I haven’t been blogging lately – not because I’m not processing the Gospel, but because I haven’t really been processing singleness. One of the things that occupied my time and thoughts the last 4-5 weeks has been a devotional talk I gave at a ladies event at my church today.
Just to prove that I’m still alive and thinking deep thoughts, here is the transcript of my 20-minute talk. Happy reading, friends!
How many of you, today, did something just to make yourself look pretty?
<show of hands>
What did you do to make yourself pretty? Tell me some things.
<pretty dress, lipstick, makeup, high heels, hairdo, etc.>
I know I tried to look pretty today. I put on this dress and did my nails and everything.
How many of you told someone else they look pretty today?
<show of hands>
Okay, last question (for now). How many of you when you were getting ready to come to the tea today got prettied up just so you could hear other people tell you how beautiful you are?
<show of hands>
We all want to look pretty, but more importantly, we all want to feel beautiful, don’t we? If we’re really honest with ourselves, we have things we do that we think will make us feel beautiful and be beautiful to the people around us.
In order to know if we’re beautiful, we have things we look at, and we compare ourselves those things, right? We have standards of where we think we should be on the beauty scales.
Can anyone tell me what you compare yourself to in order to know if you’re beautiful?
<magazines, other people, yourself from 10 years ago, your sisters, your mom, etc.>
We live in a culture that is obsessed with being pretty. Even if you’re shielding your daughters from it, even if you’re only 6 years old, even if you live in a cave, you can’t really get away from the messages we get every day that we need to be beautiful in order to be worth something.
The advertisements around us say, “Use this soap, and have beautiful skin so you can attract other beautiful people to you.” “Wear this perfume and smell beautiful so you can have an attractive man next to you.” “Drive this car and look beautiful so you can have the most fun anyone can ever have in life.” “Drink this shake, go on that diet, get this surgery, remove that hair, shop at this store, go to that gym – and you’ll be so beautiful that everyone will love you.”
But has it always been this way? Have people always been crazy about looking pretty for everyone to appreciate? To answer that, let’s go back to the Bible, to the book of Esther.
In the book of Esther, there’s this king who is utterly obsessed with making sure everyone knows that he surrounds himself with the most beautiful things. The first few verses tell about this huge party he throws with beautiful colors everywhere, gold cups and plates, marble floors, and people enjoying themselves everywhere. He throws a party for 6 months – 6 MONTHS – just so people can see how great he is and how beautiful his palace and city are. At the end of the party, he decides that’s not enough. He also has to show off how beautiful his wife is.
So he sends for his wife, but she doesn’t go along with his plan. She refuses to come. She refuses to be another object that he shows off to everyone.
The king should have been like, “Oh yeah, sorry. My bad. You’re right.” But oooooooh no. He basically fires her from her job as head of the royal household, and he more or less divorces her. He tells her to never come into his presence again.
A couple of years go by, and the king realizes that he still needs someone to be his queen. So. What does he do? Does he marry a nice girl from down the street? Does he head over to the next-door country and make an alliance by marrying the other king’s daughter? No. He decides he needs to marry the MOST beautiful person in his whole kingdom.
So he sends for his helpers, and they have to go along with his plan. He sends them out to gather up all the most beautiful women. And, let me tell you, his kingdom was not small. It covered most of the known world at the time. There were LOTS of beautiful women.
The king’s helpers bring the women to the palace, and you would think that the king would look at them, choose one to be his queen, and then send the rest home. But does he do that? No. He decides they need to be MORE beautiful.
So he sets up a beauty routine for them that last 6 months and then 6 MORE months. And then – and THEN – he makes them get dressed up and look their absolute best in order to even come into his presence. He spends some time with them one by one. But then does he let them go home? No. He keeps them all for himself in a different part of the palace after he has spent time with them.
One by one, the women spend time with the king – and one by one, each woman is still not good enough. After all that. After being forced to leave home, after being told she’s not beautiful enough and needs to go through a year of beauty treatments, after dressing up to look her very best, each woman is still rejected one by one to go live the rest of her life without a husband, without her family, in another part of the palace – with all the other women who were somehow not good enough for the king.
