10. Understanding Circumstances

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 10. Understanding Circumstances

Acts 27:9,10 So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous.” 

Where next:  Being a Christian means we see the world differently from our unbelieving neighbors. Their world is self-focused and godless, while ours has a God-core if I may put it like that. We may not be aware of God every single moment and we may not be thinking about Him every single minute, but He is there as the foundation of our lives and His Spirit does interact with us, even though often we may not realize it is Him. Thinking further about this matter of ‘seeing’, we see people circumstances differently from our unbelieving neighbors. At least I hope we do. We have a map for life called the New Testament that encourages us to live positive, godly, good lives, lives that are outward looking with concern for others, lives that are upward looking as we pray and seek God. And it is because it is in these things that there is another important distinction that makes us different from our neighbors.

Spiritually Alert: We said right at the beginning of this series that life is more than merely material or physical, it is also spiritual, for by the Spirit we have this direct link with heaven and there are words we use about aspects of our lives that flow from that direct link – wisdom, insight, revelation, knowledge, understanding – and these are all about how we ‘see’. 

Discernment: A new person may arrive in our church midst one day and suddenly an alarm goes off inside you, suddenly you find you are on the alert, and another word is added to our armory – discernment. This is something more than ‘intuition’ which is an ‘inner sense’ that goes beyond reasoning. Intuition operates within the physical world; discernment operates in the spiritual world.  

Wisdom: A complex problem occurs in life. Various of you talk about it but there seems no obvious solution, nothing seems to come to mind. You pray about it and suddenly a solution becomes obvious. You all wonder why you hadn’t seen it before, for it seems so obvious now you see it, but before – nothing. That is wisdom from on high, the knowledge how to do something, how to act.

Revelation: Life is carrying on as usual and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, you start feeling concerned about a particular individual. You remain quiet but pray.  There is nothing obvious, but then suddenly you ‘know’, this man is committing adultery. That is revelation or knowledge.  A word comes to you from the Lord what He is going to do about it. That is prophecy.  He tells you that you are to confront him but he will deny it. That is wisdom, the knowledge of how to proceed. The outcome is not down to you, it is down to the Lord.

And So? These are just some of the ways we find ourselves ‘seeing’ in ways that are beyond the ‘natural’, beyond the physical, for we are moving in a spiritual dimension because we are spiritual people who are temples of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes these things don’t have a great sense of awesomeness, they just seem almost ordinary. That’s how it seems with Paul on the ship that is destined for shipwreck. They are sailing in the Mediterranean and the winds have been against them. They have come to a place called Fair Havens but “the harbor was unsuitable to winter in”, and so, “the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.” (Acts 27:12)

Paul had already spoken and his advice rejected: “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.” (27:10,11) They set off and a little while later a hurricane strikes. A little later Paul is able to share that an angel has told him that although the ship will be destroyed none of them will be lost. He is a constant source of encouragement to them in the ongoing crisis until the ship is wrecked. He has been moving with the knowledge of God – revelation. Note in passing that the world may not listen to your revelation but that doesn’t detract from it.         

And Us? Going against the tide sometimes involves going against the opinion of others.  Paul sees what they could not see and even when ‘the world dominates the situation’ God is still there reassuring him. Don’t fear when the world looks confused and out of control; trust the Lord in it, listen to Him in it. We don’t have to get angry when others can’t ‘see’ as we see. As a general principle the apostle Paul taught that, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel,” (2 Cor 4:4) and blindness is a frequent outworking of unbelief. I believe we are called to be like the men of Issachar who had a reputation for being men who “understood the times” (1 Chron 12:32) but that understanding comes by the Spirit who helps us ‘see’ what is going on. Understanding these things then lays a burden on us to pray and intercede, whether it be for individuals, a community, or the nation. Being people who ‘see’ brings responsibilities. But his grace is available for us. Let’s receive it.

(We will return to this series in a week’s time)   

9. Faith Expectations

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 9. Faith Expectations

Acts 12:5 Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

Recap: We have been considering how we view impressive buildings or impressive people, and then how we view ourselves. We have rejected doing good or performing spiritual acts as ways of gaining self-esteem or building our self-image. In the previous study that took us on to considering how we pray, but now we want to consider another aspect of the way we view prayer. Yesterday it was seeing it as a spiritual activity to be done as part of our relationship with God, but now I want us to face the uncomfortable question of how we see what we speak. Do we just utter words or are we declaring words that will change the world, change the circumstances?

Jesus’ Example: I first observed the significance of how we pray when I noted something in John’s Gospel. At the feeding of the five thousand, John records, Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) Later, after Jesus and his disciples had gone back across the lake, John records, Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (v.23) He doesn’t say, “the place where Jesus had performed the miracle,” for it seems he has something else in mind. He doesn’t even say “where Jesus had broken the bread and fed the crowd.”

