Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 50:10-12
Have you ever wished you could have a do-over? Not with a day, or with a school exam or an athletic contest. Have you ever wished you could have a do-over with a major part of your life? Maybe it’s a marriage that went off the tracks, or a choice that derailed a career, or a child you wish you had parented different. Maybe it’s a systemic problem you’ve contributed to, an attitude you wish you could change, fifty pounds you wish you could lose. I remember the etch-a-sketch game I had as a child. When the board got too filled with writing, I’d shake it clean and get a whole new board. How I wish it were that easy to correct problems that I’ve caused, or things I’ve let fester for too long. I wish somehow I could lose 50 pounds for free. Unfortunately, in life, we have to live with certain consequences, sometimes forever. There is no do-over. And with other things, we can correct them but the road back to restoration is long and painful.
With God, however, things are different. We can have a do-over at any time with Him. King David, when he was at his lowest moment, wrote this Psalm to God, asking for a clean heart, one that could be free of the stain of murder and adultery. What a bold request! Not only did David ask for a clean heart, he asked for a new and right spirit.
This is important, because now only did David ask for a clean slate, he asked for a do-over with the request to help him do the do-over right, with a right spirit. He didn’t merely ask God to clear off the etch-a-sketch of his soul, but asked for a new and right spirit to draw his next chapter in a more Godly way.
He acknowledged that God had every right to cast him away from His presence, and to take away the grace of the Holy Spirit from him. He understood that the consequences of his sins were not just material—embarrassment, loss of reputation, eventually the loss of his son Absalom, etc.—he realized that there were spiritual losses—being cast away from the presence of God, and the loss of God’s Spirit within him.
David had the boldness to ask God for the joy that comes when knows that he or she is on the path to salvation. David realized that he was on the path to spiritual destruction and yet still trusted God enough to ask for joy. He also knew that he wasn’t going to just need the Holy Spirit, but he would need strength in his own spirit, in his own soul. He asked to be “upheld” with a willing spirit, recognizing that even a new heart wouldn’t solve his problems permanently. He would need discipline to keep his new heart clean.
One of the most beautiful things about being a Christian is that like David, we can go to God at any time and ask Him to create clean hearts in us. We may not be able to clean up a messed up relationship or job or failed test. But through God’s mercies, we can have a dirty heart and soul cleaned up quickly. How I wish we could extend this grace to others around us. Imagine if we could allow history to be erased and truly start with a clean slate on certain things!
Along with asking God for a clean heart, we need to ask Him for a new and right spirit, to take us through the next chapter of our lives—whether it is a new relationship, a new job or even just a new day—in a more Godly way.
While God is not going to cast us away from His presence and take His Holy Spirit away from us, we still need to approach God with humility. The grace of the Holy Spirit is a gift and a blessing, not just an entitlement we should take for granted.
Every journey ideally should have joy, otherwise why make it? This includes our journeys through jobs, school, relationships, parenting, and spirituality, our journey to salvation. As we ask God for clean hearts and new spirits, we can also ask Him to restore joy to us. Finally, we need to acknowledge that a new start is not an end but a beginning and we need God’s Spirit combined with our own willing spirit, to keep our new heart upheld in the clean way we have asked to receive it. We need discipline. We need repentance. We need consistency.
What a wonderful thing it would be if we could forgive a friend, or restore a relationship to the fullness of what it could be. This is not a mandate to go out and forgive your greatest enemy, but an encouragement to fix the things that are amiss beginning with those closest to us.
Finally, think about the part of your relationship with God that need fixing an dgo at them with a clean heart. Thankfully, with it comes to our relationship with the Lord, there is always a way back. It is called repentance. And repentance begins with desire. There is no waiting period. One can express that desire to God at ANY time.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy 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, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
Reflect on the state of your heart, as it relates to God and to others today. Reflect on what needs a new start, and what is going well and needs to be upheld by God’s grace!