“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” (Psalm 139:1-4)
“Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.” (Isaiah 42:19-20)
You might be surprised how much of your thoughts can be read from your facial expressions. As inscrutable as the heart can be, you can telegraph quite a bit, even inadvertently.
At least that’s what I discovered when I first had the opportunity to teach publicly in the church about 30+ years ago. What I’m about to describe to illustrate this is a composite of experiences. Each and every instance did not have all the elements, but they were broadly the same.
When I’d start speaking, eyes would be fastened on me intently to pick up clues as to where the teaching was going. Next, the face would soften a bit in recognition of some truth. Then the eyes would look off to the side or down indicating a connection between what is being spoken and some experience summoned from memory. Then, whether it was spouses side-by-side or just two friends, one would whisper something to the neighbor, eliciting a smile and a nod, then turn back to me with a look of satisfaction.
Then came the zinger. The aforementioned whisperer would come up to me after the meeting, shake her head and say, “My goodness, I know someone exactly like the person you described who needs to hear this.” (Never spoken but always assumed, that person wasn’t present.)
I never actually said this but always wanted to: “I know someone who needs to hear this, too. It’s you.”
That this can happen in churches is really a sad commentary on the ministry of the word of God. Church is often the place to go to hear about God, but infrequently to hear from God. I hope you know that there is a world of difference.
At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus taught expressly about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the “Counselor” sent from the Father. His ministry would, and does to this day, comprise “taking from what is mine [i.e., of Jesus himself] and making it known to you” (Jn 16:14), among other things.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is living and real and intimately familiar with you and your past, present and future. It’s a sobering negative example, but how did Peter know that Ananias and Sapphira kept back part of the proceeds from the sale of their property, unless it was revealed by the Spirit himself?
“Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3) How could this happen unless the Holy Spirit was just as present in that place in that day and at that hour as you or I sitting at our computers right now?
What Ananias and Sapphira imagined, to put it plainly, is what many today imagine the church to be: A one-dimensional set of human-to-human relationships based on agreement on a select collection of doctrinal truths and a set of “biblical principles” derived from that.
When you’re around those fellow believers, you must live a certain way to maintain your status within the group. But away from them, or even by just concealing certain things when with them to preserve appearances, the disposition of your heart really doesn’t matter. (If you’ve noticed no mention of God in this, you’re on the right track.)
If this is the way you view church, then you have received your reward in full, as Jesus said of the Pharisees who did their “acts of righteousness” to be seen by men (Mt 6:1-2).
When you hear the word preached, it will always be about someone else, when in fact it’s aimed directly at you. Such is the allure and power of man’s praise that it can drown out even the clear and incisive word of God—again and again and again. That’s not about me, but if only Brad or Heather were here. This fits them like a glove.
What Isaiah is really saying in the passage at the top of the post is, You’ve never seen blindness like the blindness of my servants, who ‘have seen many things, but have paid no attention.’
Is it the will of God that a veil should cover the eyes of those who think they have served God faithfully but in fact have buried their talent? (Mt 25:25) Of course not.
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” said the woman at the well to the townspeople (Jn 4:1-30). During their conversation, Jesus had elicited the fact she had had five husbands and now a man who wasn’t her husband. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).
But though this woman’s history was “laid bare,” when she testified to others “they came out of the town and made their way toward him” (Jn 4:30). From being known, in even the unseemly parts of our lives, to making known.