The strange words that almost seem out of place are “after the Lord had given thanks.” Before a meal the head of the family would have given thanks for the food. John doesn’t record the Last Supper words about bread and wine (the other three Gospels have covered it adequately). Luke includes that (Lk 22:17,19) but also the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was only when Jesus gave thanks and broke bread that they realised who he was. It almost seems as if there is something significant about the way Jesus gave thanks. What could it be?

Watch how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray’. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship, with this latter group and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. Prayer was not formality for Jesus, it was a time when he spoke personally, intimately with his Father in heaven. Giving thanks was no mere formula, it was a sacred act of Son to Father, the Son of God to the Almighty One, ruler of heaven and earth.

Expectancy: How do we view prayer? We have just suggested prayer as a time of intimacy with the Father, but how do we see what we are praying? Is it simply uttering words and hoping for the best – but not having too high hopes?  In our starter verse, the church was surprised when Peter turned up, while they were still praying. No, it can’t be Peter, that would require a miracle. But it is. You prayed, you asked, and God did it. Why be so surprised? Because we don’t believe it can be that easy. Sometimes it’s not, and we need to keep praying and persevering as Jesus taught in his parable of the unjust judge, to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) but I also believe the truth is that God loves to bring us to a place of simple believing where we pray and rest and rejoice, like little kids trusting DAD.

Intimacy plus Expectancy: Little children expect answers when they ask. When Christmas or a birthday approaches they may come out with a list of things they want. Money permitting they may well get them. As they get older they come to realise they don’t always get their demands. But the childlike faith of small children is challenging. When prayer is indeed an intimate experience with the Father we find that we start to catch Father’s heart, and prayer is not so much a shopping list, as a list of things we believe the Father wants to bring about.  It’s fine to be childish as we grow in faith, chattering stuff at the Father, but as we grow, we can learn something deeper.

The apostle Paul taught, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” (Eph 6:18) or as the Living Bible puts it, “Pray all the time. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes.”  The emphasis is on being led by the Spirit. When we combine this with the Father’s love, this intimacy inspired by the Spirit, focused on the Father, coming in line with the rule of the Son reigning at the Father’s right hand, we may expect faith to rise in us, a sign that we’re on the right track and we may expect to see what we are praying coming about. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!(Mt 7:11) or as Luke records it, no doubt on another occasion of Jesus’ teaching, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And Us? Can these things thus mature our praying to have an intimate element which in turn develops a higher level of expectancy so that when we pray for someone to be released from prison (of whatever sort), we will not be surprised when they turn up at the door, delivered.

8. Secret Spirituality?

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 8. Secret Spirituality?

Mt 6:7 when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

Recap: We have been considering how we see things, how we view, say, big buildings or maybe even organizations, how we view people and more recently how we view or see ourselves. We saw Samuel being impressed by the size and strength of Jesse’s older sons, and being told that’s not how God assesses people; we saw Jesus’ disciples being impressed by the grandeur of Herod’s Temple and Jesus saying it only had a limited shelf life. And then we pondered on how we see ourselves, often using ‘doing good’ to bolster our poor self-image, and we reminded ourselves that the image we need to hold on to is that of being children of God, part of His family, loved by the all-powerful, all-wise loving God.  

The Religious Community: Jerusalem was the hub of the religious community of Jesus’ day, centred on the Temple in Jerusalem that was overseen by a largely Sadducee priesthood, who today might be called ‘liberals’ in theological terms. But the Sanhedrin, the ruling council was also comprised of Pharisees, that conservative sect who saw their role as guardians of the Law. There were also ‘teachers’ and ‘scribes’, all different varieties of ‘religious people’ but there were few who stood out as truly spiritual. In the early part of Luke’s Gospel there were only Simeon and Anna (Lk 2:25-38) who stood out. Perhaps it was for this reason that the angels declaring the arrival of the Son of God came to lowly shepherds. Who else had a heart untainted by the pride that wants to appear good?

Time and again Jesus spoke out against these groups who said one thing but lived something different, these groups who liked looking good and impressing the people. I always remember a concerning description many years ago of a big congress on evangelism in Switzerland and one commentator noted ‘the big names’ of evangelism going into the Congress accompanied by their followers and even, in some cases, with their bodyguards, and then the commentator noted siting on the steps among the crowd, interacting with the crowd a fairly small man with a goatee beard whose name was Francis Schaeffer. That man with an amazing world-impacting ministry was not there with all the show, but was humbly sitting in the crowd showing he was interested in people.

Spiritual Expression: Insecurity as a believer takes many forms. How can I be spiritual? Am I spiritual enough? If I read my Bible, go to church prayer meetings, join in evangelism, will I be good enough? These questions all speak about insecurity, about not knowing how loved by Father we are. I sometimes think that the more we feel loved, the less we pray, the fewer words we utter. But actually the more we appreciate being loved the more thankful we will be and more we will ask for others we know who don’t appreciate it. Not the numbers of words but the reasons for the words. Not what we do, but why we do it.

