Will Penner

devozine Sneakers FTR TSP 154964839I was taught to put my best foot forward, which I still think is good advice. As the old adage goes: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I want to be careful about the first impression I make. On the other hand, for a lot of people, image is everything. Instead of putting their best foot forward, they’re trying to put forward a foot that isn’t theirs.



Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo, lied on his resume about having a degree in computer science. A competitor blew the whistle, leading to Thompson’s resignation only four months after he landed the job. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for a Washington Post story about an eight-year-old heroin addict; she lost the prize two days later when someone discovered she had made up the story. Lieutenant Commander Richard Byrd won a medal for flying over the North Pole. Seventy years later, a historian discovered that he ran out of fuel and never made it.


Little White Lies

Most of these folks probably didn’t start out telling big lies. I would guess they began with smaller ones, like the little lies most of us tell. In a Common Sense Media poll, more than half the teenagers surveyed admitted to academic cheating that involved the Internet. More than a third admitted to using their cell phone to cheat on tests.

Penn State University researchers report that 98% of teenagers lie to their parents, either directly by making untrue statements or indirectly by avoiding issues or omitting information. Teenagers lie to avoid unfavorable consequences but also to avoid disappointing their parents. Kids care about the image their parents see.


Big Brother Watching

When Spotify integrated with Facebook, people began to spin the truth about their music tastes. In an effort to control their image, instead of simply putting their best foot forward, they were creating an artificial foot—one whose taste in music was more in vogue.

Researchers in England found that people put almost three times as much money in an honesty box when a nearby poster featured a pair of eyes rather than flowers. The sense of being watched encouraged a greater level of honesty.


Inside Out

Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for religious people who had perfected the art of putting forward the perfect image while neglecting their internal character. He calls them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27, NIV), pointing to the disparity between what was visible to others and what was in their hearts.

Nothing is wrong with paying attention to the image we project, wanting to be well-liked or to have a good reputation. After all, “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1, NRSV). The trick is to make sure the image we project represents who we truly are. Instead of focusing on cleaning up our image, perhaps we should ask God to help clean up our character. Then our image will fall into place.



Matthew 23:23–33 is a series of admonitions against religious people who are more concerned about their outward appearance of righteousness than about their true character. If Jesus were talking to you, what would he criticize? What is the difference between the image you project and the real you?

Ask the Holy Spirit to remove any defect of character that stands in the way of your relationship with God. Then begin to pay attention to God’s guidance in the little decisions of daily life. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring forth the person God sees in you.

Will Penner is a husband, dad, teacher, speaker, author, editor, and minister. He used to be far more concerned about image than he is today, though he still works hard to make sure the outside matches the inside.

—from devozine (January/February 2013). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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