Outside a picturesque village in the countryside stands a very beautiful, old gothic chapel, high up on the hill above the village.
It has beautiful stained glass windows and adds an air of tranquility and peace to the area around the small village.
It can be seen for miles around and visitors to the village always look up from the Town Square and remark on how beautiful it is.
Many want to visit it and see it from closer but are told by the villagers that its on the estate of an eccentric, octogenarian earl and no-one is ever allowed onto the estate but the staff.
Many dark stories about the chapel circulate amongst the villagers (most of whom have also only looked at the chapel from their village and wondered about it). But most visitors dismiss them as speculation or local yarns and move on, wondering why such a beautiful chapel should stand apparently inaccessible and unused.
The truth in this case is, however, that distance lends enchantment to the view.
The Earl, embittered by what life had brought his way many years ago, shut himself off and became a recluse on his estate.
The chapel, which had been loved and was a centre of worship for his forebears and family over many generations, had gradually fallen into disuse as other family members had died and had been buried in its churchyard.
One evening many years ago a servant on the estate forgot to close the chapel’s doors and as no-one went back the next day or the days following to pray, the doors remained open.
For many years winter winds blew their dampness and leaves into the open doors and summer’s seeds began to take root in the gathering dust and grow inside the chapel.
Memorabilia of the estate housed in the chapel began to perish and rot and the plaques remembering people long gone, grew tarnished.
Spiders spun their webs and bats began to roost in the roof. Small forest animals found refuge in various parts of the chapel and eventually began to rear their young within its sanctuary.
Pews started to rot and fall apart and the once impressive organ pipes rusted from exposure to the damp cold and heat of the seasons. Prayer books swelled up and fell apart from the musty dampness that eventually pervaded the church and the once ornate altar tarnished and began slowly to disintegrate.
From the outside it remained a stately, beautiful church – a joy to look at from the distance of the village.
Inside, it gradually rotted and perished with years of neglect and disuse.
Is this chapel a metaphor of my life?
It looks good from a distance but what is happening on the inside? People see me from the outside and think what a fine Christian I am, but Jesus sees me as I am and looks at what goes on inside.
What does He see?
Jesus warns us about `religion’ like this: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23: 27 – 28, NIV).
In Numbers 33:35 I read another metaphorical warning to help me keep clean on the inside: “If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.” (NIV)
True faith is spiritual hygiene.
It’s the spiritual discipline of keeping clean on the inside – living by God’s Spirit who helps me put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13, NIV) because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (verse 14).
The chapel of my life can be and can remain clean on the inside because I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13, NIV).
A translator by profession, Dave Reid lives in a rural town in a wine-producing area of the Western Cape, South Africa, where he retired with his partner in 2003 after living in Cape Town. A lifelong amateur church musician and organist, he spent most of his corporate career in leadership development and change management consulting.