I have been privileged by virtue of my family relationship with my brother Sam to enjoy mentoring from Bishop David Oyedepo who is an embodiment of wisdom. Every meeting has been an encounter with illumination. On one of such occasions, he had asked after our young congregation in Ibadan and I told him how we had left a beautiful air conditioned hotel where we worshiped for our permanent location which only had a German floor which we covered with rented canopies that protected us partially from the elements of nature. Of course there was a sharp contrast between the comfort, aesthetics and accessibility of the hotel and the harsh conditions of an ongoing project located in an undeveloped area at the time. As we made to leave he prayed for my brother and I as usual and in praying for me asked for God’s provision for the speedy completion of our building project to become a beautiful building that reflected God’s glory and not something that will ‘repel’ the people from worshipping God.
I took note of his words and actually felt a tinge of disappointment at the notion that the ugly state of our uncompleted project had the capacity to ‘repel’ people from church! Are God’s people not supposed to be focused on God regardless of ephemerals like the appearance and aesthetics of a building? Ought not church people be spiritual enough to go only where the Spirit leads them to worship regardless of the comfort or discomfort? I kept ruminating over it again and again as I returned to Ibadan where I was based. I remember sending out a group of young men into the surrounding areas of Liberty Road Ibadan where our new church location was(and still is). Their brief was to find out why people didn’t go to church on Sunday morning and to find out what we can do about it. The results were interesting as several young people told them how they used to worship in a hotel until the church they attended left for an incomplete project site. Unknown to them, they were speaking to members of the church that did so. My naivety was obvious to the Bishop who graciously did not rebuke me but rather prayed for God’s blessing to speed up the completion. That also opened my eyes to why church attendance had plummeted from over 1,200 to about 600.
Since the above development, I have observed many anointed ministries remain small and insignificant because of their neglect of poor outward appearances or other sociological factors that affect church attendance. The same applies to businesses. Many businesses with tremendous products and services remain buried in oblivion because no one takes notice of them. Business premises repel, social media projection and corporate identity are weak and customer service is poor. We call upon God to bless us and then use poor appearances to minimize the manifestation of the blessing. It is naive and presumptuous to assume that since God intervenes on our affairs, human consideration can be waived away. I must agree that there are extraordinary circumstances where God bypasses nature, order, protocols or norms to do what He pleases, but can you imagine if Esther would have ever become a queen in Persia if she did not follow the protocols in the palace as advised? Would Ruth have ended up in the house of Boaz if she did not position herself to be seen by Boaz according to the advice of Naomi? Would the nations of the world have respected the Temple of Solomon if he had not made it more magnificent than the temples of lesser and inconsequential gods?
In 1 Samuel 16, we read of how God commanded Samuel to go down to Bethlehem and choose a king for Israel to replace Saul who had been rejected by God. Enters Eliab, the first son of Jesse and Samuel the great prophet of Israel was convinced this was the chosen one as he declared ‘Surely, the Lord’s anointed is before Him’. Thank God, the declaration was to himself and not verbalized. God told Samuel not to look at his stature nor his appearance because ‘I have refused him’, for man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Samuel was influenced by the appearance of Eliab but God was not. The first lesson here is that God wants us to prioritize our inward appearance above the outward before Him. Many people will stand before God having spent all their lives on the outward and miss all their reward. Peter emphasized this truth in 1 Peter 3:3, admonishing the women to focus on the hidden man of the heart by developing a quiet and meek spirit which is in the sight of God of great price. God values character above charisma, holiness above appearances, the fruit of the spirit above impressions. God cares more about who we are when no one is looking than the fronts we present to the world.
The fact that God looks at the heart is the reason why His mercy and grace is often a mystery to us. He approved of David who will later commit adultery and murder, and rejected Saul for messing up twice in circumstances that might seem of lesser consequences to us. However, God sees behind the actions at the attitudes, motives and reactions no one can see. He sees how Saul was short on reverence for Him and high on his reputation with others. He saw how putting up appearances mattered more to him than pleasing God. On the other hand, God also saw how the weaknesses of David got a hold of him and how out of fear he tried to cover it up even to the extreme of murder. God saw Saul’s defiance in the face of wrong but David’s regret and penitence. We ought to be wise enough to value what God values. A man after God’s own heart(1 Samuel 13:14) is one in pursuit of the things that please God. Such people still have their flesh to deal with for as long as they are in this world but their desire to please God is stronger than the pull of their baser instincts. When however they might fall as they could at moments of loss of focus and vulnerability, they refuse to stay down. Their hearts break at breaking God’s heart and they find their way back to righteousness consciousness and bear fruits of holiness again. God sees beyond their falls to the deep recesses of their hearts.
I will like however to stress that it is God that sees the heart, not man. In outreach, business, ministry and all human endeavours, we must remember that man looks on the outward appearance. This means that a good heart can be misconstrued by the wrong appearance. We should do our best to allow the outward to reflect the inward. We must be conscious that people make their decisions and judgements about us based on our outward appearances. Churches exist to disciple communities. However, if their buildings are ugly, dilapidated, uncompleted, rusty, and uncomfortable, it will repel the same people Christ sent them to. On the other hand, as ambassadors of Christ, if pastors do not reflect his modesty and decency, but rather appear flamboyant, ostentatious and loud, that may also send the wrong message. A godly young woman in search of a devoted Christian to marry will not attract him with open cleavages, see through dresses and sex appeal. That sends a message of availability for unserious relationships and not for a godly marriage. Businesses also send pleasant and unpleasant messages by their appearances. I used to watch a program on TV where experts look at poorly performing businesses and by rebranding them and changing their outlooks turn their fortunes around. Same business owners, same location, but with changes in outlook and customer service have their fortunes turned around. It’s amazing how better we can all perform if we would mind our appearances more.
The summary is that we must know how to prioritize the state of our hearts before God but at the same time mind our outward appearances before people. Our appearances matter to our success. It starts with how we dress. Your dress covers 80-90% of your entire body and therefore creates the first impression about you when people meet you. The state of the car you drive, the house you live, the place you worship, where you do business, publicity and advertisement, engagement on social media etc. If not for divine intervention, Samuel would not have poured oil on David. Even the most anointed prophet is affected by outward appearance.