Armillaria Ostoyae grows in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. It is pictured to the left, and known a bit better as the honey mushroom. Based on its diminutive appearance and lack of notoriety, one could hardly know it is the world's largest living organism. That's right. THE LARGEST.
It's hard to tell from appearances, but most of this honey mushroom lives 3-feet underground and covers roughly 2,200 acres. This Armilla Ostoyae is 3.5 miles across and takes up 1,665 football fields. The small mushrooms visible above ground are only the tip of the iceberg. Experts estimate that the giant mushroom is at least 2,400 years old, but could be 7,200 years old. You would never know that these few mushrooms on the surface of the ground run that deep or wide.
If I had taken the time to ask us all to guess what the largest living organism was, we would have all guessed the largest thing we could imagine—above the surface. So it is with people. Some people look rather basic and have done little to gain notoriety. However, they are black-belts in loving others and loving God with everything. The converse is also true. Some look, on the surface, to be quite devout, but are in fact quite small by God's standards. It's OK to judge a tree by its fruit, but we need to make sure we are looking for the right fruit. When we judge people's spiritual maturity by outward acts of righteousness exclusively, we can make the mistake of thinking that involvement is next to godliness…and be dead wrong. Some of the most involved people in the church are also the least godly–struggling with judgmentalism, self-righteousness, and "vineyard-worker" syndrome.
Jesus spoke of such people when He said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. " (Matthew 23:25–28)
We must be careful how we evaluate people's spiritual lives. What Jesus says here is far deeper than "You can't judge a book by its cover." It's a profound truth about life in the Kingdom. Righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). That's what gives birth to what can be seen above ground. When we judge people only by what we can be seen, we will err in our judgment. We will also lead people to seek only fruit that can be seen, rather than the abundant life led by God's Spirit that births Spirit-fruit.
Thus, as we seek to shape and be shaped spiritually, we will do well to spend most of our time "below the surface," cultivating fruit of the Spirit. The spiritual disciplines, for instance, are a means to that end—not the end themselves. They help us commune with God. They help cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. They are not an end…they are a means to the end. So, we could more adequately gage our spirituality not by frequency of engagement with the disciplines, but by the transformation of our character into that of Christ—which can be furthered by the practice of the disciplines. Even better, we can engage the disciplines simply as a time of Communion with God—trusting that, like Moses, time in His presence will change our insides and our outsides forever.
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18