When No One Is Watching

All his life Joash did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight
because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.
2 Kings 12:2 nlt

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – John Wooden

I don’t remember the first time I heard that quote and I never knew who said it until just recently, but I do know how powerful an impact it makes on my life.  For many years now, this sentence is the thought that rings out in my head every time my integrity is challenged by life.  It has taken on an even deeper meaning as I tackle the challenge of raising four boys into men of God.  How do I teach my boys to make great choices even when no one is looking?

What do I still hold on to from childhood that pushes me, a “grown-up,” to consider choices that reflect integrity and love even when no one is looking?  I found my answer in the life of Joash, the seven year old king.

Joash should have died as an infant.  After his father, King Ahaziah died, his grandmother, Athaliah, decided to have all the male descendants killed so that she could inherit the throne.  God provided an escape for infant Joash through the courage of his Aunt, who stole him and his nurse away from the rest of the king’s children.  She hid them in the Temple of the LORD for six years while Athaliah ruled.  During those six years, Joash was raised with what I would imagine would be the very best in Christian education.  He was brought up by the priest, Jehoiada, in the Temple of the LORD.  At age seven, Joash was publically anointed king and Athaliah was killed.  This is where the true test of character becomes apparent.

Joash began to rule over Judah in the seventh year of King Jehu’s reign in Israel.  He reigned in Jerusalem forty years.  His mother was Zibiah, from Beersheba.  All his life Joash did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.  Yet even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.  (2 Kings 12:1-3)

So, even with the benefit of a 1:1 personal instruction on God’s will, we witness a small flaw in Joash’s judgment.  This choice may seem small, but it still fell outside of God’s guidelines for life, which struck me as odd coming from a child who was raised in the Temple by a priest.  I became extremely curious to find out what Joash would do when no one was looking.  The answer, unfortunately, leads to his demise.  Found quite a bit later in 2 Chronicles 24:15-26 is the rest of Joash’s story.  Here is where the story turns:

Jehoiada lived to a very old age, finally dying at 130.  He was buried among the kings in the City of David, because he had done so much good in Israel for God and his Temple.  But after Jehoiada’s death, the leaders of Judah came and bowed before King Joash and persuaded the king to listen to their advice.  They decided to abandon the Temple of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead!  Then the anger of God burned against Judah and Jerusalem because of their sin.  (2 Chronicles 24:15-18)

Joash had the benefit of excellent instruction and Godly advice until Jehoiada was 130, and even with all that, as soon as Jehoiada is gone, he is so easily persuaded!  What a terrifying thought as a parent.  Even if I could live to 130 and even if my boys would take my advice all those years, what does that mean for life after I’m gone?  If even the best human instruction isn’t enough, what WILL keep myself and my children from making poor choices apart from that advantage?

The answer is to take out the middle-man.  We are all just brothers and sisters here on earth – GOD is our father.  We each – parents and children alike – should be going directly to Him for our strength, comfort, discipline and justice.  The best human instruction is great, but it’s still only human.  It will err, it will fail and it will pass on.  But if I, as my boys “sister,” lead them to go to our Father for all our days, that perfect wisdom and instruction will never leave them.  There will never be a situation when no one is looking.

The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching?  God is always watching – not as a test of character, but because he is walking through life with us.  So the real question becomes what do I do when I believe that?!


Dear Lord, I keep putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect – the perfect parent, the perfect individual, the perfect whatever!  Thank you for giving me a glimpse into the life of someone who had all the advantages of human instruction and still struggled.  As I make my own choices each day, remind me to consult you.  As I pass on wisdom to the future generation, guide me to point them to you for wisdom, rather than my own temporary perspective.  Amen.

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About messyworship

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I believe that you can bump into God outside of a Sunday morning church service. That is what Messy Worship is: a written meditation with an authentic, transparent take on the Bible's application to today's world. This is where I challenge myself to blurr the line between "life" and "worship" so much that the line disappears a little more each day. I hope, by sharing what I learn, the idea of a seamless life of worship becomes contagious.

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