Appearances are not always what they seem,” so the saying goes. We find this to be true in the natural world and the kingdom of God. When I look outside today, the landscape of withered grass and bare trees appears utterly lifeless. Yet what is real does not always correspond to what we see, for better or worse. It’s true we must navigate life with our eyes wide open. Yet from a young age we have been conditioned to respond to appearances first. Have you seen a baby’s smile turn to a quivering frown as she watches her mama feign sadness? We find our heads turned instinctively by the brilliant, the talented, and the affluent and are surprised to discover their universe rather smaller than we imagined. Daniel Webster wrote, “The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.” Ah, there’s the rub; we move in a world where appearance has taken precedence over reality and we often feel constrained to act accordingly.
If we’re honest, no one is exempt from the temptation to be governed by appearances. Jesus rocked everyone’s world when He compared the most respected religious people of the day to dead men’s tombs: beautiful on the outside but filled with rottenness on the inside. God is not taken in by our outward show; He cares enough to probe beneath the surface. At a well in Samaria, Jesus took time to talk with an insignificant woman of dubious character. He looked past her appearance to reveal the bondage to sin buried deep inside. He brought her face to face with reality and she responded, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” Maybe she wasn’t shifting the conversation; maybe she was saying “you have looked beyond my social, cultural and religious complexions into my very heart.” “Come everyone, see a man that has told me all the things I have done.” (Jn. 4:29)
We cannot hide from God. He sees us from the inside out. This is bad news and good news. David prayed, “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part you will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6) He realized that “sin is not just a surface problem” but a deep problem. David did not have the means to fix the brokenness inside where God desires truth to be found. But he humbled himself, and asked God for wisdom in his inmost heart, or in other words, “Show me reality, show me the way things really are.” David knew God would answer generously and without reproach for asking.
Centuries later, the Son of David was passionate in His discourse and prayer that His disciples (including us) would know what is true. Read through John chapters 13-17 and you’ll find the word “know” over twenty-six times. Our touchstone for truth and reality is His Word: “…Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” (Jn.17:17) These chapters are rich and significant: they are the last words Jesus spoke; His summing up of thoughts for us. He calls us to abide in Him, to abide in His Word. His Word is the powerful sap that animates our very being by His Spirit. At all times, but especially when the branches of our lives are leafless or pruned and bleeding, we need to stay close to the Word and know that it has the power to sustain us. We will wrestle in our Christian lives with appearances; what seems to be and what is. Paul said we only see in a mirror dimly; we only know in part. Someday we will know fully. But be assured, we are known fully by God now (1 Cor. 13:12) and He has made provision for all our needs. “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another–showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.” (2 Tim 3:16)
There will be times when we will look at ourselves and then at each other and be dismayed at what we see. But we must not lose heart; our outer self is decaying but our inner self is being renewed day by day. John reassured his congregation; “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is.” (1 Jn. 3:2) Is that our hope and goal, to be like Him? Let’s let the coming days be an encouragement to our souls as God displays His majesty in the drama of spring. As we watch delicate leaves unfurl and stout shoots push their way toward the sun, let us remind each other that in our inner most being “it is God, all the while effectually at work in us energizing and creating in us the power and desire, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13)
by Cheryl Lanoue