Missing the Forest for the Trees
Lysa TerKeurst

“What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.” 2 Corinthians 5:11b-12 (NIV)

Sometimes I’m guilty of being such a rule follower that I tend to miss the forest for the trees, as the old saying chides. I look at things from too narrow a perspective, only to miss the bigger picture. It’s easy to slip into the mode of looking at but not really seeing others. Our hectic schedules leave little white space to venture beyond the surface issues. Because of this, it’s easy to pay attention only to the negative. We also have a tendency to cast judgment on those whose hearts we cannot understand. We are guilty of simply being human because, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

For example, I recently gave my children a Language Arts assignment. They were to write a one-page paper about a place they wanted to visit and what they would do there. As they turned in their papers I was intrigued by their responses.

I was instantly frustrated with my daughter, Ashley’s (9 years old) paper because the city name was misspelled. I also found many grammatical errors. I thought, “She doesn’t think enough of this assignment to do her best work. Is she really struggling with spelling and grammar or is this a heart issue? What does this say about her work ethic? What does this say about her character? What does this say about her educational future?”

I sent her to her room to re-write the paper – and do her best this time. Then I noticed her original work tossed aside on the counter, so I read it one more time. Here is an excerpt:

Monrwia (Monrovia)

I want to go to Africa and see the litter (little) kids in the orfneg (orphanage). And brig (bring) them sutuff (stuff) like clous (clothes), toys, shous (shoes), blakits (blankets), and moms and dads. I want to pick up the litter (little) kids and hug them. Maybe I can be an ortnesig (orphanage) helper one day and make it a good place.

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! I had totally missed the beauty in Ashley’s heart because I was looking at the surface, catching every mistake I came across. Her compassionate heart was plain to God, and putting her desire on paper should have made it plain to me as well. But I was so busy worrying about the spelling errors that I callously overlooked her heartfelt response.

Ashley wasn’t trying to impress me with her grammatical skills; she was sharing a God-given desire with me. It was a chance for me to take pride in the way God is shaping her for a possible future ministering to orphanage-bound children. She needed me to see her heart, but I only saw her writing flaws as they appeared on paper.

Let me encourage you to learn from my mistake. Capture a moment today where you really see someone else. Look beyond their surface mistakes to see their heart. Maybe it’s your child. Or maybe it’s a spouse, neighbor or friend.

Heavenly Father, forgive me for often making judgments of others based on outward appearances. Help me to take time to really see their hearts and understand where they are coming from, and when they align with the things of you, to affirm and support their choices. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Related Resources:
Do you know Him?

The Bathtub is Overflowing but I Feel Drained by Lysa TerKeurst

Personality Plus by Florence Littauer

Application Steps:
Spend today focusing on someone’s heart. Don’t focus on what they look like, act like, or talk like. Don’t let Satan tempt you into misdirecting your attention towards superficial things. Dig past all the stuff on the outside, all the stuff screaming for your attention. Dig deep. Listen. Ask questions. Pray with them and hear their souls echoing in their prayers. Push out the busyness and sit.

What prevents you from really hearing someone’s heart? Is it busyness? A pre-existing negative attitude toward them? The desire to make yourself look good?

Choose to take captive these potentially dangerous factors and make them obedient to God’s will – His desire to look at the heart.

Power Verses:
1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)

1 Chronicles 28:9, “For the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (NIV)

John 7:24, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (NIV)

Romans 2:29, “Circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” (NIV)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that I miss the forest through the trees all the time, especially with my children. When Grace spills water all over, focus on the spill instead of the heart that was trying to help me by getting the drinks for dinner. I don't want to miis my children like that. I want to see their little hearts as God sees them. My kids are so great and I know at times I can make them feel like they aren't because I focus on the little things, the inconsequential.

Dear God,
Forgive me for harsh words, for hurtful thoughts and for yelling when I should be teaching. Forgive me for last nights tirade over the little things. I didn't teach a lesson, I simply made Grace feel as if she wasn't a good girl when she is. Forgive me for my calloused words they were unnecessary and hurtful. Help me to see my children's heart. Give me the words to say that are beneficial and kind, that show them how special they are and how much I love them and that you love them too. Help we with the computer situation. I completely lost control and I am sorry for my mixed priorties. Help me to maintain compsure even when Satan pulls at my strings. Gvie me patience, grace and mercy for my kids and family today. Help me to see their hearts. Amen


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so easy to judge our children by their grunts, silences or failure to conform to our prescribed Christian standards. I found myself really worried about my teenage daughter because she never volunteered to pray during family devotions. She would always say, "It's between me and God." I couldn't understand why she wouldn't act like the other kids in the church I knew so I was really frustrated with her. Little did I know that God was calling her for something grand. A few weeks ago following a missions trip to El Salvador, my silent non-conformist daughter announced that God was calling her to become a youth pastor. I praise God for his faithfulness to my daughter. And I thank him for helping me to see that even though I could not see it or mold it, the true shaper of our faith was at work in my child's life.

Blogger Uncanny Colleen said...

Lysa, Thank you for sharing the portion of the devotional about your daughter. What a sweet heart she must have. I, too, have looked at all of the trees and missed the forest with my three little boys.

Blogger Mommy Reg said...

This went straight to my heart. I find myself judging the outside oh so often and really missing the bigger picture. I am sure that missing it with my kids is a daily occurrence. I can get so caught up in the little things and miss the bigger picture completely. Thank you for this reminder to look past the surface and look deeper into the heart.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is so easy when we are busy to focus on the superficial. This devotional is a wonderful reminder to slow down and take a look at the heart.

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