Lessons from the Prairie

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'” (I Samuel 16:7 ESV)

One of my favorite drives is to head south from Manhattan on K177. This route takes me into the heart of the Flint Hills. I think it’s a beautiful drive, but I often wonder what the early pioneers thought as they traveled over endless grass-covered hills, broken by rocky outcroppings, and — in the 19th Century — hardly a tree in sight.

The beauty of the prairie isn’t in majestic snow-capped mountains or vast forests. It’s the more subtle beauty of form and texture: the curve and slope of the hills, the color and motion of the prairie grass, the gradual shift of colors through the seasons, the expanse of sky overhead. Even in winter, when all seems dead, the prairie is only dormant, waiting for spring, its only adornment the occasional snowfall.

Some people looked at the vast prairie land west of the Missouri River and called it a desert, it was so alien to their eyes. But William Clark, on the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804, looked at the abundant grass and the life it sustained and saw a new Eden. It’s all a matter of perspective.

A lot of people are like the prairie. On the outside they seem plain and unspectacular, or maybe even a little scary. Throughout the Bible, God chose the unlikeliest people to serve in special ways. While we judge based on outward appearance or worldly success, God sees into hearts and knows the beauty within. When God sent Samuel to choose a new king from among Jesse’s sons, Samuel’s first choice wasn’t God’s choice. Instead of the older sons, God chose David, the youngest. God saw in David’s heart the qualities he was looking for in the next king of Israel. David certainly wasn’t a perfect person, but he had a heart attuned to God’s voice and a desire to serve him well. Mary was an ordinary young woman in an obscure village in the most insignificant corner of the Roman empire, but God saw her obedient and faithful heart and chose her to be the mother of his Son. Jesus surrounded himself with ordinary men, but men willing to follow him and learn from him. He saw what they could become, given time and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

May we learn to look at our fellow believers and see as God sees — to the beauty and gifts within.


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