Then one day, the king does find someone. He finds Esther, and she becomes queen, and the rest of the book of Esther is about how God uses her as queen to save God’s people from the evil king and his wicked advisor. But that’s not the part I want to focus on.
My friend Tim wrote a book about Esther, and he says this about what this must have felt like:
Imagine the insecurities these women must feel. Surrounded by the most beautiful women in the empire, they are always looking over their shoulder, always comparing themselves to others, always obsessed with their flaws and how they don’t think they are as pretty as the other women.
Even though Esther wins, Esther knows just how precarious her position as queen is. She knows that just down the hall are hundreds of the most beautiful women in the empire waiting to replace her if she slips up for even a moment. She knows that the only reason she is queen is because Vashti slipped up. She knows that her husband will have no qualms about getting rid of her either if she doesn’t live up to his ridiculous standards. (Page 50)
My point is, from Bible times until now, we have always been concerned with how pretty we are and how we measure up to other people. We probably had thoughts this morning about how we might measure up to someone else in this room.
So if we will never be satisfied by the standards we have put in place. If we will never live up to what other people expect from us. If all the creams and lotions and nail polishes and haircuts in the world aren’t enough to make us happy, then what do we do? What should be our standard?
Well, let me tell you.
Think in your mind of the most beautiful person you have seen or ever want to see. Now, think about God. Who’s more beautiful? The person you thought of? Or God?
The Bible says in Genesis 1:27 that God made humans in his image. What this means is that we are little reflections of God on this earth. Every human is somehow meant to represent at least part of God. He made us all – ALL – of us to look like Him.
And let me tell you something, ladies. God. Is. Beautiful.
God is beautiful, and He made you to be like him. So that means…YOU are beautiful.
It would be easy for me to stop there. I could leave you with that thought, and we could get on to the next part of our time together. (say something about whatever is coming next)
But what I don’t want you to hear is, “God thinks you’re beautiful, so you should stop trying to be pretty.” Because that’s not what I’m saying at all. That’s not going to be enough the next time you change clothes because you’re afraid what people will think of you. It’s not going to be enough when you beg your mom to start letting you wear makeup or shave your legs or go on a diet because you want to be like that other person, get the attention of that boy, or live up to an impossible standard.
So let me tell you something else, ladies. God did something about our human beauty standards. He was so serious about wanting to make sure that we have a proper understanding of beauty that He sent His Son to earth to become – that’s right – a human.
God became a human. A person. In a world of people who were obsessed with being pretty, He came down to be our king.
But not a king like the one in Esther’s story. This king (Jesus) didn’t surround himself with a beautiful palace and rich things and fancy parties. He lived outside and slept on friends’ couches (because he had no home), he had no things other than his clothes, and His parties were the ones that other people threw because He couldn’t afford to.
He didn’t gather up only the people that were the most beautiful and demand that they become more pretty. He gathered up the people that were the most poor and demanded that they follow God. He demanded that they be holy.
He didn’t throw away people when he got tired of them. He stayed up late and got up early and worked all day to teach them about God and what is truly beautiful in this world.
Ladies, hear me. Jesus wasn’t just made in the image of God. Jesus. Was. God. As God, Jesus was literally the most beautiful person in all of history.
His face may not have been pretty to our eyes, but it was the first thing that a blind man saw when Jesus opened his eyes. His body may not have smelled pretty, but his forgiveness was what drove a sinning woman to pour perfume on his feet in gratitude. His clothes may not have been clean, but just one touch of his robe made a woman who had been unclean for years become clean again. He might have been exhausted, but he still found time to bring dead people back to life. And let me tell you – the mother of that dead boy who came back to life at his own funeral probably accurately saw Jesus as the most beautiful person on earth.
So Jesus spent about 33 years as the most beautiful human ever, and then He came to the end of his time on earth. If I had been the savior of the world, I probably would have been just like, “Hey, God, I’m done here. You can transport me up to heaven now! Peace out, guys. Catchya on the flippety.” But did Jesus do that? No.
Instead, He allowed himself to be arrested by people whom he had made in his own image. He was beaten up by people who thought the world’s standards of beauty were more important than God’s. He was put on the cross by people who were seeking other people’s approval instead of God’s. He was killed by people who lived to compare themselves to other people.
