External Appearances Don’t Matter to God

In my first year of high school a teacher dropped dead in the shower at school camp. He was the Drama teacher — ironically. He died of a heart attack. He was 39 years old.

I was thinking about this teacher as I went drove to the local hospital emergency department with chronic chest pain. I’m surely too young to have a heart attack, I thought, but the pain in my chest was taking my breath away. My wife had ordered me down to the hospital to get checked out. The waiting room was packed — 40, maybe 50 people all waiting to see someone for their respective emergencies.

I walked up to triage and the lady asked me what my problem was. “How long have you got?” I thought. I told her I had been having chest pain for the past half hour. She asked me to rank the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “On fire.” I said the pain was about 6. She picked up the phone and started talking about me to someone on the other end.

Now, at the hospital emergency department, they don’t see people in the order that they arrive. They see people in order of the seriousness of their medical issue. Sure enough, thirty seconds after I spoke to the triage lady, I breezed past the 40 or 50 envious people waiting at emergency and was whisked off to a cardio ward somewhere deep within the bowels of hospital.

I was told to strip off and put on a purple frock instead. Purple is not my color. And I was plonked on the bed. Within minutes, they were shaving my chest hair off and sticking all these electrode things to my chest and stomach and hooking me up to machines to get a good look inside my heart to see what was going down. Two electrocardiograms, two blood tests, a urine test and chest X-ray later, the doctor came in and announced that I had no major issues. I’ll need some follow up tests for heart disease, but I’m not going to die today!

Still, they kept me in for 6 hours under observation. I had a lovely satay chicken lunch and got to lie in a bed all afternoon. At the end of it all, they told me I needed to walk the dog more and eat less takeaway, and they sent me home in time to watch the sports game I didn’t want to miss. Peeling the electrodes off my chest was more painful than the chest pains — a 9.5 out of ten!

Reflections on the Emergency Department Experience

As I reflected on this whole experience, a few things really struck me. The first was that a problem with the heart was seen as a bigger problem than the problems of everyone else in the waiting room. It was clear by the way that I was prioritized that a heart problem is a major problem.

The second thing I observed that when there was a potential problem with my heart, all of the external things no longer mattered. There was no time to worry about modesty, or appearances — “Get undressed now!” And there was not a thought given to any objection I might have to having bits of my chest hair shaven off, and certainly no thought was given to my skin when they covered me in electrodes like E.T.. Everything outside the body didn’t matter cos, hey, you might have a problem with your heart and who cares how you look on the outside. If there’s a heart problem, we gotta diagnose it right now so we can treat it.

The third thing: I can look totally fine on the outside, but be dying on the inside. I mean, unless they hooked me up to all those machines that can actually see what’s going on inside my heart, I can walk around, look like I have it all together, ignore my pain, keep up external appearances, all the while having a time bomb waiting to go off inside my chest.

The heart. The heart matters. Physically, the heart matters perhaps more than anything else. But spiritually speaking, the heart is just as important. In Biblical thought, the heart is the place where all qualities worth having in our lives are first formed. The Bible says that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. In a person, good and evil all begin in the heart. Now we are no longer talking about the physical body part, but the inner you, the central, innermost part of your being, the core of who you are. If that part of you is not well, it doesn’t matter how you look on the outside. You have a problem — a heart problem — and it will affect everything else: How you handle life, how you deal with people and, especially, how you relate to God.

So where do we go for a spiritual heart examination? Well, there is only one man in the entire Bible whose epitaph reads, “A man after God’s own heart.” A man whose heart was in such a good place that he is called a man who had a heart like God’s. Although he was not a perfect man, when God looked inside his heart, when his heart was under the microscope, there was something about him that made him stand out from all other Biblical characters. That man is a man called David.

The Man With The Heart After God

We first meet David in 1 Samuel 16. Now at this time in history, Israel is ruled by a king called King Saul, and King Saul happened to be the very first King of Israel. But what you need to understand is that God never really wanted Israel to have a King in the first place. God wanted Israel to look to Him to be their King. God established Israel as a theocracy — a nation of law administered by Judges. God would be the king. God would give the law. The judges would administer the law and that’s how the nation was to operate.

But the problem was that the nation of Israel looked around and all the surround nations had a King. They had come out of Egypt and Egypt had a King — Pharaoh. And because everyone around them had a king, Israel decided that they too needed a king. “All the cool kids have one,” They said. And so the people of Israel complain to their leading prophet and judge — a guy named Samuel. Here is what the Bible says about it:

1 Samuel 8

4 So all the elders of Israel met together and went to Ramah to meet with Samuel. 5 The elders said to Samuel, “You’re old, and your sons don’t live right. They are not like you. Now, give us a king to rule us like all the other nations.”

