Dress to Impress

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2013 23 May

My wife is reading a biography of Amy Carmichael who among other things was a missionary to women and children in India. Her personal journal entries alone are enough to inspire us to drink more deeply of Christ and think more broadly about the implications of the Christian life. This dynamic prompted her to have our ten year old daughter read some other sources on Carmichael.

One seemingly minor thing my wife shared with me struck a chord.[i] When Carmichael arrived in India she wore the Indian sari in an effort to better fit into that culture. One thing she didn’t do however was wear jewelry. It’s not that she didn’t appreciate it or believe that wearing jewelry was in itself sinful. It’s that in India jewelry was a source of pride in the caste system. Jewelry demonstrated wealth, position, or a husband’s importance. Not only did she refuse to wear it herself, she privately lamented that the Christian Indian women who worked with her covered themselves with jewels. While she knew it was a pride issue for these women she didn’t want to impose her standard upon them particularly in light of the fact they might interpret it not as her Christian standard but as her English standard. She simply prayed that God would open their eyes.

Soon thereafter a child told one of these Christian Indian women that she wanted to be part of their group when she grew up so that she could wear the fine jewelry they did. Obviously the child’s reason for wanting to join the group had nothing to do with Christ and the woman became convicted of her practice: it was a hindrance to the gospel. She stopped wearing her jewelry and the other ladies in the group stopped wearing theirs as well.

It’s interesting; these women were ridiculed by other women for their decision. At the same time, there were many other women and children who took notice of them and had a different reaction; they observed the group’s love for one another and how they served one another and were converted to Christ.

Now here’s the three-fold chord. First, do we care enough about the little things knowing they are really big things because of the heart issues involved? In other words, are we content to go along with culture or do we seek to examine our hearts before God?

Second, when we find ourselves in a delicate situation, do we really commit it to God in prayer and trust Him to work or do we simply wring our hands thinking we can do nothing and as a result end up moving from wringing our hands to washing our hands of it? Do we care enough about the spiritual well-being of others to do something – and when the only thing we can do is pray – do we believe that’s powerfully everything?

Third, and here’s the big one for me, are we willing to go against the cultural tide, even if it costs us reputation, stylishness, status, or anything else in order to send a physical message to those around us? Let’s put it this way: does the way you dress say that Christ is real to you? I’m not talking about wearing something ugly or out of step for the sake of being different. But I am asking whether we check our hearts; whether we choose style over modesty; whether we choose pop over humility; whether we choose extravagance over tasteful. The Christian life is not a set of rules concerning how we dress per se. But it is a life of examination – not only examination of our own hearts but examination of how our claim to Christ is affected by how we live in every area. Are we sending mixed messages to those around us or are we consistent? Do we dress to impress? Do we dress to impress in a human, prideful sense or do we dress to impress Christ upon others?

One last thing – years later a professional body guard, a watchman as they were called, told Carmichael that no amount of money could hire a watchman for their group had they wore jewelry according to Indian custom – he would have been certainly murdered by thieves. Who knows all that God is doing when He asks us to follow Him and trust Him even in the things we consider insignificant at first glance? Because God has declared the end from the beginning we know that He has things in mind for us now that will affect things of which we are not aware yet – and – we can trust Him.

For more written and audio resources, visit www.pbcsc.org.

[i] The summary of Carmichael’s experience was gleaned from two sources: A Chance to Die: the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elizabeth Elliot and Hero Tales: A Family Treasury of True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes by Dave and Neta Jackson.