Perspective—Seeing with the Eyes of God
On a recent missions trip to Thailand, in the city of Phuket, I saw a sign hanging outside a doctor’s office. The words in Thai were followed by an English translation, which proudly proclaimed: FAIRLY RELIABLE DOCTOR. I don’t think the phrase conveyed quite what the doctor had in mind. Something important got lost in translation. For Thai speakers, I’m sure the Thai words properly advertised that the doctor could be trusted to deliver professional medical services. But from the perspective of English speakers, the sign was amusing for its underwhelming endorsement of the physician’s dependability.
The idea that the Spirit of God works through our circumstances and choices, through the things that happen to us, has given me a helpful perspective from which to view my own life and the lives of those I journey with.
Perspective is important. Our decisions and how we live our lives are based on how we see things. In that sense, perspective is often even more important than reality.
As a relative newcomer to pastoral ministry (seven years), the theme of perspective continually emerges in my ministry. Allow me to reflect on some ways in which appreciating perspective has become relevant to me.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PASTOR
God is continually teaching me to see with new eyes. The prophet Isaiah (in ch. 6) tells us that rebellious people have ears that can’t hear, eyes that can’t see, and hearts that can’t understand. Being naturally rebellious myself, I pray with the Psalmist that God would “open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your law” (Ps. 119:18). 1 In Ephesians 1:18, we are encouraged to see with the eyes of our heart. Seeing is a big deal. Seeing with God’s perspective is an ongoing challenge for each of us. Learning to see things with God’s eyes has become increasingly important in how I “see” being a pastor.
What initially kept me running from the call to pastoral ministry was the belief that I would have to become something I’m not. All the stereotypes of pastors (they’re boring and irrelevant) repelled me and kept me running. I was afraid that my brain and personality would have to be surgically (or spiritually) removed and replaced with the “pastor’s package.” I wasn’t sure what that was, but I was certain it couldn’t be good.
I finally realized that God was calling me to be nothing more than who he had created me to be. I felt a deep peace once it was clear that my past experiences, my giftedness (or lack thereof), my passions and interests would shape the way I would live out the calling of a pastor. This realization came as a wonderful relief.
Doug Enns provides a great description of what it means to be a pastor: “it is about loving Jesus and being human with people as we discover God’s grace together.” 2 That’s a perspective that has the potential to lead into a flourishing ministry.
My life text, Phil 3:10-14, is one that continually encourages and shapes my ministry. It urges me to truly “know” Christ in the midst of realizing how far from perfect I am and how little I have yet obtained, but to keep pressing on, away from everything in my past that distracts and toward all that gives life today and in the future. This way of looking at my life keeps me going.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF “BIBLICAL PREACHING”
I’m glad it’s not only me—I was beginning to get a complex. The more pastors I talk to, the more I realize that the struggle to develop a proper perspective on “Biblical preaching” is all too common.
It was Sunday morning, and I had just delivered what I was sure was a Biblically solid, captivating, funny, life changing message (aren’t all our sermons like that?). I sat down beside my eight year old daughter, who leaned over to show me the paper she had been writing on. I was impressed that she had been listening and taking notes, but I could not understand the line of check marks with a numerical total at the bottom. She explained, “Dad, you said ‘um’ and ‘ah’ 18 times.”
We pastors put great effort into being both Biblical and relevant. We don’t want to be so relevant that we compromise the Biblical text, but we don’t want to be so literally Biblical that we fail to connect the Word to the lives people actually lead. The challenge of carefully balancing the two is familiar to anyone who has ever preached the Word. To those who have not, it seems simple: “Just preach the Word,” they tell us. “The Word of God is always relevant.” But if that is so, why are many solidly scriptural sermons so boring and out of touch (some I’ve heard coming out of my own mouth)? The reality is, not every Biblical truth is directly relevant to the lives and circumstances of individual listeners or to the life of a church. Meeting this challenge requires humility from preacher and listener alike, as well as much prayer.
In fact, preaching, studying and listening to the Word all involve humility and an awareness that ours is just one of many, often very different, perspectives. If we fail to recognize this, we quickly get into spiritual trouble. As Pastor Rob Bell explains, “The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance.” 3 The truth is that I preach with baggage, agendas, and lenses. I preach through my personality. Listeners sift my message through the filter of their baggage, agendas, and lenses. I need to be humbly aware of this each time I preach, so I don’t get offended when they hear things I didn’t think I said, but more importantly, so that I rely more on the Spirit and less on myself to connect the Word with the lives of my listeners.