Jesus chided the church at Ephesus for having lost their first love (Rev 2:4). Do you remember what it was like when you first came to Christ? I understand it won’t have been the same for all of us, but surely a sense of newness, a sense of joy was there in those days, as you came to terms with the fact that the Lord of Creation loved you and sent His Son to die for you, surely something of that must have been your experience. Yes, I understand we speak about honeymoon times, the early days when it is all new, a time where the glow eventually gives way to the normality of living the life, going to church, reading your Bible and praying and witnessing. And then the temptation to ward off is that it all becomes ordinary, even boring and if that happens we need to realize we need to be filled again with the Holy Spirit, we need to get back on the tracks by saying, “Lord, what do you want of me?”

Life Flow: I believe for life to truly flow in us so that we are no longer just doing things to try and appear spiritual, trying to bolster up our weak spiritual self-image, we need to put various things in place in our lives to draw us back to the place where life flows. As you may gather I read my Bible and write about it every single day. Before I do it I pray and ask for help. But my reading is to first of all feed me so that out of my reading will come a spontaneous flow of worship in response to the wonder of what I had seen. I will pause in life and spend some time simply sitting in the Lord’s presence listening and responding, sometimes praying and then listening. Being grateful, being thankful, being appreciative of the Lord, of the world, of the wonder of my life, these are also things that let the river of life flow.

And these are done behind closed doors where no one except the Lord knows. These are things we do, not to impress others, not to bolster our flagging self-image, our floundering self-esteem, they are things that are done as part of the flow of life and encounter and interaction with our Savior, the one who is seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling. We partly do it so that we may become more one with him and flow with him in his Father’s will. We do it because we know we are children of God, loved by the Father. He sees us and knows everything about us and we can hide nothing from Him so there is no point putting on a show. He loves us as we are and our part is just to enjoy that and go with the flow of His Spirit. Wonderful isn’t it! A new way of seeing. Hallelujah!  

7. Secret Goodness?

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 7. Secret Goodness?

Mt 6:2 “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues”

Recap: We have been considering the ways we can get it wrong by the way we look at people, things or buildings and be impressed by outward appearances. Jesus warned that the temple would only be there for a limited time and the Bible reveals people who looked powerful on the outside but inside they were something else. So turning from observing others, we now come to instructions about how we see ourselves and what we convey to other people.

Good works versus spiritual works: It’s a funny thing, but there are two apparently contradictory instructions about what we do. We have our starter verse that is one of a number that basically says don’t display your goodness, your spirituality. And yet on the other hand Jesus taught, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) On one hand don’t be seen and on the other, be seen. How come?

Motivation and Effect: It’s all about why we do things and what those things achieve. In terms of giving, or any other ‘good’ act, do we do it for self-glory – that we be seen and praised – or do we do it simply to bless others. Our ‘good deeds’, are they for self-glory or do they glorify God?

A Matter of Self Esteem:  But behind the matter of motivation is what we feel about ourselves. Perception of who and what we are is very important. Many people, in the struggles of life in the world, feel beaten up and have a low opinion of themselves and so are constantly trying to boost that self-opinion, that self-esteem, by outward actions that will bring about appreciative noises from others that will encourage and build us. We all of us, living in this fallen world, need encouragement, we need reassurance that we are getting it right. But then we come to the Faith.

If we know we are the loved children of God – really loved by Him – we will not have to try and impress ourselves or others. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were actually quite insecure and thus had to dress up their religion, making themselves the guardians of the Law, and be seen to be the moral paragons of society.  But religious people like being seen to be ‘doing good works’ and that involves giving. It is good to do good and to give but Jesus teaches, ‘no public spirituality’, don’t dress up who you are. Just enjoy being a child of God and let all you do flow out of that.

Genuine Humility: But does this all imply we are, to quote a character out of one of the children’s books, to be a lowly worm? Or like one of Dicken’s characters, to display ourselves as “an ‘umble man, sir.” No, Uriah Heep of David Copperfield, in the words of the Internet, in reality is “notable for his cloying humility, unctuousness, obsequiousness, and insincerity.” What a condemnation. That is not our calling. So what is true humility? The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function.” (Rom 12:3,4) or as the Easy-to-Read version puts it, “You must see yourself just as you are. Decide what you are by the faith God has given each of us.” Being humble means be realistic about yourself, not erring on one side (pride) or the other (dismal self-effacement).

