Brushing my teeth is part of a daily routine, but I noticed the other day that I focus more on the teeth that are visible rather than the teeth that hide in the back, away from casual viewing. Yet these are the teeth that do the most significant amount of work.
We chew with those molars hiding behind the glistening pearly whites that characterize our smiles. Those molars go to town on food – healthy food, sugary treats, popcorn kernels (oops, did I say that?) – pulverizing it to allow for swallowing. They work hard, but I suspect they don’t get the attention they deserve when we brush. At the least, they get a quick sweep of the bristles. We don’t want them to feel neglected, but we fail to realize that they need much more work than the smiley teeth.
Notice where any cavities are? Not in those front teeth, but in those back teeth, where neglect of proper brushing leads to decay. The ones that no one sees need the most attention to prevent tooth decay, worse yet gum disease.
I’m paying a bit more attention to those back teeth now.
This subtle lesson in proper dental care reminded me that we focus all too often on what is seen and not on what is unseen. We need to do a proper cleaning on what others cannot see rather than spend time dressing up what can be seen.
When the Old Testament prophet Samuel began his search for a king to replace Israel’s first king, Saul, he turned to the family of Jesse, as instructed by God. Jesse had eight sons, each of which passed before Samuel for discernment.
First to arrive was the oldest, Eliab. He was a shiny-tooth son, tall and good-looking, just the ticket for a new king for Israel. But God told Samuel not to consider Eliab’s appearance. Being king of Israel would take hard work; looks weren’t that important. Samuel heard, “Let’s look at the heart of the matter, Samuel, not just what’s on the outside.” So Eliab failed the king test. Then came Abinadab, Shammah and the others – all seven of them. None was “the molar.”
Wait a minute. There were eight sons, and Samuel had only seen seven. He wondered aloud if all the sons were there. Oh yeah, the little runt of Jesse’s litter was in the fields, working hard like a molar should, keeping the sheep safe from predators’ attacks. His name was David, and baby that he was, he was the only one doing his job that day. The others were preening before Samuel. Jesse sent for him. David did not disappoint. He, too, was handsome with stunning eyes, but his heart had been with the sheep entrusted to his care. He was taking care of business.
When David arrived, Samuel got the message. He anointed David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, as the next king of Israel. Can you imagine how all his “front teeth brothers” felt at that moment? Probably didn’t like it. Probably resented the family baby being chosen over them.
So it was. The hard working molar of Jesse’s family was considered more important than those shiny-teeth brothers. He became the one that God would brush more carefully to prepare him for the hard work of being king over a people.
We may not be kings or queens, but God never intends for us to be shiny-teeth people. He aims to get to the unseen parts – our hearts, our souls, our minds – to make sure we’re ready for the grinding, gnawing and chewing of living life as a follower of Christ. We need to be paying attention to the parts of our lives that no one ever sees, the parts that only God sees.