“In his pictures, Arelius painted all faces after the manner and appearance of the women he loved, and so to everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies. Someone given to fasting thinks himself very devout if he fast although his heart may be filled with hatred….Another person thinks himself devout because he daily recites a vast number of prayers, but after saying them he utters the most disagreeable arrogant and harmful words at home and among his neighbors. Another gladly takes a coin out of his pocket purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart to forgive his enemies. Another forgives his enemies but never pays his creditors and unless compelled to do so by the force of law.” -Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales wrote these words reflecting on the nature of the devoted life. He cautions these outward displays as signs of devotion primarily because they do not reflect an inner devotion that is always expressed in the outworking of love. We often paint a picture of spiritual devotion in what we find appealing. We then take that a step further and judge others according to our painting.
Let me illustrate. First, in the cultural milieu I was raised and have spent considerable time, spiritual devotion is often tied to how much a person reads. I just moved my books into my home office. I have cataloged over a thousand physical books. In addition, I have 1,291 digital books. The vast majority of these are in the 200 of the Dewey decimal system – religion. My wife thinks I have a problem.
If devotion was measured by reading, I would be doing better than the mass of Christians in the world and throughout church history. However, in the history of the church, many Christians were illiterate while most had very little access to Christian writings. Even having copies of the Bible was rare. Today, I have traveled to areas with little access to Christian writings in their language in comparison to what I have in my own library. Yet, when I meet these dear Christians, I often find them far superior in their devotion to Christ and expressions of His character.
How have a processed de Sales insights? First, I am in a process of having my entire will, actions and thoughts conformed to Jesus. Never am I to exalt the areas where I have seen victory if it means allowing other areas to lay waste to my soul and those around me. Second, I must be careful to not paint a picture of the devoted life that exalts my strengths and minimizes the beauty of Christ in others.