True humility recognizes on one side the amazing work of God that we are (our really good points) while on the other genuinely recognizing that we are works of God, we are what we are only by His grace. The Message version almost over-emphasizes this in those Romans verses: “it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”   

And So?  Remember, it’s about how we see ourselves. David wrote, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psa 40:2) I know this is taking it out of context but it is a good general description of the reality of what happens to us when we are saved. I was up to my neck in muck (although I didn’t recognise it, the muck being all my wrong understandings of myself and the world) but now I am in a secure and stable place and am able to say, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psa 40:3a) Salvation brings thanksgiving, praise and worship, and being a true work of God, he was able to go on, “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” (v.3b) The natural outworking of our lives, the “good works” (Eph 2:10) He has designed us to do, will be a natural outworking of our relationship with Him, not something we do to dress ourselves up to look impressive. These ‘good works’ will come from the prompting of the Spirit, not the prompting of pride.

6. Seeing ‘things’ wrongly

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 6. Seeing ‘things’ wrongly

Mt 24:1 his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.”

Follow on: In the previous study we reflected on the human tendency to use our eyes to observe what is before us, sometimes seeing danger that causes us to flee it, sometimes hardly taking it what is there, sometimes being stirred in interest to find out more of what we see before us, and sometimes just to enjoy and take pleasure in what we see. We noted two main things really: first, how it is so easy not to take in and consider what we see before us and, second, how easy it is to jump to wrong conclusions about what we see.  That study focused on the way we view people, this one goes on to consider how we view material things, objects, possessions, things around us.

Jesus’ Disciples & Herod’s temple: The disciples were just the same as us. They looked and saw and were impressed. The object of their wondering amazement, was the Temple restructured by Herod the Great. Solomon had built the first temple in Jerusalem and when that had been destroyed with the Exile, it was rebuilt by the returning exiles but was a more modest structure which by Jesus time had been in an ongoing rebuilding phase for forty-six years (see Jn 2:20) and apparently that work would continue until about AD62-64, before being destroyed by fire during the siege of AD70. It was a pretty impressive building and the disciples were impressed but Jesus warned them that it hadn’t got long to last: Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mt 24:2) So often we allow ourselves to be impressed by things we ‘see’ only to find they can’t support us and won’t last.

Impressed by Modernity: Here it is, the same old thing, being impressed by what we see with our eyes (it’s how the advertising industry makes you discontented and dissatisfied), one of the characteristics of ‘the world’ that John spoke about: “the glamour of all that they think splendid.” (1 Jn 2:16 JBP)  In Study No.1 we considered recognizing that the world is both material and spiritual and noted how the fruit of science and technology, which have both improved our lot from that which our ancestors knew, so impose on our thinking that it is sometimes difficult to see beyond them to the wider realities of existence.

Now I believe one of the characteristics of the modern entertainment world is what used to be called razzmatazz which is defined as “noisy, showy, and exciting activity and display designed to attract and impress.” That is the nature of so many TV shows whether it is about dancing or talent. Glitz is another such word that means “extravagant but superficial display”, or as a verb, “to make (something) glamorous or showy.” These are the ways TV producers impress people with their shows. In the world of film CGI does the same. Someone in that industry said, “If you can imagine it, we can make it,” and thus we now have outstanding films that are almost mind blowing in their power or their extravagance. These are the ways that it is so easy for your mind to be full of music, full of images, full of fictional people, and at times those things snatch away peace and quietness of mind; they detract from reality.

But if it happens in entertainment, it also happens in communications. If the Internet crashed once and for all, there would be an incredible transformation in the minds and thinking of most of us. The fact that we can have virtually whatever information we like at our fingertips, creates a feeling that somehow we are superior beings. A couple of years back I knew someone with a superior phone who, in the midst of any discussion, would be quietly clicking away to obtain required information so that he could hold a superior position in the conversation, but no longer. Now so many of us have in our hands that same technology and the playing field of discussion and debate has been levelled. Now we all have this incredible access to knowledge whether it be instant access to, say, what quantum computers are, or whether it is a trip around the streets of the globe courtesy of Google Maps, or whether it is gaming, the truth is that we are impressed by it because, in contrast to what we had thirty years ago, it is incredible. And it may only be the start.

I don’t know if you have ever seen one of those screen savers that slowly moves round a major city, such as the wonders of Dubai, but there we have the classic modern example of being able to be impressed by buildings. There are some amazing buildings around the globe but let’s face it they are built to the glory of mankind. The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic has challenged all this. We have (mostly) stopped travelling and although we have used technology at home to keep our sanity, we no longer exult in it in such an extravagant way as we did before. Jesus warned about the short life of the temple in Jerusalem, which is still absent. Will we continue to be impressed by “the glamour of all that they think splendid,” or will we learn not to see these things as glorifying mankind but as gifts of God. Science and technology are gifts of God. Modern medicine and surgery is a gift of God. Let’s be careful when we look at all these things, that we don’t let them puff us up with pride at who we have become. Enjoy them by all means but when we let them take the place of God in our thinking, that has become idolatry and that has always been one of the greatest causes of deception in the world. A call to look wisely.   

