For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
This verse has all it takes to both comfort and frighten us. God is not looking at you like people look at you. What a relief! God is looking at the heart. Aack!
In this passage, which is about the anointing of David as king, God told Samuel to not look at the outward appearance, but instead, follow God’s lead and look deeper.
Our first instinct in this passage is to view it as a one time thing. Like you get ready to go be “seen” by man and God, and people see the outside and God sees the inside. The reality is that this is ongoing. We don’t have a week to get our hearts tidy before God does His rounds to check on us. We are not free to take as much time as we need to get it in order before He sees it. God sees us always, and God looks at the heart always. There is nothing that can escape His view. What God sees is the ongoing state of our hearts. He sees every bit of work, every bit of honoring Him, every bit of sacrifice. God sees the heart. He also sees every self indulgence, every fudging of the truth, every bout with envy, every spiritual weakness. God sees the heart.
Now the reason that I brought up this verse today is that I am in the midst of Spring cleaning. I am assuming many of us are. In my house though, Spring cleaning is more of a burning desire than an actual activity. With our houseful of busy little messers, we spend a lot of time trying to pick up. Tidy up. Sweeping pinecones, cootie-catchers, watercolored receipts, and marker lids out from under the table. Getting the dirty clothes off of the stairs, and the cups full of toothpaste out of the bathroom. We live cleaning the surface of our external lives, never getting to the deeper level. Then, on some fortuitous day you get it all picked up. And suddenly, you see it. Filthy baseboards. Walls that have had little hands dragging across them. Carpet that is going to need to just be replaced. Furniture that must go. Curtains that have had a nose wiped on them. Sticky handprints all over every glass surface, and probably on everything else too.
I had a burning trouble with the garage being a big mess, and the storage room being disorganized. Because you can’t clean out anything without somewhere to put the things you clean out. It is like one of those maddening puzzles where you try to slide one tile into the right spot, but in order to do it you have to undo everything and mess up the world. One of the great temptations of this sort of situation is that you still have children. They are still doing monstrous army guy set ups in the living room. The baby still wants to have you smash up a banana and sit down to nurse every 5 minutes. Children still need discipline, and conversation. Dinner still needs to happen. In spite of the huge pile of clothing cast-offs, regular life is ongoing.
In other words, these times of added activity in our lives are times when our hearts are under added pressure. It is easy to get so wound up with how it looks on the outside that we decide to let it all go to seed on the inside. But God looks on the heart. God prefers your ant infestation to a fussy infestation. God prefers a major backup on the dishes to a backup on repentance. God delights in a well kept heart, and does not care about the storage room. God sees the progress of your heart, and does not care about the progress on the outside. Of course the two are connected, but they are often not directly corresponding. Do not look as man looks, but rather look past the appearances.
God looks at the spiritual state of your home. He looks at how you are loving your children as you try to clean the house. He looks at how you handle your heart when you are confronted by physical obstacles. He wants to see our hearts in order, our hearts living joyfully before Him.