On a warm, spring afternoon, walking along pathways that lead between city and country, between suburbia and farmland, I passed by a sprawling property, the home and gardens of a local landowner. I saw that the trees had remained unpruned, that the ground had gone untended, that the fences all around were sagging and broken down. I observed the sign by the road that advertised the owner’s business: Landscape & Maintenance. I paused to consider, I stopped to meditate until I would receive instruction.
And then it came: A man is not likely to be a skillful or faithful keeper of the property of others who does not keep his own. The mechanic whose car never runs is not to be trusted to maintain mine, the owner of a broken-down house is not a good candidate to carry out renovations on my own, the landscaper who can’t be bothered caring for his property lacks the credibility to tend to my lawn and gardens.
We may easily spot such inconsistencies in the lives and vocations of others, but it can be difficult to spot them in our own. Sin, after all, is deceptive. Sin obscures the truth, it blinds us to our own flaws, it persuades us that vice is virtue and virtue vice. There is some of the hypocrite in each of us, some degree of blindness, some measure of unwillingness to see and know the truth.
Little wonder, then, that David’s prayer was “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Or, another time, “Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.” Such prayers should be often on our tongues. We should earnestly plead that God would reveal what we obscure, that he would persuade us of what we would otherwise deny. “Search me, God, and show me.”
God will answer that prayer. He may answer it by the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit. A certain passage of Scripture may come to mind, or even just a dawning awareness of the awfulness of a certain sin or a certain pattern of sin. Or perhaps on a Sunday you’ll be convinced that the application portion of the sermon was prepared with only you in mind. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Jesus said it was better for us if he would depart and the Spirit would come—better because now the Spirit dwells within each of us to carry out that work of sanctification from the inside out. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” He does, indeed. God loves to answer our prayers by his Spirit, through his Word.
He may also answer that prayer through the mouths of people. One of the joys of being in fellowship with Christians is the knowledge that others have eyes on us, that others can identify what we fail to see or what we refuse to acknowledge. One of the joys of having Christian friends is knowing they are so much on our side that they will broach the difficult topics, that they will speak the difficult truths. A distinguishing mark of a true friend is the willingness to speak into another person’s life, even when doing so risks hurt. And on the flip side, an evidence of Christian character is not only the willingness to hear such hard words, but the desire to. Far greater than our desire to look good in the eyes of others should be our desire to look like Christ.
And so we always do well to pray that God would reveal what we need to know to be perfectly conformed to the image of his Son, to pray that he would let us see ourselves through his eyes, to instruct us inwardly or outwardly. “Lead me in your truth and teach me,” we pray, “for you are the God of my salvation.”
(Inspired by Matthew Henry’s commentary on Acts 20.)