We can’t operate our gifts in love, if we’re doing what we’re doing to gain an identity or the approval of others. Ministry, then, becomes more about us than serving others with clean motives. If we haven’t deeply experienced God’s love, how can we love ourselves? And, if we don’t love ourselves, how can we love others?
Picture: Why cosmetics? Using cosmetics is the art of decorating the body, or being skilled in adornment and arrangement. It’s closely related to the word “cosmos,” which means a well-ordered world, or worldly system. The word “cosmetics” derives its very name from adorning the outward appearance, according to the standards of the world. (https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=cosmetic)
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” –1 Samuel 16:7
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! –2 Corinthians 5:16-17
Throughout this post, whenever I talk about “outward appearance,” it can mean anything having to do with a person’s life and not just their physical appearance.
GOD LOOKS ON THE HEART
My mom isn’t the type to get “words” and dreams from God. Sensible and practical, she walks through life with both feet firmly planted on the ground. Yet, she surprised me one day when she told me God had given her a dream about me, while I was still in the womb.
No way, Mom. Really?!
She had special identifying dreams for both of her children before we were born. She saw my younger brother as a lion lying across the road.
But, of course, my favorite story she tells is the dream God gave her especially for me: she saw me as a diamond ring on her finger, shining so brightly she couldn’t even look at it.
I don’t share this incident to pat myself on the back, but to showcase God’s heart for his children!
MAN LOOKS ON THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE
God wanted my mom to know who I was and how He saw me, before we started on this journey together. He knew we’d have rough times ahead of not seeing eye to eye, where she wouldn’t be able to see my value. I’m grateful for how God tried to share His perspective on my identity, before the devil’s counter-revolution of lies dug its heels into our family. Status, comparison, making something “worthwhile” of your life and “winning” were all ways we tried to “keep up with the Joneses.” Much of our value came from the “outward appearance,” like so many across America and the world. Inevitably, my family suffered for buying into the enemy’s lies.
Judging people and situations by their “outward appearance” has been the default setting of the world, ever since Eve looked at the forbidden fruit. She saw that it was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” (Genesis 3:6) Her eyes deceived her just like ours do.
To be honest, my deepest and most painful struggles surrounding my identity and value have been with my mother, because of these worldly ways of seeing and evaluating people. It’s so easy to fall prey to this perspective. Apart from having the mind of Christ and depending on God, we all can do it and have done it.
BOTH BIG AND SMALL HAMSTER WHEELS TURN THE SAME WAY
As a result of my broken places, I can tell you from firsthand experience, the world’s ways of evaluating people are hostile, dangerous and damaging to humanity.
Human beings made in God’s image were not meant to run hamster wheels trying to catch an illusion of success, defined by the world. Who cares if the person next to me has a bigger hamster wheel with a two-car garage and a pool in the backyard or a bigger ministry or a more public platform? Run faster, work harder, make that next level, get that promotion, attract the numbers, please the boss, etc. Trading your hamster wheel in for a bigger one is not the picture of success. Neither is trading the world’s hamster wheel for a ministry-model hamster wheel.
We must ask ourselves this question: Which race are we running? God’s? The world’s? The race of ministry expectations? (By the way, Jesus was led by His Father and not by ministry expectations.) Whatever race we run, that’s where we’ll end up in the end. We’ll either win eternal rewards or a handful of hard-won ashes. Therefore, choose wisely.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10:40-42
Yes, it’s important to be diligent, sacrificial and have a spirit of excellence. But, sometimes, people take it too far and become “workaholics” in the ministry. They and others pat themselves on the back for it, because it’s for Jesus and people in need. And, all the while, the hamster wheel spins. Jesus may have long since spun off as we meet quotas and make our brownie points for the day, week, month and year.
BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW
Long ago, the nation of Israel wanted to have a time of consecration unto the Lord. In other words, they wanted to take time off to worship, pray and spend time in God’s presence.