5. Seeing People but not seeing

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 5. Seeing people but not seeing

1 Sam 16:7 People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Looking: Our lives are full of looking. Looking suggest an active observing. We are naturally interested by what is around us. Sometimes what is around is dangerous and so we look in order to ensure we are safe. At other times what is around us is pleasurable and so we want to look more. Sometimes what is before us stirs interest in us and we want to see more, to find out more. David cried, Look on me and answer, Lord my God.” (Psa 13:3) He wanted to catch the Lord’s attention and help.  Another time he cried, “How long, Lord, will you look on.” (Psa 35:17) Looking, as mere observation, was not sufficient, he needed action.

Seeing: Our eyes see and convey to our brain what is before us. Our brain translates what it sees so that we go on to make sense of what is there. Seeing is a step beyond looking; it is taking in what is there before us. How easy it is to look but not see. I sometimes find myself saying, “I never saw that verse before!” I don’t mean I’ve never read it before, because I believe I have read every verse of the Bible a number of times, but I’ve never taken it in before. Seeing is recognizing and acknowledging what is there.

Understanding: But then comes the tricky part when this applies to people. Our problem, if it is a problem (mostly it should be a blessing), is that we are human, physical, material, and so we assess life and people around us on this basis. However, as we said in the first of these present studies, life isn’t only material. There is a whole spiritual dimension that involves God, and how we relate to God (or not) is the all-important issue, not how clever, how strong, how handsome, how beautiful someone is. Outward appearance can be utterly deceptive; it’s the heart after God that counts.

Heart? In recent days I’ve found a sense that this concept of the heart of a person is all important when it comes to spiritual matters. There are some words are difficult to comprehend. ‘Mind’ is defined as “that which is in a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.” It is more than the ‘brain’ which is basically just a muscle that has millions of cells with electrical currents. ‘Mind’ is the product of that. When it comes to ‘the heart’ we don’t mean just that physical muscle that drives blood around the body but, according to a dictionary, the word is “used to refer to a person’s character, or the place within a person where feelings or emotions are considered to come from.” This suggests a combination of intellect and will that result in activity and feelings. OK, let’s not get too clever, but basically when we speak about a person’s heart in this context, we mean their outlook, their attitudes, their desires, their mindset, their entire ways of thinking, and in this context all those things are in relation to God.

So, says the Lord to Samuel as he looks at all of Jesse’s sons, don’t go by their outward appearance because that’s not how I measure people, it’s by their heart, their outlook, their attitudes, their desires, their mindset, their entire ways of thinking in respect of ME.

Responding: And us? How comfortable are we if we sense the x-ray eyes of the Lord on us? What does He see in you and me? Let’s be honest. First, He sees imperfection and none of us will be perfect (although we are to make it a goal – see Mt 5:48 – that takes us beyond how the Lord now sees us into the transforming of our very beings, character etc.) this side of heaven. We are all of us ‘works in progress’ but He accepts that. But what more does He see? What did He see in David? Well, being God He was able to see into the future and know that David’s future was a combination of both good and bad, but that didn’t put Him off. But what about David himself, what was there within David that made the Lord choose him as next king? It was this description of David as, “a man after his own heart,” (1 Sam 13:14) which, we suggest means a man who thinks like God and feels in the same way God feels. Those two things lend themselves to hours more meditation and studies of what the Bible tells us about David.

And So? We’ve gone off at many tangents and so to return to the key issue that is here, it is the question, how do we see people, what do we see in them that goes way beyond the outward appearance?  Yes, we’ll see imperfect people but like the Lord we must learn to accept one another with our ‘feet of clay’.  But what more do we see? The more we walk closely with the Lord the more we will learn to be sensitive to one another. Most of us are called to just love one another and yet, especially for leaders, there is also the suggestion that for wisdom in looking after the church, we need to discern when those before us are ‘off the tracks’. That is what the gift of discernment of spirits is about (1 Cor 12:10c) which is, as the Easy to Read version of the Bible says, is “the ability to judge what is from the Spirit and what is not.” The truth is that ‘seeing’ in spiritual terms is about knowing and understanding what the real person is like, not what they look like or what they choose to show to the rest of the world. In the kingdom of God ‘seeing’ is not about superficial observation but what goes on, on the inside. Often we find the words, “Jesus knew what they were thinking” (e.g. Mt 9:4,25, 16:8, 26:10) showing the level he worked at. We are called not to get swept along by the appearances of ‘the world’ but to understand the reality that drives them.

4. An Incredible Panorama

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 4. An Incredible Panorama

Eph 1:18,19 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Difficulty in Believing: I sometime wonder if one of the greatest effects of Sin is simple unbelief, the inability to believe the wonderful things God says about what He has done and what He has made us. Low spiritual self-esteem is so common in all of us. Yes, it may come and go and very often it depends on such mundane things as how we feel physically, while at other times it hovers in the realm of our thinking about ourselves and life generally, what have I achieved in life, what am I doing with my life, and so on. The answer to these varied feelings and thoughts is, I believe, a healthy dose of Bible Study! Returning to the word of God, returning to the truth that God has declared, re-establishes our thinking on a more secure foundation and feelings subsequently come into line. Perhaps no more is this true that in respect of our two leader verses today.

