Bombarded daily by sales pitches, catchy jingles, and slick packages, I need to remind myself that what is inside counts. Have you been enticed by crafty advertising, only to discover that the latest “must have” product represents a cheap replica of what you expected to receive? I have. In more ways than I’d like to admit.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve worked to create products that both look appealing and, hopefully, become beneficial to the recipient. The old adage to not judge a book by its cover goes far beyond novels. I wish it was only merchandise we cast instant judgment on. Unfortunately, we do it in a multitude of ways.
A Little History
Long ago, Samuel led and served Israel as priest, but after Israel demanded a king as leader, God led Samuel to anoint Saul as their first king.
“Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”
1 Samuel 9:2
At first appearances, Saul looked the part: handsome, hardworking, fearless, and humble. It didn’t take long before a hidden side of Saul became apparent and the whole thing turned sour! Saul overstepped his bounds, became proud, and rebelled against God. He eventually turned into a raging maniac who was demon possessed.
Did Samuel misjudge Saul’s potential? Did God make a mistake? Hardly!
I’ve ministered to many husbands and wives who have found themselves in a similar predicament. That future spouse who once seemed gentle became violent, once level-headed now unpredictable, once generous turned self-seeking, cruelty replaced kindness. Who or what they fell in love with dissipated into a faint memory.
Whether in personal relationships or business associations, most of us have discovered something other than what we bargained for.
What is Inside Counts
When it came time for Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to replace Saul as king, God warned him,
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. 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 16:7
Heart matters! Those excellent qualities Saul once possessed evaporated because he failed to guard his heart. Solomon gives perfect advice on how to do just that.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity, keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
Guard Your Heart
What is inside counts the most, requiring vigilant and active protection. Solomon reminds us that everything flows from within us. He encourages us to pay attention, offering practical examples in the way we talk and think, what we look at and the places we go. Even so-called “strong” people fall into deception, thinking they are powerful enough to play on both teams: God’s and the devil’s.
The cost of such negligence proves greater than any expects.
Jesus reminded His listeners,
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
“Out of the heart” comes both evil and good. What is inside counts and matters most because everything flows from that deep well within.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover!” is still good advice, but we do. “Don’t believe everything you see!” But we do!
Whether for personal promotion or financial gain, humanity knows how to package for appearance, for the quick sale, or the easy fix. Often, too quickly, we form character judgments, whether out of a critical spirit or through rose-colored glasses.
Working in the legal system, I’m appalled at how rarely I identify a murderer or rapist. In ninety percent of the criminals, I see mercy, justice, faithfulness, and empathy. Their eyes show brokenness or hopelessness. Something within me resists the notion that people can, and often are, deceptively cruel or inerrantly evil. So, I judge — most often incorrectly.
What is inside counts! No one sees the whole heart except for Jesus.
“Now while he (Jesus) was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
Often, it’s possible to fool a few people. Fooling everyone all the time, rarely, if ever, happens no matter how slick the appearance. No one ever fools Jesus! He knows what is in each one of us.
I have often heard people say, “Jesus knows my heart.” Often the comment is spoken to justify a failure or moral offence. Yes, Jesus does see our hearts. He sees all of our hearts — the good and the corrupt.
Proverbs reminds me,
“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”
Our lives reveal what is really in our hearts. The thoughts no one hears, the wayward glances no one sees, the dishonest deal we hope others won’t uncover, the addiction we try to hide, angry words, or self-seeking behaviors also form the accurate reflection of our hearts.
God promises good news. We can be “new-hearted” people. My prayer often echoes David’s,
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Ezekiel offers us even greater hope.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Tears of gratitude pool and flow as I remember God’s great grace. Yes, He challenges us to guard our hearts with diligence because what is inside counts! He also knows and sees our inability to change apart from Him. So He comes. He comes with mercy. With love, He comes, removing the crusty hardness, transforming it to tender flesh.
Through this partnership of God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and us doing all we can, comes cleansing in the inmost part. A pure heart unattainable without Him.
“Yes, Lord,” I pray again, “give me a clean heart.”