Here’s how Pharaoh, their boss, responded:
You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” –Exodus 5:7-9
Pharaoh still strikes the whip today as a hard taskmaster, piling on the work to keep people from their relationship with God. Echoes of his voice can be heard at work, at church, in ministry, at the gym, at home, etc.
TAKE ME OFF OF THIS CRAZY RIDE
If you think about it, the only person who can make the hamster wheel turn or stop is you. No-one can make you run on it, but you. We perpetuate the illusion and keep the wheels spinning by glorifying how things appear outwardly and then striving to become that picture. Don’t be deceived, this stress on the outward appearance can happen just as much in our churches and ministries. Ultimately, to be free is as simple as stopping, getting off the hamster wheel and escaping the cage. God has already opened the cage door for you.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:29-30
ARE YOU BEAUTIFUL TO GOD OR TO THE WORLD?
Let’s look at one prime example of how the devil gets people to run the hamster wheel.
Perhaps, nothing screams more “outward appearance” than aspiring to the world’s definition of female beauty.
Colbie Caillat released a song back in 2014 called “Try.”
Pressures in her own life to change her physical image and musical style inspired her to write the song. Essentially, she wanted to empower women to like themselves. In the song, she tells women they don’t have try so hard to change who they are or what they look like in order to please others. Since the last time I checked on Youtube, her video had 81,960,825 views. (Wow, her message seems to resonate with a lot of people.) Hopefully, many of these women are already contemplating their escape.
Put your make-up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim so they like you, do they like you?
(Are you starting to hear the whirl of the hamster wheel?)
The song continues to describe various ways women keep up their outward appearance, so they’ll be liked. In other words, more hamster wheel activities.
But, then, Caillat calls everyone to slow down and reflect on what they’re doing on that hamster wheel.
You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try
Phew! These women must be exhausted from having to try so hard to look a certain way. If only they could see, rest comes from being accepted in the Beloved and knowing and applying the truth of God’s Word. (Ephesians 1:6, John 8:31-32)
YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRY WITH GOD
God doesn’t want you to try, try, try to meet the world’s standards of beauty; He wants you to become the person He created you to be from the inside out.
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your INNER SELF, the UNFADING BEAUTY of a GENTLE and QUIET SPIRIT, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. –1 Peter 3:3-5 (CAPS mine)
Of course, I’m not saying it’s superficial or bad to want to look good. Our priorities, however, need to be in the right order with the proper balance. Also, when our identities get wrapped up in how we look, there’s a problem. At that point, we’ve put too much emphasis on the house, rather than what’s inside of it.
Again, in Peter’s letter, we see how God evaluates the person’s heart instead of their outward appearance. God wants us to cultivate the inner person of the heart. On the other hand, the world, the flesh and the devil want you to pursue perfecting your outward appearance to the neglect of your heart and character. The devil designed the hamster wheel swirl of activities to keep people running in circles, lunging for the carrot they can never quite reach.
When you’re all about the peanut shell and not the peanut, you end up with a people of husks.
Where do you spend more of your time and focus, on the outward beauty or the inward beauty? When you look at other people, what’s more important to you: their character and heart or their looks and outward achievements?
What if these women could see themselves as God sees them and could hear what God would speak over them?
Maybe, they’d get off the wheel right now and rush the cage door.
A DIAMOND CAN CUT THROUGH LIES
When God gave my mom that dream about me, He anticipated the minefield of our relationship and broke into time and space just to tell my mom, This is who Joyce is!
Even though I love my mom dearly, and, thankfully, have a much better relationship with her today, I hope my story highlights the fact that the world and God see in very different ways. Man looks on the outward appearance, whereas God looks on the heart. My Father named me “Diamond” and I use the crystalline hardness of that word to cut across every lie the enemy has ever tried to tell me!
Consequently, I keep this dream close to my heart and pull it out whenever I need that deep reminder of how God sees me and how He created me to be. Sometimes, I think the dream was more for me than my mom, because God knew I’d need it and would keep looking back to it.
