Spiritual Outside, Empty Inside

It is not often the big sins that destroy us. Most of us are too proud, too cautious or too concerned with the opinions of others to allow ourselves to fall into the major traps. We would never kill or steal, never physically abuse a child or a spouse and even in our darkest moments would not consider being unfaithful to our spouse. We forget that little sins can be equally deadly. Like slow acting poisons or a chronic disease, they chip away at our spiritual health until our lives are in shambles.

Joe learned this lesson the hard way. He had been married for over 10 years and had what appeared to be a perfect life. He was financially secure, active at church and even gave significant time serving the poor. If there was a goodness list, he seemed to be systematically checking all of boxes. At each visit he about family, church and ministry to the point where I was impressed by his obvious spiritual commitment. It seemed that the right things mattered and that his life was in balance.

It wasn’t. The illusion of success and harmony was shattered by his wife’s decision to leave him. He was committed to church, attended a weekly small group and served in ministry but he was failing in the one area where the Bible gives specific instruction. He wasn’t putting his wife first. The attention, love and devotion that should have been hers was consistently directed outside the home. She grew weary of being ignored and set aside, ultimately reaching the point where she decided she couldn’t take it anymore.

Her decision pulled back the curtain on his life and revealed him for the man he truly was. The external man visible to the world, active in church and talking about spiritual things, was just that, external. His motive for service was the way it made him feel and they way others viewed him. He made a show of grand acts of service but the simple essentials of being a good man at home were ignored. The smaller, unseen sins of selfishness and neglect of his wife went unaddressed and eventually brought him down.

His story reminds me that this is a common problem in our culture today. Our interactions with one another are brief and our conversations shallow. We define goodness and spirituality by readily observable actions and activities- Good people go to church, really good people attend a small group or a Bible study, and Godly people give a few hours a week to the poor. The reality is that these activities do not require goodness and do not require significant change in our hearts or attitudes.

Just as physical health is more dependent on daily habits than on a thrice weekly exercise program, spiritual health is more dependent on daily faithfulness than church attendance and small group meetings.

True Christian character is not defined in superficial terms or occasional activity. Godliness is best defined in the drudgery of daily life, in the daily interactions we have with our family, friends and co-workers, in the relationships in which we spend the majority of our time. It is by being faithful in even the smallest details of our lives that our light truly shines the brightest and best and is least likely to fade over time. 

My prayer is that I will be faithful first in those areas of my life that the outside world doesn’t see, in ways my church friends could overlook. May my life be characterized by love, kindness and forgiveness in my home, may I treat my patients and employees with grace and gentleness, may I overlook slights and mistreatment at the hands of others, and as I do, may the character forged in these daily endeavors serve as a foundation for greater service.

-          Bart

The idea of our daily lives and interactions being the way in which we shine the light of Christ to the world was a major them in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and was the subject of a sermon I shared recently with a church group. You can watch the clip here.

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