6 So the elders asked for a king to lead them. Samuel thought this was a bad idea, so he prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord told Samuel, “Do what the people tell you. They have not rejected you. They have rejected me. They don’t want me to be their king. 8 They are doing the same thing they have always done. I took them out of Egypt, but they left me and served other gods. They are doing the same to you. 9 So listen to the people and do what they say. But give them a warning. Tell the people what a king will do to them. Tell them how a king rules people.”

Despite the warning, the people still demanded a King and so God gives them what they wants and he gets Samuel to anoint a guy called Saul to become the first King of Israel. Now, I could write a whole other article on Saul, but all you need to know is that Saul made a number of very bad decisions that resulted in God rejecting him as King. And so, by the time we arrive at 1 Samuel 16, God has chosen someone else to take over from King Saul — someone to become Israel’s second, and hopefully much better King. And here is where we pick up the story:

1 Samuel 16

1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you feel sorry for Saul? I have rejected him as king of Israel. Fill your horn with oil and go to Bethlehem. I am sending you to Jesse who lives in Bethlehem, because I have chosen one of his sons to be the new king.” 2 But Samuel said, “If I go, Saul will hear the news and try to kill me.”

The Lord said, “Go to Bethlehem. Take a young calf with you and tell them, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice. Then I will show you what to do. You must anoint the person I show you.”

4 Samuel did what the Lord told him to do and went to Bethlehem. The elders of Bethlehem shook with fear. They met Samuel and asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel answered, “Yes, I come in peace. I come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Prepare yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Samuel prepared Jesse and his sons. Then he invited them to come and share the sacrifice.

6 When Jesse and his sons arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the man who the Lord has chosen.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Eliab is tall and handsome, but don’t judge by things like that. God doesn’t look at what people see. People judge by what is on the outside, but the Lord looks at the heart. Eliab is not the right man.”

8 Then Jesse called his second son, Abinadab. Abinadab walked by Samuel. But Samuel said, “No, this is not the man who the Lord chose.” 9 Then Jesse told Shammah to walk by Samuel. But Samuel said, “No, the Lord did not choose this man, either.”

10 Jesse showed seven of his sons to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these men.” 11 Then he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse answered, “No, I have another son — my youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him. Bring him here. We won’t sit down to eat until he arrives.” 12 Jesse sent someone to get his youngest son. This son was a good-looking, healthy young man. He was very handsome.

The Lord said to Samuel, “Get up and anoint him. He is the one.” 13 Samuel took the horn with the oil in it, and poured the special oil on Jesse’s youngest son in front of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord came on David with great power from that day on. Then Samuel went back home to Ramah.

And with that Samuel sets David on a trajectory where he would become King one day. And I think there is one very big lesson from this story and it may seem fairly obvious, but it’s amazing how often we miss it.

The Problem of External Appearances

Obviously, Jesse knows that Samuel is going to anoint a new king or else he wouldn’t have lined his sons up in front of Samuel, like an audition for “Israel’s Next Top Monarch.” Still, it’s a tremendously risky undertaking. Samuel, Jesse and all his children’s lives are at stake because Saul is still on the throne. Nonetheless, Jesse calls in his boys, and sends them one by one passed Samuel. The first one that Samuel see is Eliab who is very, very tall.

Now, some things never change. Society looks up to tall people. Literally. Short people are looked down on. In fact, a study of over 120,000 people by a British medical journal found that that shorter men are less believed than a tall men, that shorter men are less desired by women than the taller men, shorter men are more likely to be single and childless, shorter men are less likely to be in management positions, that shorter men typically have a smaller income than taller men. In fact, the study found that an extra two inches of height can raise your income by almost $5000 per year. Tall people seem to get ahead in life.

In fact, the Bible says that Saul, the first King, the one that God had rejected was as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. Saul was tall and actually that was one of the reasons why a person could command respect in those days, much like now.

And yet, here is Samuel, and he sees the tallest guy and he says, “This must be God’s anointed.” Eliab goes by and Samuel is about to make the same mistake — to pick a guy because he looks tall and strong. Samuel is looking at the outward appearance.

Now isn’t this just typical.

