It’s often been said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning you can’t assess the character of a person by his or her appearance. There is probably no better example of this than John the Baptist. He dressed in camel skin, lived alone in the wilderness, survived on a diet of bugs and wild honey, and challenged the religious and political leaders of his day to shed corruption and materialism for a renewed experience of God. From the outside, he looks a little rough around the edges.Who would listen to someone like this? Well, just about everyone, according to the Scriptures. Crowds gathered to be baptized as a sign of their commitment to cleansing their souls and rededicating themselves to their faith. King Herod heard John’s challenge and promise of a new king for Israel, the Messiah, and had John jailed in order to thwart his message. In the 1977 television movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” John is depicted as preaching even from his cell in Herod’s prison, his call to repentance echoing through the castle’s halls.While you might not assume John the Baptist would be such a powerful prophet by the looks of him, he wasn’t depending on his appearance to win people over. He was depending on the power of God. In our age of spin control, sound bites, photo ops and the use of media to manipulate public opinion, John the Baptist launched a spiritual revolution on the strengths of words alone. He followed his conscience and gave it voice, and he changed the world.Or, rather, God changed the world through him. That is the challenge for all of us who follow Jesus and are inspired by John’s example. He didn’t set out to be a prophet, hire an agent, put together a demo tape and hope he could use stardom to attain social or political influence. He made himself available to God, and God did mighty works through him.The same is true of Jesus, of course. Though not quite as rustic as John the Baptist, Jesus didn’t have any particular physical, social or political credentials on which to build a base of support. He was, essentially, a “nobody” from a small town in Palestine. Yet when he spoke, lives were forever changed.Not only should we not judge others by their appearance, we shouldn’t judge ourselves either. God didn’t stop speaking through people after John the Baptist and Jesus. We are called to listen to the presence of God within us, and to give voice to what we hear. We might not think we have enough time, or the right training and education, or the right social and political connections to make a difference. That may be true, and if it were a matter of changing the world with our own intelligence and effort, we would probably fail. But we are not relying on our own power, but the power of God who loves the world with passion we cannot begin to fathom. Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].