These are two of the most information-packed verses of the New Testament and they show us the desire of God for you and me, to see with new eyes, seeing we have a future with Him, a resourced-present with Him, because of the amazing indwelling power He has given us, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. Are these the things we value as we live out these days? But let’s go through them a bit more slowly so that we can take them in more fully.

Enlightened Vision: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” I think of all the paraphrase versions I like the Living Bible most for this verse: “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share,” because when Paul prays he is asking that God opens our eyes to be able to see that which our natural minds struggle to see, and it is as the Holy Spirit sheds light into our minds that we start ‘seeing’ it. But perhaps the most obvious thing here is that there needs to be a change from not seeing (and not believing) to seeing (and believing).

Enlightened Purpose: “in order that you may know. This seeing he thus equates with ‘knowing’. Previously we didn’t know the truth about these things, we were ignorant of them, we struggled to understand them, that’s why he is praying, that’s why we need help. As we said above, our natural minds, our self-centred thinking, struggles to believe these things. It is only when the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes, opens our understanding does it suddenly make glaring sense. He wants us to see – to know.

The Goals: 1. Understanding the Hope: the hope to which he has called you.” Hope is faith in the future, about what God says about our future. The future starts in a moment and continues on into eternity.  God’s (and thus Paul’s) desire is that we each realize that we have a new wonderful future, here on the earth and after ‘death’ on into eternity, a future where God features large and His glory shines on our lives. Here on earth, as Paul put it elsewhere, “we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) Brought close to Him we reflect His glory and are changed. Again, as Paul put it elsewhere, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) This is the hope we have, that tomorrow my life will be changed for the good even more; I am a work in progress as He continues to shine on and in my life and keeps changing me.

The Goals: 2. Understanding the Reality: the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” or as the JBP version puts it, “the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians.” The ‘glorious inheritance’ refers to all the resources Christ has made available to us by his death on the Cross, all the resources of heaven are now ours. How many of us face each new day aware that we live in a new existence as a child of God with access to all the resources of heaven to help us through the day?

The Goals 3: Understanding the Power: “and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” We may think of these resources – wisdom, understanding, revelation, grace, goodness, fruit and gifts of the Spirit etc. – but they all come in the river of power that is the Holy Spirit who has been poured out for us. But He also brings power, physical, mental and spiritual energy to transform, and He indwells us and is there to be drawn upon.

And Us – Seeing?  Do we ‘see’ this in its reality, are we thrilled as we reflect on these words above, these truths, have we opened our hearts to the Lord asking Him to make them real so that we see them as we’ve never seen them before so they bring life transformation – transformation of my life.  This is why ‘seeing’ is so important. When someone shouts, “Eureka, I see it now!” we understand there has been a change, a light bulb has gone on in their mind. This is what Paul wants for us, this is what God wants for us as He inspired Paul to write these verses. 

3. The half-full glass

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 3. The half-full glass

Jn 9:3 this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Heb 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Recap: In the first study we declared afresh that we are living in a world that is both physical and spiritual and the Christian has to learn to live well in both. In the second study we reminded ourselves that because you cannot ‘see’ the spiritual world, the life of the believer is a life of faith. Now we sought to insert that into the variables of life but noted that God is never still but always working (Jn 5:17) and so the person of faith will seek to be attuned to His activity and never takes circumstances as just random out-of-control activities. Instead, recognizing that He is working out His purposes towards an end goal of a world to be remade, we seek to listen and catch His heart, His purposes, His will, and His direction that we may play our part in His plans.  

Seeing the Fallen World: The problem for each of us is that we live in a ‘fallen world’, a world that is no longer like it was when God first made it. It is a spoilt world, a dysfunctional world, a broken world, a world that goes wrong, a world infected by a virus called Sin that has contaminated every single person.  But it wasn’t always like that and it won’t be like that when God remakes it after winding up all we know at the present and recreates a new heaven and a new earth (see Rev 21:1,25). But as we look upon the world around us we need to be honest and remember these truths of its fallenness.

Seeing the Redeemer: But if that is all there were it would be a depressing situation, and for all unbelievers it is! But the truth is that God is in the process of redeeming mankind, one by one, ten by ten, hundred by hundred, thousand by thousand, all those who will hear His call and respond. Two verses that stay before me in these days and which I will declare again and again, refers to the work of Jesus: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) The JBP version puts that last part, “Christ’s reign will and must continue until every enemy has been conquered.” These two verses emphasis the fact that Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) and his enemies are everything that is wrong and everything which is the fruit of wrong.