Jesus was beaten up so much that the Bible says he didn’t even look like a person anymore. In the end, there was nothing in his body to remind us that he was made in the image of God. But Jesus hanging on the cross is the greatest example of beauty in all of history. He didn’t even look human, and he didn’t have the approval of ANYone; but he was showing us what true beauty is.
Jesus’s death on the cross was beautiful because it was the way He paid for all the times you were ugly in the way you treated someone. All the times I judged someone for wearing the wrong thing in public. All the times we’ve wondered how a person could possibly be so fat or so flabby or so hairy or so weird-looking.
On the cross, Jesus took away our ugliness in the times we try to use our beauty to get what we want (even if it’s just a compliment from someone at church).
On the cross, Jesus literally died for all the times you looked in the mirror and thought you were ugly because you forgot that God made you in His own image.
But we all know that Jesus didn’t just die, don’t we? We know that 3 days later, He rose from the dead. And 40 days after that, he finally got beamed up to heaven and said, “Peace out guys.” (Okay, maybe he said, “My peace I give to you.” But that’s pretty close.)
Now that Jesus is in heaven, He has taken away the ugliness of our sin, and He gives us His own clothes. The Bible says that we will have crowns and His robes of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8, Isaiah 61:10). So now, when God looks at us, he doesn’t just see a little bit of himself and a lot of our sin – He literally sees the beauty of Jesus. He sees us the same way He sees His own son. All those selfless things Jesus did, all that holiness he portrayed – that all now belongs to us. So now God sees us as the most beautiful people ever to walk the earth.
Unlike the king in the story we told earlier, God doesn’t demand that we be beautiful before we can even come to his presence. He lets us come as we are, and then Jesus makes us beautiful.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that God made you beautiful? Do you trust 100% that Jesus’ beauty on the cross now belongs to you as a child of God? Do you believe that your beauty doesn’t come from your looks?
I don’t know about you, but I find it kind of freeing that my beauty doesn’t come from the way I look. I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s not what’s on the outside, but it’s what’s on the inside that matters.” But you can tell when people are truly finding their beauty in Jesus. Whether or not their hair is perfect or their mascara is running, truly beautiful people are the ones who are portraying the same holiness and godliness that Jesus did.
People who know that beauty isn’t based on their looks are more generous; they’re more kind; they’re more concerned about other people’s feelings; they go out of their way to include other people; they help when people are hurt; they give to people who need.
Basically, Jesus makes you beautiful, and that beauty comes out in the ways you interact with people. That beauty comes out in the way you take God seriously and try to make Him known in the world.
I was running this topic by my friend Kat, and she sent the following to me in an email. She said:
God just convicted me this week on what it looks like to live out his beauty. I was in the restroom at work, washing my hands. I glanced in the mirror and in that split second was making a list of all the things I could do to improve my looks: eat less junk food, run more, etc.
Then just as quickly God confronted me and asked me what do I do to try to make my inward self more beautiful? Do I love others and put them ahead of me? Do I spend time in the scripture? etc. I thought it would be interesting if when I looked in the mirror – what it would look like to take a spiritual inventory instead of a physical inventory?
Let’s think about that next time we’re getting ready to go somewhere. Ask yourself, “Am I getting prettied up because I want other people to see me? Or am I getting prettied up because I want to say thank you to God for the body He gave me?”
Are you doing more and trying harder and buying more beauty things because you want respect? Or because you want to glorify God?
Let God’s approval of you quiet your heart next time you are trying to manipulate someone with your looks.
Let Jesus’ complete work on the cross remind you that you can rest, and you don’t have to follow EVERY piece of fashion advice.
You are already beautiful. And so is the person next to you. And so is the person at the store who is wearing socks with sandals. And so is the lady who doesn’t shave her legs or her upper lip. And so is the guy who has a bit of a gut. And so is the girl whose hair won’t stay brushed no matter how hard her mom tries. And so is the person with no fashion sense or a hook for a hand. And so is Jesus.
So if you listened to nothing else; if you forget everything else I say today – at least remember this: You, my friend, are beautiful because God made you, and because Jesus died for you – not because you put on a pretty dress today.
I’m going to say it again: You are beautiful because God made you, and Jesus died for you.