In 2007, we bought an acre of land at the end of a cattle farm and built our first house. A few years later, a white vinyl fence was erected along the edge of our property. It looked so nice. But after that fence had been up for several years, it began to look pretty dirty. So, I set aside a Saturday morning to wash that fence. I wanted my property to look nice and the fence to be restored to its former glory. So, I got my hose and my bucket, some brushes and some bleach, and I went to work.
I learned some interesting spiritual lessons that day while I was washing that fence. That fence became a picture of my own life and my relationship with the Lord. Before I share what I learned, let me remind you of what Jesus said to the Pharisees.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28
As a pastor, I fall into the category of being a “religious leader”. I understand how easy it is for hypocrisy to creep into one’s life and take the place of a genuine relationship with God. I have a public life that everyone can see. There is also a part of my life that, other than myself, only God sees. That is true about us all. Now, let me tell you what God showed me while I was washing the fence.
First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about but the two sides of their lives. Of course, Jesus didn’t use a fence for his example. He used a cup and a tomb. Either of these can be clean on the outside and not be clean on the inside. An unwashed cup can easily happen. No one wants to drink from a dirty cup. But a whitewashed tomb is a deliberate effort to put a pretty appearance on something one knows to be filled with death and decay. My fence was a picture of my life. While the whole fence needed to be washed, one side was considerably dirtier than the other. I suppose there are times when that is true about you. However, it should be particularly concerning, when we knowingly polish the outside in an effort to hide what’s within. First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other.
Second, when my Saturday morning fence washing project started, I had to ask myself a question. Did I want both sides of the fence to be clean, or just the part that the public could see? I could let the fence have the perception of being clean to the public, while leaving other parts, not so visible, to remain dirty.
What about in our spiritual lives? There is the outside that people see and the inside that only you and God know. Do you want both sides to be clean or just the part the public can see? I had to make the decision about my fence. But I also had to make it about my life.
I know we shouldn’t be concerned so much about what other people think, but when you are a pastor, that is pretty important. That is your witness, your reputation, and your character in the presence of other people. First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see.
Third, once I started that Saturday morning project, it took longer than I thought, because the fence was far more dirty than I knew.
I anticipated it would take me a couple of hours. But it took the whole day to wash both sides of that seventy-five-yard-long, three-rail fence. Likewise, there are depths of depravity within us that will go undiscovered unless we tackle the task of cleaning both the outside and inside of our spiritual lives. How long has it been since you washed both sides of your spiritual fence? When you get down to the task of addressing the need for spiritual cleansing, you will discover that a simple rinsing will not wash way the filth that clings to your heart and soul. Your heart may be far more dirty than you know. First, the fence had two sides, and one side was dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew.
It was so dirty, that washing that fence turned into an exhausting process. I was physically spent by the time I finished. I made the following commitment to myself at the end of that long day. The next time I wash the fence, I will ask for help.
A clean heart and life require the washing work of the Lord Jesus. You simply can’t do it on your own. You can give the appearance of being clean, if your concern is only what the public can see. But be warned, the filth on the inside has a way of making its way to the surface. My mom has a problem at home. A fungus infected the wood on the underside of the house. It was not something we could see. Nor was it something the public could see. We first learned of it when the floor collapsed in one of the rooms. Hidden sin causes dry rot of the soul. Eventually, there will be a collapse that will show up in the outward life.
Cleaning your heart and life will require the help of the Lord Jesus. In Psalm 51, David asked for God’s help to cleanse his heart. He said, “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Only God could create a clean heart for David. Can your heart be restored to its former purity and glory? Not by your hand. You will need to ask for help.
First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew. Fourth, I made a commitment that the next time I cleaned the fence I would ask for help.
When we built our house on that acre of pasture, an electric fence kept the cattle out of our yard. A few years later, another owner purchased the cattle farm. One day, as he was passing by our house, he saw our grandchildren playing in the yard. Concerned that they might be hurt by the electric fence, he had the white vinyl fence built on the property line. He said, “It will be safer for your grandchildren, and it will make your property look better.” He was kind and generous to do such a thing, and I appreciated it a lot.
Now you understand one of the main reasons I wanted to wash the fence. It belonged to someone else. I wanted the owner of the fence to be pleased. That is the final lesson I learned. My fence belonged to someone else and so does my life. I have a responsibility to keep my life clean, not just because I want the public to see it. God is the owner of my life. I want my life to be clean to His eyes and pleasing to Him.
Is that true about your life? If not, what steps do you need to take to conduct a thorough spiritual examination? When you do, you will find that your spiritual fence has two sides and one will be dirtier than the other. You will have to decide if you want the whole fence to be clean or only the part that the public can see. Be prepared when you start the process, because it may take far longer than you know. Be willing to ask for help, because this is not something you can accomplish on your own. The cleansing you need will only be accomplished with the help of the Lord Jesus. And always remember, your life belongs to someone else. He has been gracious enough to give it to you, and He expects it to be clean.
Photo by Scott Webb