The role of the Holy Spirit is key. I recently began to see a familiar Scripture passage with new eyes. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul writes,
Dear brothers and sisters, when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.
What struck me was the phrase, “but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you.” We regularly pray for our preachers, that the Spirit of God would be upon them as they preach the Word. I have now begun to pray more fervently that the Spirit of God would be powerful among the listening body. Only the Spirit has the power to transform and unify us despite our diverse perspectives.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
To the encouragement (and sometimes the irritation) of our fellow believers, we often quote or paraphrase Romans 8:28: “God causes everything to work together for good.” We know that a close look at the text does not support naïve optimism, but the idea that God can bring good out of the worst of circumstances is an important truth.
Isaiah 55 points us to the idea that God’s ways and thoughts are beyond us. He sees things from a higher perspective. From a higher altitude, you see a lot farther than from the ground. You also see things you would never see otherwise.
As I have talked with people going through difficult circumstances, my knowledge of fluviogeomorphology has been helpful. (I retained very little from my Geology 101 class at university, but this term, meaning “the study of water’s effects on land forms,” stuck with me.) If you’ve ever looked at rivers from an airplane, you’ve seen that even on flat terrain they don’t run in straight lines. They meander back and forth, making an intricate pattern of continuous curves. The water on the outside of a bend flows faster than water on the inside, relentlessly carving out the riverbank, while the slower water leaves sediment and deposits on the inside of the bend. These twin actions continually change the course of a river and the landscape it runs through, though changes are noticeable only with time.
Our lives are much like rivers. They seldom go in a straight line for very long. We adapt to the ongoing changes in our life circumstances, some of which come at us suddenly and others, very gradually. When we look at our lives from this vantage point, the truths of Isaiah 55 and Romans 8:28 begin to mesh. When times are hard, we immediately want to know why, so that we can make sense of our circumstances and move on. Yet God sees from a far more distant horizon called eternity. Our lives are a beautiful pattern of journeying with God. Nothing is wasted, nothing is unimportant to God. But quick explanations of what we’re going through will always be inadequate to the larger spiritual meaning of our journey. God is charting a new course, creating something original with our lives—something of eternal significance which will only be apparent to us at the end.
Fluviogeomorphology includes the study of the formation of what are called “oxbow lakes.” The process of the formation of these lakes gives us another helpful spiritual analogy. A river will sometimes take a looping detour before continuing on its course. At the point where it almost circles back into itself, bank erosion eventually completes the loop. Once this occurs, the river by-passes the loop altogether and flows directly to its destination. In time, the loop, or horseshoe-shaped meander of the river now cut off from the river’s course, becomes an oxbow lake.
The Spirit of God works in a similar manner to shape us and slowly change us into His image. With time and discipline, things that hinder our relationship with God are eventually no longer part of the flow of our lives. They might still be part of our landscape, but they are cut off, no longer connected to who we are, to our spiritual reason for being.
Interestingly, Jesus used the imagery of water many times, promising us, among other things, “living water.” In John 7:38-39, Jesus speaks of the Spirit when he says, “If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within.” The idea that the Spirit of God works through our circumstances and choices, through the things that happen to us, has given me a helpful perspective from which to view my own life and the lives of those I journey with.
Of course, we are not entirely passive as the Spirit works on us. The perspectives we choose and nurture shape us, for better or worse, into the people we become. For this reason, it is important to examine our vantage points critically and be alert to the possibility that we are seeing things from the wrong place. As God transforms our ability to “see,” we will be prompted to consider which of our perspectives God might want to change.
This side of heaven, however, our sight will always be impaired. Seeing “through a glass darkly” is our fate. But there is reason to hope that through the disciplines of study and prayer and the always mysterious work of the Spirit our weak vision can be sharpened and enlarged, enabling us to see farther through the shadowy glass in front of us. May God continually improve our vision, not only for our own spiritual benefit but also so that we can give our fellow spiritual travelers some idea of what it means to see with the eyes of God.
- All scripture quoted is from the New Living Translation.
- Doug Enns, “Why I Do What I Do,” Direction 32 (Fall 2003), 227.
- Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 54.