Thursday, November 19, 2015

It’s All About Appearances

How do you look to other people? Do you even care? Most of us do care, unless we count ourselves among the infinitesimal number of folks who are so self-possessed that they care not one whit what others think of them. Chances are, you’re not one of those.

Want proof? For starters, how often do you look in a mirror over the course of a typical day? How much time do you spend wondering what to wear, whether it’s for a trip to the mall, going to work, preparing for an evening out, attending church, or even working out at the gym?

How we look on the inside
matters medically, and
spiritually as well.
Speaking of church, have you ever had a “spirited” disagreement with your spouse in the car on the way to worship, but upon arriving in the parking lot and exiting the car, you became all grins as friends and fellow worshipers greeted you? Instantly we plaster what a friend calls our “Sunday smiles” on our faces. Have to make sure we and the kids look like the got-it-all-together family!

This time of year, clothing stores display rack after rack of dresses and sweaters, blouses, ties and shoes for holiday parties, confident their customers need to look just right. Shops like Victoria’s Secret, which has perfected the art of making mountains out of molehills, certainly grasp the importance of appearances. Women’s makeup is a multi-billion dollar industry, and while most men eschew makeup, we still have many grooming options.

Slogans like “clothes make the man” and “dress for success” underscore the conviction that how we appear on the outside affects our pursuit of happiness. Before televised awards shows, discussion usually focuses on what some celebrity is wearing and how she (most of the time) or he looks.

But it’s not just about clothes, makeup and hairdos. A reality of political debates is we not only want to know what the candidates have to say, but also how they present themselves in public. During the opening 2012 Presidential debate, Barack Obama looked lethargic and disengaged compared to opponent Mitt Romney. In the next debate, however, Obama came out hyper-engaged and energetic. (There’s no report on whether this was due to a pep talk, or how many Red Bulls or 5-Hour Energy drinks he downed before that second outing.)

The news media piously proclaim it doesn’t matter what size or shape someone is, even shining the spotlight on plus-size models and actresses. But when do you remember seeing an obese news anchor or morning talk show host? Rarely, because…it’s all about appearances.

We have become fixated on how we look to others. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, maybe it shouldn’t be that way. It’s certainly not that way with God.

A classic example is when God sent the prophet Samuel to find a successor to King Saul, who himself once passed the “look test” but proved hopelessly inept for leading the nation of Israel. Samuel carefully examined each of Jesse’s sons and thought, “Surely this is the one…or that one.” But the Lord kept saying, “Nope, not that one. Him neither.”

In desperation the prophet turned to Jesse and asked, “Well, Pops, is this all of your sons?” To which Jesse replied, “Well, there is one more – the youngest one, David. But he spends his time with the sheep and, frankly, he’s kinda dirty and stinks. I doubt he’s the one you’re looking for.”

Samuel insisted, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives” (1 Samuel 16:11). Immediately upon David’s arrival, God told the prophet, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” Not that David was hard on the eyes – verse 12 says, “He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.” But apparently to the human eye he lacked the “kingly” look.

The key passage states, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). So it’s not the outward appearance, but rather what’s going on inside that matters from His perspective.

We can make ourselves look great externally, but the important question for God surrounds what’s going on within our hearts, our motives. As Proverbs 21:2 declares, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be concerned at all with how we appear externally. Hygiene is important. Makeup properly applied helps to accentuate a woman’s best features. For a job interview we want to dress properly to make a good impression on a prospective employer. But from God’s perspective, what we see isn’t necessarily what we get.

Jesus, never one to mince words, spoke this rebuke to religious leaders of His day: 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. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

So what’s our response? How do we go about making sure our inward appearance is as good – or better – than our outward appearance? King David, in repenting of his own heinous sins, offered a prayer we might well consider ourselves: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

That might be the way to ensure we look good both inside and out.

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