Seeing him in Action: Our starter verse comes from the account of Jesus healing the blind man in Jn chapter 9 where the disciples had seen this man and started speculating as junior, embryonic, misguided theologians as so many of us are, just why this man was blind, and they put it down to sin. Now that sort of thinking simply sees the situation as an opportunity to apportion blame, but Jesus saw it as an opportunity to bring blessing and glory to his Father.

And Us? Do we look at negative situations and join the blame band wagon or do we see such times as opportunities to seek the Lord and look for Him to be revealed with His transforming revelation, wisdom, and power?  (Which He may want to bring through us!). Remember, this is all about ‘seeing’. What do you see? A terrible world full of sin or a world full of opportunities to bring blessing and glory to God?

Your glass?   You remember the illustration of the glass with water up to the half-way mark? We refer to half-full people or half-empty people. Pessimists see the glass as half empty – there’s not much left. Optimists see the glass as half-full – there’s still lots more of this experience. Christians have every cause to be ‘half-full people’ because we know we have a Saviour who is working in this world (even though we may not be able to see him) to redeem people and situations.

Your Panorama? As we gaze out on this world, how do you view it? Yes, there are many things going wrong and the future may be very uncertain. You may be someone who has prayed for a long time for something to happen but it hasn’t yet happened. How do you feel about that? Consider our second starter verses: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”   All these people in the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11 had a sense of God’s calling, were living within the plan of God and had hearts that yearned for something better. It was said of Abraham, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” (v.10) i.e. he knew God had something better for him, yet it hadn’t arrived yet. But that didn’t stop him remaining a man of faith, a friend of God.

Because it is ‘a fallen world’, it will never be perfect whatever you pray or do this side of God completely remaking it after Jesus returns, but that is not to stop us being ‘half-full people’, full of faith until he does return. In fact Jesus expects us to be like this as he asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Yes, in you and me! So let’s make sure we hold on to the ‘big picture’ view of this fallen world, being full of faith giving Jesus opportunity to do what he wants in us.

2. It’s about faith

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 2. It’s about faith

Heb 11:1 faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Recap: In the first of these studies, I noted a theme that I feel has been coming from heaven throughout lockdown: what have we learnt in this time, specifically what have we learnt about how we view everything as God’s children? This time has been a time of refreshing for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. We’ve been catching a fresh sense of who we are, who God is, and His resources that are open to us. We have also started becoming aware of the key fundamentals of our faith again. In the first study, we faced up to that very basic truth that this world is more than merely material, it is physical and spiritual and you and I as believers should be able to be those who can testify to the knowledge of the spiritual, our experience of it.  And that brings us to the vital subject of faith.

Faith? Faith is a funny old thing; it’s all about seeing what cannot be seen. Faith comes from hearing God speak and is simply obedience to what He’s said, even if we don’t fully understand it or see how it works (try feeding a crowd with a couple of fish!). And the tricky thing is that we are called to, live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) We live by hearing (and believing), not by seeing. Faith says God is here with you and me now, listens to us, is for us, is the basis of all we are and do. That brings in a totally different ball game. But why is that sometimes so difficult?

The Material World Again: I’m afraid we have to go back to the previous study again where we observed the two primary causes of unbelief – the world of science as it is put to us to determine our thinking, and the world of technology that makes us interact with things, material things. Everything about our lives is, from a very young age, taught to us on the one plane – material. As a child we learn things about living but unless we go to a Sunday School (which is very rare today) we will hardly ever learn about God, Jesus and faith. Maybe every year at Christmas time we have Nativity Plays but increasingly they are filled with things that were not there in the original accounts, things that make it just seem a fairy story – unreal, untrue. And then increasingly, in the Fall, Halloween is made a big feature and ghouls, ghosts and goodness knows what are made normal, but in the so doing, they too are made unreal, just objects of fun. However, Halloween, according to Wikipedia, is supposed to be “the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed”, which could be a worthwhile exercise, yet it never is that. All of these things transform truth into myth.  There is no room in the material world for anything ‘other’, says the world.

And Church? So there we are living in this incredibly material world, a material world given to us by God in whom He dwells. If He made it and gave it to us and gave us five senses to enjoy this physical world, we should not decry it but learn to enjoy it – with Him. Faith looks at flowers and thanks Him for them. Faith looks at all the wonderful things in the world and thanks Him for them. Faith looks at the bad things of the world and mourns for the Sin of the world as it realises that was not how it was originally and not how it will be one day after He has restored all things – a new heaven and a new earth. Faith perceives the big picture and thanks Him for it.

A Moving on World? While the rest of the world looks on in fear and trepidation when a virus brings the world to a halt, and then speculates as to how the future can ever return to anything good, faith knows that Jesus IS ruling in the midst of it all and is working to destroy all wrong things, things that are contrary to the design that he and his Father built into it at the beginning. (see 1 Cor 15:24-26) But those are ‘big things’ and in the meantime you and I have to live with the minutiae of life, the mundane things of everyday life. Is there room for faith there?   

