Cosmetics (make-up) have two basic purposes. The first is to hide ugly. Some people just paste on the makeup wherever the blemish is, and hope it doesn't rain. The second purpose is to enhance beauty. It's to draw attention to the beauty that's already there—the high cheekbones, the bright eyes, the glowing smile. Although I'm no expert on make-up, it seems to me that the second use is the better use. Bringing out beauty is much better than just hiding ugly.
I've come to believe that ministry leaders have the same purposes when it comes to the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life (prayer, fasting, Bible study, meditation, solitude). Some of us have the mindset that we'll load this stuff on, hoping that enough coats of it will cover the "ugly" of our lives and help us to appear godly and mature. This is a danger that spiritual directors have warned against for centuries. Theophan the Recluse, a spiritual director in Russia in the nineteenth century, said:
"Cold obedience and legalistic action based on calculated reason, even punctuality, sobriety and honest behavior, are not in themselves absolute evidence that our life has a truly Christian quality…All of these things are good, but as long as they're not informed by the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, they have no value in the eyes of God. Then these acts are like lifeless idols."
The real purpose of the disciplines is to bring out the beauty of the image of Christ that is already present. It's so shaping our outward lives and practices so as to allow the beauty of Christ clearly to be seen. Pursuing the spiritual disciplines, then, is an exercise in authenticity. It's steeping our souls in pure, clear light so that the true image of Jesus in us can be seen without distraction.
Church leaders often spend a lot of time hiding the reality of their spiritual life. They layer on the pretense of a devoted prayer life or the daily practice of "spirituality." When really they're just trying to hide what they fear to be an anemic soul. They live in constant worry that a little rain will wash off their façade and their real ugliness will be exposed for the entire world to see.
However, the strength of a person's soul-life is Christ in them, not the amount of spiritual gymnastics he or she can perform. Spiritual beauty, maturity, and strength flow from the fullness of God with whom we are united. The disciplines are simply bright lights to shine on the beauty of Christ's image in us. The brighter and clearer the light, the more Christ himself can radiate through you and your ministry.
So, what are you doing these days? Hiding ugly? Or bringing out beauty? Before you cake on any more make-up, meditate on the words of Paul:
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ…" (Col. 2:9,10).
Glenn Wagner is the founder and president of FutureLead. He is the author of numerous books, including Fire In Your Bones, God: An Honest Conversation For The Undecided and Escape From Church, Inc. He enjoys riding his Harley and listening to jazz and blues www.futurelead.org.
Original publication date: September 11, 2009