Recently, I went out to a local burger chain with some friends and I noticed something. The person who took my order was young and attractive. The person who served my dinner was young and attractive. The person who cleared away my plate was young and attractive, and then it occurred to me. There are no ugly people who work here, and I wondered if this burger joint had some policy about this. We only employ a certain type of person. I realized that they were not just selling burgers, but they were selling an image. We are hip and cool and hip and cool people work here and eat here.

I feel like ugly people are under-represented in retail and hospitality in general. I don’t see short middle-aged balding men serving me at any of the “cool” shops and there are no fat guys working at the local sports store. And I’ve never seen an ugly flight attendant on a plane. In 2013, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO shocked the world — although perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a shock — when he said: “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” Psychology Today Journal concluded three decades of research on physical attractiveness by concluding, and I quote:

“Human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people. “Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest, and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts. Controlled studies show that people go out of their way to help attractive people — of the same sex and opposite sex — because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people. Even studies of babies show that they will look longer and more intently at attractive faces”

Wow. If you want to know if you have an ugly face, then look at a baby, apparently. I have a habit of making them cry. But you get the point. The world exalts external appearances. The world worships the outside. And here is Samuel and this young, tall, attractive young man walks by, Eliab, and Samuel decides, “This must be the one God wants!”

And God says to Samuel, “Samuel, when are you going to learn?” The outside doesn’t matter a bit. Money, beauty, power, stature, size — it doesn’t matter a bit. It’s what is on the inside that counts. It’s the heart of a person that makes him or her acceptable to me. I look straight to the inside.

And so Samuel looks over all of Jesse’s sons, and then he turns to Jesse and, quite astonishingly says, “Are these all your sons?” Now this gives you an idea of where David sits in the pecking order. Jesse knows that one of his sons is going to be anointed king and he brings them all in, all except David — the little one, the youngest one, the runt.

So, Samuel turns to Jesse and says… “Is this it!” And Jesse says… “Well, there is one more… but its little Davey!” And Jesse had made the same mistake as Samuel. He’s thinking about outward appearances. He’s ruled David out. But Samuel, by process of elimination, now realizes what’s going on and says, “Call him in here!” And in comes David and the Lord says, “He’s the one!” And Samuel anoints David as the future king.

The Big Lesson

Now, what is the big lesson from the Bible story? Here it is: The anointed one tends not to be the world’s choice. The world says, “Look at this one! This must be the one!” And we tend to make that decision based on external appearances. But generally, God’s pick is different to the world’s pick, which is good news for you and I, because how many of us have not been picked?

Anyone who has experienced the horror of being the last one chosen at lunch time for an impromptu game of football where the two best kids are appointed as captain and they pick their team one by one, and at the end they both say, “You can have him!” David would have been the last picked too and yet he slay a giant, and rose to become one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history.

Two Challenges

This should challenge us in two ways. Firstly, the focus of our lives should be pleasing God, rather than looking good. Character matters more than appearance. It’s all about the heart. David was chosen for his character, not for his appearance. God could see right through his appearance. I wonder, what kind of people we would be if we all invested as much into our inner lives as we did our external bodies? When was the last time you did something about the condition of your heart? Jealously, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, revenge, dishonesty, all begin in the heart. We should be much more concerned about this kind of thing, than how we look on the outside.

The second way this story should challenge us is in the criteria we use for assessing people. We should never rule a line through anyone’s name based on appearances. God doesn’t. We must look at more than the external. A person’s character, a person’s heart, counts most. David was not the world’s choice, but he was God’s anointed and he rose to be King. Remember, the anointed tends not to be the world’s choice.

Fast forward a thousand years, and we find another man who the world rejects, but He is God’s anointed end reigns as king. Isaiah 53 says of him:

There was nothing special or impressive about the way he looked, nothing we could see that would cause us to like him. People made fun of him, and even his friends left him. He was a man who suffered a lot of pain. We treated him like someone of no importance, like someone people will not even look at but turn away from in disgust.

But the fact is, it was our suffering he took on himself; he bore our pain. But we thought that God was punishing him, that God was beating him for something he did. 5 But he was being punished for what we did. He was crushed because of our guilt. He took the punishment we deserved.

You see, there was nothing special about Jesus from an external point of you. He was quite ordinary in this respect. The world wouldn’t have picked him. They were looking for an Eliab. They were looking for a Saul — a strong, tall, powerful military leader who would command respect and wield power. The world was looking for a Saul, but it got a different Savior — a humble servant. And so the world rejected him. You see, the anointed tends not to be the world’s choice. The world looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart. What would he find inside of you?

Previously published on medium

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Photo credit: istockphoto

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