I cannot number how many glorious and ancient cathedrals across Europe that I have had the privilege of visiting. Absolute masterpieces of design and architecture. Of seeing the tall spires, the soaring vaulted ceilings and intricate stained glass windows. Cathedrals built as a house of God. A place to encounter God and worship Him for centuries to come. Yet as glorious as they are, the true tabernacle of God is not to be found in the must see list of Cathedrals on a European tour, it is to be found in the heart of man.
What is the architecture of our hearts like? Are our hearts as open and large as a Cathedral nave? Do we reflect God’s glory and light in our hearts as much as even the simplest and most humble stained glass window does? Is the door to our hearts open wide with love to strangers and enemies as much as to a friend? Or are our hearts like the crowded inns of Bethlehem with little or no room for God? Cluttered perhaps with our everyday worries and concerns. Dirty and dusty with maybe sin or hurt that line our hearts like an old fresco in need to restoration.
These Cathedrals have been lovingly cared for and centuries on they continue to give glory to God. Do our hearts need some renovation so we can continue to do the same?
“And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22)
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
For several years now I’ve driven past the café 2 minutes from my house without so much of a second thought. On the corner of a busy road, it just didn’t appeal, it looked empty and bland. When I have gone to grab a coffee I have headed to my favourite haunts in the next suburb over. However, recently on a recommendation I ventured in, and found what I have been missing all these years. Within the doors of this inconsequential looking café are delicious French pastries, made fresh on site each day. Warm, light, flaky and buttery croissants, either plain, chocolate or almond. Soft cinnamon brioches glazed to perfection. Tarts piled high with strawberries and cream. The coffee too, hot, strong and delicious. Friendly and lovely staff. I have been won over.
So often we judge by appearance and not just when it comes to cafes. We judge other people by how they look, whether it is the person applying for the job, the person at the door, a potential date or a friend. Anyone we come into contact with we can make assumptions based on how they look. We judge ourselves too, and often even harsher than on a stranger. We can criticise how we look or appear, we can focus on the flaws. Barraged with photo shopped images in media, we can become discontent or spiral into comparative living by measuring how we look compared to every other woman on the planet. We can think our appearance disqualifies us from pursuing our dreams. We can think our appearance matters most for being loved and accepted.
Appearances aren’t everything. We need to remember that we were created and are loved by a God who favours our heart about all. Nothing in a person’s outward appearance impresses God. God looks upon the inner beauty, the beauty of one’s heart.
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) While the Bible mentions the beauty of Sarah, of Rebekah, the external beauty of the one He chose to be mother to Jesus was not mentioned. What we do know, however, is that Mary was a woman who found favour with God and who despite the risks, ridicule and danger said yes to God. And to God, that was what mattered most.
“You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” (1 Peter 3:4)
It is the inner beauty that captivates the heart. It is the inner beauty that matters.
I hopped into my car, having dropped the boys off at school. Starting the engine, my car began beeping and flashing warning lights at me. My car’s quite a clever wee thing though, and on my dashboard came a message as to the reason why little alarms were going off. I had an open door, more specifically, according to the car, the left hand rear door. Once I had sorted it out, alarms and warning messages stopped and off I drove.
Wouldn’t it be nice if in our lives a little warning light would go off about an open door in our hearts that needs to be closed. A door to fear, to bitterness, to discouragement. Then we could leap into action and address – close the door before it got worse. Had I not stopped and shut the car door it may have caused me more trouble later on by swinging open while I was driving causing an accident, same with life – some things just get worse.
We’re better off if we pay attention to the little things in life and relationships and not let them get incrementally worse. When discontentment, resentments, or offences begun to creep into our hearts they begin a barrier between us and others. Stone upon stone, layer upon layer, a wall materialises. But if we address each hurt, each stone and remove it, walls that shut out people wouldn’t be built.
When the doors of our hearts open to fear, to discouragement, to negativity, they can paralyse us and rob us of enjoying our lives. Little things can quickly mount up and become bigger issues if we neglect them in the first place. But we can slam the close the door on these too. We can recognise the triggers and avoid or dismantle them.
“Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song of Solomon 2:15)
Good thing that we have the Holy Spirit ever present with us. The Holy Spirit is there as our helper to shut these doors in our lives. His nudges are less obtrusive than the alarms and flashing lights in my car, but they’re still there. The losing of peace as we follow through on a course of action or a train of thought, the feeling of conviction (ps – not condemnation) over a programme watched, the disquiet in a conversation, even the left field thought for action.
They say it’s the final straw that breaks the camel’s back. A piece of straw is not significant nor weighty by itself, but along with several thousand other pieces, it can make all the difference. Each little offence adds up, each exposure to fear feeds the monster. So it’s good to curate our heart and close doors that need to be closed, forgive where needed, change the negative track that’s playing in our mind and then let the love of God and the grace of Jesus surround us.
Good reason to have the Holy Spirit help us navigate through life I reckon.