GOD HAS A DREAM FOR EACH OF US
There are a million other stories just like mine, with words given, dreams dreamt, eyes opened, talents revealed, etc., all for the purpose of seeing others the way God sees them.
No matter where you come from or your denomination, God gave us the gift of prophecy to strengthen, encourage and comfort people. (1 Corinthians 14:3) Revelation 19:10 declares “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Whenever we prophesy, we speak Jesus’ testimony over a person’s life to counteract the lies and accusations of the enemy. (Revelation 12:10) Can we all agree we need more of this prophetic encouragement? Jesus’ testimony about us can fortify our hearts to stand against an onslaught of lies.
LIFE OFF THE WHEEL
Since I got off my own particular set of hamster wheels, I don’t get applauded as much. I don’t get awards for how fast or how long I run, or how many hamster miles I tick off. I probably won’t ever be the poster girl for my church or ministry. But, the great thing is I don’t really care, because my Father has already spoken and given me his stamp of approval. He sees the diamond forming in me and he tells me that diamonds aren’t supposed to be running on hamster wheels. After all, hamster wheels are for hamsters, not for God’s beloved children.
When the diamond is ready, He’ll put it into a setting to shine light, sometimes, with a light so bright you won’t even be able to look at it.
That’s my story!
Thanks, Mom, for having spoken my Father’s word over me!
— Joyce Lee
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS:
- Do you ever use your gifts to get attention or approval from others? Why or why not? Pray and reflect on why your heart needs this approval from others. Do you feel insecure about your identity and worth in God’s eyes? How can you position your life to be loved more deeply by God to fortify your identity in Christ? Make a plan and carry it out.
- When we’re insecure or needy, we may use our gifts and “outward appearance” to get what we think we need from others. Out of that place, we can offer our gifts with unclean motives. Reflect on a time when you were given a gift with strings attached. How did that make you feel? Do you see how operating out of this place can be unloving? If you recognize this pattern in your life, take some time to repent before God.
- Do you care more about the image you present or about the reality of your own heart? Do you judge others more by their outward appearance and accomplishments or by their heart and character? Depending on where you find yourself on this spectrum, what are some things you can do to view people more with God’s eyes instead of the world’s eyes?
- Reflect upon your work, school, home or ministry experience. Which race have you been running? God’s? The world’s? Or the race of ministry expectations? If you’ve been on the hamster wheel of people’s expectations, instead of being led by your Father’s voice, how can you stop and get off the wheel? Pick one area and take time to work on it. What mindsets can you change? What boundaries need to be placed around your time, work and energy? Where do you need to say “No, I’m sorry, I won’t be able to do that for you.”
- Has God ever spoken your identity over you through a dream, prophetic word, someone’s encouragement, etc.? Reflect upon those times and those words. Take some time to pray them more deeply into your heart and spirit.
- Have you ever been hurt by people in your past, however well-meaning, who’ve tried to evaluate you by the outward appearance? What can you now do to make it right? Have you forgiven them? What passages or verses of Scripture can you meditate on to protect those areas targeted in your life? Ask God what He’d like to say to you in those areas.
- Women jump through hoops to attain the world’s standards of beauty. Have you been a victim in this area? Here are some questions that could help guide your journey: What can you do to take your eyes of the world’s way of seeing things? (Think through what your eyes look upon on any given day: magazines, movies, TV shows, commercials and so on.) How can you stop comparing yourself to others? In what ways could you connect more deeply with the way God sees your beauty? What good Christian books could you read on the subject? Develop a plan and seek to follow it.
- Free people inspire others to also want to be free themselves. How can you escape the demands and expectations of the world shared in this post and live free before your Father in Heaven? Pray and ask God for wisdom. Apply what He tells you to do.
- God evaluates people according to the heart and not the outward appearance. What will be your plan to cultivate this inner person of the heart?
- Were there any verses or points made in the blog that spoke to you? Why? What is God trying to say to you through them?