When the things of life are anything but strangely dim
Over these past two weeks, I’ve had several helpful reminders of the centrality of Christ.
It can be easy to forget, can’t it? Even church life seems to sometimes foster that forgetfulness. As we struggle through life decisions together, wrestle through differing interpretations or practical applications of belief, and just come up against and beside each other in all the hustle and bustle of life, we can so easily have our eyes drawn away to other things – even things that are on the periphery of all that is Christ, but are still not Christ himself.
We may worry about the spiritual health of those we love, maybe believers who once seemed overflowing with enthusiasm but have been hit with confusing or difficult circumstances that seem to have threatened their once-solid standing. We may struggle with hurt or sadness from leaders who’ve disappointed us in some way, or may be stressed over conflicts between people who previously expounded the great importance of laying oneself down for one’s neighbour. We may even worry about our own faith and whether or not we have what it takes to pick up our cross daily amidst the ins and outs of day-to-day life.
To make things worse, our faith and church lives are far from the only area in which we have concerns. We have worries about parents, kids, siblings, careers, lack of careers, social pressures, scheduling, or schooling. We have anxiety over what people think of us, wonder if we’re actually smart or capable enough for the job we have, or maybe worry over our own or others’ health. Life can genuinely seem like a tidal wave of conflict, confusion, and chaos, and it can sometimes be hard to know which direction is the one leading upwards for a breath.
Sometimes there are practical steps we can take to sort out some of these issues. But not always. Sooner or later we all wrestle with circumstances we have no control over, and even when we do all we can to try and help things in a positive direction, at the end of the day all we can do is wait to see how things turn out.
But this is never entirely true for the believer, is it? Sitting and waiting things out is never “all we can do”. Even sitting down and mapping out a step-by-step path toward positive ends is never “all we can do” – it can be a helpful plan, but we’re missing out on a precious opportunity if that’s the only step we take. For often when the waves of worry hit, it’s an indicator that we’ve lost sight of the One whose feet have walked over raging waters with simple, childlike serenity, the One to Whom every ocean ripple looks in joyful, complete submission.
Lilias Trotter, missionary to North Africa for 40 years, wrote amidst the wrestlings of her own ministry:
“The word of the Lord came to me this morning through a dandelion. It was early morning and I was sitting in a little wood…The sun was climbing behind a steep cliff to the east, and its light was flooding from a dark corner of purple brown stems and tawny moss…It was just a dandelion, and half-withered, but it was full-face to the sun, and had caught into its heart all the glory it could hold. It was shining so radiantly that the dew that lay on it made a perfect aureole round its head.
“…if the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon our hearts, there is an ocean of grace and love and power lying all around us, an ocean to which all earthy light is but a drop. It is ready to transform us as the sunshine transfigured the [withered] dandelion, and on the same condition: that we stand full face to the Sun.” (Edited slightly for clarity)
Inspired by the radiance bestowed upon the humble, withered dandelion, whose only part in its radiant transformation was keeping its face towards the sun, she later wrote in a devotional pamphlet:
“Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.”
If these words sound familiar, its likely because they were Helen Lemmel’s inspiration for the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace
There are about four or five hymns that I say are my favourites, but this one has to be at least in the top two. In fact, I’m sure some friends of mine reading this are rolling their eyes at my bringing it up…again. But perhaps the reason I keep coming back to it is that my eyes are so often diverted to the world, to its Canaanite strength and bounty, and away from the faithfulness God has shown me in days gone by, and His might and goodness to fulfill the promises He’s given for the future. But what peace is found in Him when I am reminded of the truth! Like Joshua and Caleb, I can charge ahead in simple childlike confidence, knowing my own size, strength, and capabilities (or lack thereof) are irrelevant when the Lord has already forged the way.
To be fair, this is not to say that, when we turn our eyes to Jesus, all of our problems will be solved in an instant. Or that all of our loved ones’ problems will be solved in an instant. And this can be quite difficult, especially when people we love are really suffering or make really heartbreaking self-destructive choices. Lately I’ve been in several of these situations, and they leave me feeling completely helpless with a desperate lack of wisdom. I’m sure many of you have had concerns for loved ones that put you in the same boat. In these difficult circumstances it can sometimes sound trite and pointless to say, “Oh, just turn your eyes upon Jesus”, and if we say that to ourselves or others unthinkingly or without genuine care, then yes, quite likely it won’t do any good. But just stop right now for a moment and give it a try. Think of:
The Noble, Good, Jovial, and Mighty King of Kings who sincerely listens to His peoples’ every request and governs them in justice, wisdom, mercy, and love
The Architect of Wonders, who carved the Grand Canyon, split the Red Sea, gives the blind sight, filled the ocean depths with life, and paints the horizons of planets far beyond anything we’ll ever see
The Origin of all Goodness and Beauty, who dreamt up and intricately crafted all earthly beauty, and of Whom it is all just an overflow and whispery foreshadowing
The Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, Who left His position of highest honour and all the majestic, shining glory above to wrap Himself in frail, awkward, and squidgy flesh in order to rescue those He shaped from the dust, breathed life into, and watched over from their first breath by letting them spit in His face, brazenly betray Him after acting like His family, call Him a liar, and mercilessly torture the very life from His body
Our Comforter, who has never missed nor will ever miss a single breath of our lives, but watches over and is present and active in every second and thought we have ever lived, and who mourns with us knowledgably, out of His own personal contact with death and brokenness during His life spent on Earth
Our Champion, who has already sealed the victory and now invites us to places of honour far beyond anything we could dream of deserving, entrusting us with the position of actually being a part of His work and giving us the opportunity to share in His final, glorious triumph over all that is evil and broken
Could we with ink the ocean fill And were the skies of parchment made Were every stalk on earth a quill And every man a scribe by trade To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky - Frederick Martin Lehman The Love of God
Our Jesus, the One who is all these things and more, calls to us:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
No, it is true that our problems may not be resolved in an instant. But isn’t it a relief that they are not ours alone to carry? What can we do that our Lord cannot anyway? If we really are concerned about something, our surest bet is to lay the issue down at the feet of the One who knows every heart, mind, and circumstance to a depth we could never comprehend. The One Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and has limitless resources to tackle any difficulty Earth could throw at Him. The One to Whom the size of any obstacle is irrelevant when compared with His infinite Might, Power, Wisdom, and Love. Let’s remind ourselves of Who’s at work, and that we’re not the ones tasked with anything in this world but merely being in restful, trusting submission to what He’s already leading the charge on.
Like the unassuming dandelion withering in the scorching desert heat, when we turn our faces to the Sun of Righteousness, He can shine on us in a way that restores and bestows new life, freshness, radiance, and glory unlike any we’ve ever known.