On Messy Rooms, Elbow Grease, and Grace

Read: Luke 11:14-26

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

I have come to the yearly Herculean task of cleaning my son’s room.  For a little bit each day we sift through piles of papers, jumbles of legos, empty boxes and boxes full of rocks.  Every small bouncy ball and every large, tattered stuffed animal must be analyzed—“Do you still use this?  Do you still need this?  Does this mean anything to you?”  He only has so much room in this room, and the drum set and electric bass have claimed the last of it.  It’s gotten hard even to step inside, so here we are, determined to make space.

At the end of the week, there are three trash bags headed to the dump.  We have sorted all the toys into their proper bins and returned clothes to the drawers.  We’ve made a path around the drums and discovered fifty dollars he didn’t know he’d lost.  The relief I feel is immense.  The dread is also immense.  Because I know the next time I walk in, that empty shelf will already be full.  The clothes will have fallen back to the floor.  New lego builds will replace the ones we put away, and sheet music will be scattered around.  We never seem to make space that stays empty.

Jesus told a story about cleaning, too.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” Luke 11: 24-26 

So many of us are looking for a good clean up.  Whether we are trying to be rid of addictions or character flaws, there are places in our hearts to put in order.  We consult a 12-step program, counseling, or a self-help video.  Sometimes, with some good elbow grease, we do manage to pull ourselves up and get better.  But Jesus’s words are meant to slow down our victory chants.  Remember, He says, empty hearts can become as re-crowded as empty rooms do.

As a counselor with HOPE, one of the things I do is help people clean.  It’s my job to listen to hearts and identify what’s hurting, what’s messy, what needs tossing.  Together with the Holy Spirit, we explore the broken places and try to make repairs.  The most important thing I try to do is bring Jesus into the space.  I know full well that only if my counselee is full of Jesus is there going to be lasting, eternal healing.  After all, we battle “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  A recovery program that ignores the need for supernatural help ignores the real illness.

It is tragic to be “fixed” in this life but ruined in the next.  To be full of Christ is to experience real hope and reformation.  Fill yourself on His Word! Cling to His church!  Follow His Spirit!  Jesus longs to be there through your journey toward freedom.

Perhaps most important, I want to speak to the ones who have cleaned a room and seen it refilled.  You put impatience aside but replaced it with alcohol.  You put pornography in a box but found yourself in an inappropriate relationship.  You apologized to the people you hurt, only to hurt them again.  You’ve read your Bible and prayed for years, but the sins keep coming back. Dear One, don’t give up.  By His grace, every instance of going backwards is covered by His blood.  We are being sanctified.  Your journey is not over; He knows where you are going, and He will hold you fast.  Return to those messy rooms and clean them (with His help) once again.  In His economy, no soap bubble, no trash bag, and no elbow grease is wasted.