The last couple weeks I’ve been writing a paper on 1 Samuel. It’s been an enjoyable project, and I hope the mark matches the effort! Whatever the outcome there, a key verse that in some ways sums up the message of the book is as follows:
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV)
I’ve always loved this verse, and we see the idea of things not always being as they appear throughout the narrative. A fearsome giant defeated by a young shepherd. A mighty and handsome king set aside because of his pride. We see stories like this throughout Samuel and throughout the entire Bible, and it is an encouragement to believers everywhere! One’s value to God is not dependent on his or her accomplishments, physical appearance, talents, or other characteristics. God is a great equalizer, elevating a barren woman from a long-forgotten family to the position of being part of one of the most dramatic reversals in Scripture. I won’t spoil it for you. Read it for yourself!
The Apostle Paul spells out a similar idea:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (NIV)
When we read this, it’s always easy to see ourselves as the “foolish”, the “weak”, the “lowly”, and the “despised”. Or, to take it back to Samuel, we identify with the fearless shepherd David standing firm against the snarling giant Goliath.
But what about times when we’re the Goliath?
Oh, I don’t mean we would be literally nine feet tall and threatening all who cross our path. But as much as we can be encouraged by a God who doesn’t look on the outward appearance, we must also beware of what our inward self is really about. Believers can often be more concerned about keeping up appearances than about being real in their relationship with God. We play our lives off as having it all figured out instead of being real with our struggles, pain, temptations, and fears. We want to fall on the side of Paul’s equation that looks strong, wise, and able to boast. Let’s not deceive ourselves! We are – I am – a work in progress. I see more and more the value of a community of trusted Christian brothers and sisters with whom I can walk through life and be real. I pray that I am living this out.
Just as we shouldn’t be deceived by our own lives, we need to make sure we’re looking at the right things when we consider other believers. Sometimes the charming and well-spoken leader is a snake. Sometimes the ministry that has almost no resources is being used mightily by God. And, lest we get an inverse view going, sometimes the successful or wealthy or attractive person/church/ministry is also doing things right. This is where we need to be in prayer, that our hearts and minds would be in line with God’s. Because the heart – that’s what He’s looking at.