regular thing between me and Father. He comes to me and says “who’s been trying to weed their garden (heart) on their own again?” Every time, I look into His kind eyes and burst into tears as I realize I’ve gone looking for all the “bad” in me and tried to get rid of it. Every time, He gives me His empowering love to overcome self-condemnation and perfectionism. I thanked Jesus for His sacrifice that made it possible for me to be cleansed and set free from performance to earn the righteousness I have in Him. I thanked Holy Spirit for being the good Teacher, Counselor, and Friend who would never leave me nor forsake me. He will be sticking with me and He will love me through it all.
Because love never fails.
It was my turn to pray and I let the tears flow as I poured out my heart to the One I love, the One who loved me first and loves me still.
He is so good to us. Let Him come and cleanse you. Don’t strive to be perfect, but fix your eyes on Jesus and let Him transform you in His love and His goodness. He is so faithful and He will make you into the image of Jesus as you trust in Him.