Moving on Faith: Faith believes God is there (Heb 11:6) and even more, “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him,” or, as the Message version delightfully puts it, “that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.”  So faith reaches out to Him. That is what the traditional ‘quiet time’ is, a putting aside time to quietly seek God, usually in the quiet and stillness of the early day, before all the hustle and bustle of the day imposes pressures and tensions upon us. The ‘quiet time’ resources the person of faith to handle those pressures and avoids the tension that can so easily be there. Faith that is exercised grows and becomes stronger. Faith is spiritual muscle and muscles need exercising.

Faith also knows that the Father is always working (Jn 5:17) and therefore the child of God will want to keep up with what He is doing (Jn 5:19, 14:12). Faith is not passive, not static, not inoperative; faith listens to the Godhead and flows with them. Faith means life changes, not at the whim of a virus, but at the instruction of God. Circumstances, with faith, take on new purpose and meaning, going with the flow of God who is purposefully working towards an end goal. There may be many stages in the process towards that goal and only He knows what they are. Faith hears and responds and steps into the next stage as He leads, and when for a moment or two there appears silence, trust takes over and peace reigns in the reliance that He is in charge and He is good, even if we cannot see it in this present day.

1. More than Material

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 1. More than Material

2 Kings 6:17 Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.”

A New Day: Writing in the latter part of 2020, the year of the Coronavirus Pandemic, a theme that has been coming from heaven throughout lockdown, I believe, has been what have we learnt in this time, specifically what have we learnt about how we view everything as God’s children?

More than Material: As I listen to and watch Christians, I fear the reality is that so much of the time it is common for believers to speak the right words but actually, in their minds there is a struggle to grasp the truth that I wish to convey in this first study – that we are a people who purport to believe in God and a spiritual world and that implies a world that is so much more than just a material world. And why is this? I think there are two obvious reasons.

Causes of Unbelief: Strangely the first one is our submission to science as we know it. I looked up a definition of science and found, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Do you see that limitation, the word ‘physical’? When you look up a definition of ‘physical’ you find, “relating to things perceived through the senses as opposed to the mind; tangible or concrete,” but actually that is untrue. The word ‘senses’ here (sorry for all the definitions here but we need them if we are to be clear in our thinking) implies the physical senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, and yet most open people will acknowledge that the mind (excluded in the second definition above) has the ability to sense things. Researchers talk about ‘gut instincts’ and the sense of uncertainty and one group of researchers suggested that the mind is able to sense magnetic fields, and although there is a clear link between the five senses and the brain, the use of the word ‘mind’ takes us beyond a material assessment of what goes on in our heads. The Bible introduces the word ‘spirit’ implying an internal sense that is alert to a ‘spiritual’ or unseen world, the world of God (who is Spirit – Jn 4:24), of angels, demons, powers and principalities (Eph 6:12) in “the heavenly realms”. The evidence around the world and throughout history of a dimension beyond the material of physical is extensive – but science largely ignores it.

The second reason I believe many believers struggle in this realm, is that in the past fifty years with the explosion of science and technology (mostly for our good but potentially also harmful at times) we have become very material conscious. We hold, touch, use, watch material products in ways that would leave our ancestors of even just a hundred years ago, utterly amazed, yet we now take these things for granted. We live and experience the ‘material world’ more than any previous generation of mankind.

The Christian Experience: From the moment we bow the knee to God and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we move into life experiences that initially have material expressions – reading the Bible, speaking in prayer, singing in worship, attending church – but soon take on an awareness of the reality of the fuller world we have entered. We pray and things happen that are beyond coincidence. Things happen that strongly suggest the hand of God intervening and changing us, others and circumstances. The more we learn of God’s word, the Bible, the more we see indications of this ‘fuller world’ as I would prefer to call it, the world that is both material and spiritual. And in a sense, that is what this series is all about.

Elisha’s Servant: In 2 Kings 6, (you need to read the whole chapter) we have this delightful story of Elisha’s servant. To just pick out the key points, they are staying in the walled city of Dothan, a city in the centre of Israel, and when the servant gets up in the morning and wanders up onto the city walls, he finds the city surrounded by enemy soldiers. He hurriedly tells Elisha who prayed, Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see,” having just declared, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” and then, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (v.17) The truth was that the armies of heaven, infinitely more powerful than any human army were there on their side!

And Us?  We live in a physical world with a hidden spiritual dimension, but it is a vital truth that the enemy would seek to keep God’s people from seeing.  As we go through this series, pray and ask the Lord every day to open your eyes to His presence and the reality of His hidden kingdom, that is being brought by His hidden power at the instigation of Jesus (see Psa 110:1,2 & 1 Cor 15:24,25). He rules! THAT is the truth! We may not be able to see it with our physical eyes, but with His help you can in your spirit. Amen.