Author Lynn Anderson, in his book They Smell Like Sheep, volume 2, tells a penetrating story about character and integrity. It is the story of a stressed-out Christian woman’s conference speaker who was impatiently tailgating a man’s care at rush hour on a busy boulevard. Suddenly the light in front of the man turned yellow. Even though he probably could have beaten the red light, he did the honest thing and stopped at the crosswalk.
This infuriated the “Christian” speaker. She hit the horn, screaming in frustration at her missed chance to get through the intersection. Then, in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up to see the very serious face of a police officer. He ordered her out of the car, handcuffed her and took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and locked in a cell.
After some time, the cell opened and an officer escorted her back to the booking desk, where the arresting officer waiting with her personal effects. “I am very sorry for this mistake,” the arresting officer explained, “You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of your and cursing a blue streak. When I noticed the Choose Life license-plate holder, the What Would Jesus Do? And Follow Me to Sunday School bumper stickers, plus the chrome-plated fish emblem on the trunk, I just knew this had to be a stolen car.”
The moral of the story? Don’t put fish symbols or Christian bumper stickers on your car so you can behave any way you want to on the road? No, that is not it. It is this: the little times in life are often the best reflection of our true character. It is the little frustrations, the little annoyances, the little troubles that often cause a reaction that reflects our true character.
Jesus tells us that what comes out of our life – evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander – come out because they reside in our hearts. (Matt. 15:18-19) Our outward actions – especially in those times when we are alone or think no one else is watching – are a true reflection of our hearts. In another place, Jesus notes that no good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit. The good person, out of the good treasure of his heart, produces good, and the evil person, out of his evil treasure, produces evil. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
For some of us, those might be pretty discouraging words. After all, if we are honest, it is easy to see our sin. And believe me, what we see is not nearly as disgusting and ugly as what God sees. Listen to God’s judgment on our hearts: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9, ESV) Apart from the work of God, our hearts are sick, disgusting things. And that could be cause for despair.
But what has Jesus done in our hearts? He has come to dwell in our hearts through faith. (Eph. 3:17) In Christ, God has shone the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in our hearts. (2 Cor. 4:6) God’s love has been poured out into our hearts. (Rom. 5:5) God has purified our hearts, enabling us to reflect something different than ugliness. Peter notes that God’s purifying work empowers us to love each other earnestly from a pure heart. (1 Pet. 1:22)
As a result, we have hope. We are not imprisoned in the ugly habits we may have. (Rom. 6:12-14) We are not stuck responding to trouble or trial in a negative way. We are not powerless in the face of the sins that still influence our heart. God, who is at work in our hearts, molding them and shaping them to be more like the heart of Jesus, can change us. He is committed to completing the work of grace and change he began in us. (Phil. 1:6) Our response? I could not say it better than the apostle James: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10, ESV)