Monday, June 9, 2008

The Battle to See Clearly

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge you will be judged; and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” - Matthew 7:1-5

Clear vision is fragile. It is hard to attain and even harder to maintain. It is a precious treasure, a gift from divinity, priceless in value. Clear vision is the doorway to right standing with God and the gateway to the pleasures and hidden mysteries of the kingdom. The quest to obtain it requires diligent pursuit of the heart of God and the sacrifice of all that stands in the way. The journey to open the eyes of the spirit is costly, and the fight to continue seeing is costlier still. But nothing is more worth the cost.

This week the words of Jesus in Matthew took on a whole new level of meaning. I lived them. For months I have been preoccupied with a speck. I looked at a situation, I assessed and I judged. But I did not see… not clearly. How could I see? There was a log in my eye. It was staring me in the face and yet I was oblivious. Until, in one piercing moment of conviction God allowed me to see clearly. I saw the log, with all its ugliness. It saw it rising up from within me. I realized once again, what I was capable of, the depravity within my own soul to tear down another human being. The very thing I had seen and despised in others was lurking within my own heart. It reared its head with a mocking smirk of victory, but the moment it revealed its hiding place it met its doom. Godly sorrow and I have communed these past two days. The fellowship has been painful but sweet. It is a beautiful thing to find yourself humbled at the feet of Christ once again, staring up in wonder at His sacrifice and faithfulness on your behalf. I needed this realistic reminder of my place before a holy God, to sense it in my heart and not just my head. I needed my vision to be cleared and redefined.

I’ve thought a lot about vision and perspective over the past year. I have longed and prayed to be able to see through the eyes of God rather than man. I have come to realize the significance of vision and the impact it has upon every aspect of life. The way we see and what we see effects the decisions we make, what we believe and how we choose to act. I explored these thoughts in an essay I wrote last fall (included at the end of this post). This past week has further driven this realization home. It has also shown me how easily the vision I crave can be distorted. So many things are capable of tainting our view of God and each other. I am not immune. Just because I have had the privilege of seeing clearly before does not mean I am seeing clearly now. Vision must be a constant battle. I placed confidence in my vision this past semester. I knew that I was the one seeing the situation with maturity and clarity… or so I thought. I was dead wrong. I am so grateful for the grace of God as it has removed the blinders of pride and self-righteousness to align my sight with His once again. The place of humility and repentance is messy and painful, but it is also beautiful and authentic and full of life itself. I want to live with clear eyes. What I see may be painful, it may be heavy, it may be messy. But it is worth far more than the softened, fogged over vision of a put-together life. Any amount of real vision full of real throbbing life is worth any amount of mess and pain in order to obtain it. I’m on a quest to see yet clearer still. Want to join me?

Eyes to See

Blank eyes shrouded in darkness, oblivious to any sense of light or beauty. Behind them was a man, filthy and penniless, condemned to a life of purposeless misery from the moment of his birth. He sat by the roadside, his translucent gaze fixed upon his surroundings for hours on end, but for all his looking he saw nothing. Day after day he remained by the roadside, the passersby nearly oblivious to his changeless presence. It was as if he had become a part of the road itself, nothing more than a piece of dirt or stone. “Where was the purpose in the life of a stone?” he often had to wonder. “It cannot leave. It cannot follow. It can do naught but cause a man to stumble in his way.” His purposelessness weighed as a heavy burden upon his darkened soul.
Without aim his life began, and in like it would have drawn to an end, if not for the passing of a man, a man so filled with purpose the very rocks cried out his name. Compelled, the rock with the blank eyes followed suit, sending up his cry to join with the chorus of the throng. Something within him stirred for the first time in so many years his crazed mind could not count their passing. The rock rose to his feet and began to stumble through the crowd. No longer oblivious to his presence, the passersby sought to squelch the blind man’s screams, but he would not be deterred. Desperation drove him. He could fall no further into demise than where he already sat, so he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
His cries gained the passing Rabbi’s gaze, a gaze that caused the hands of the crowd to guide the blind one forward. Posited at the feet of the Rabbi, he laid bare his request. “I want to see.” Could the blind man possibly know for what he asked? He sought the gift of sight for his eternally darkened eyes, but whether or not his crazed mind realized it, he asked for so much more. The man received his sight when the hands of the healer touched his empty eyes, but he received vision when those new eyes fluttered open to gaze into the eyes of God. The senseless now made sense. The misery turned to joy. The aimless life found its purpose. A path lay before his feet. His eyes could see it now. The Rabbi turned with a twinkle in his eye and the seeing man rose to travel in the newfound way of life.
What is a spiritual quest, but a quest for sight? The Apostle Paul pointed out to the believers in Ephesus that when the eyes of their understanding were enlightened they would know the hope of their calling in Christ Jesus. To find one’s quest or purpose in life, one must have eyes to see.
Vision is the key to the kingdom. Sight controls perception, perception dictates belief, and belief determines course of action. Everything in life hinges upon what the eyes of the soul see, or choose to see. This is why the ultimate quest of the followers of Christ is to capture within their own eyes the vision of the Master.
This is the quest that I have chosen to make my own. In desiring to draw closer to the one I love, I have discovered the necessity of becoming more like Him. To become more like Him requires following a course of action He would follow; yet actions stem from perceptions. For this reason, the ever-increasing cry of my heart is for God to allow me to feel the things he feels, to hear the things He hears, and to see the things He sees.
This is a dangerous prayer, but a powerful one, a fact that has not eluded the notice of the fiend of heaven. All of his power lies within hindered sight and distorted perceptions known as the lie. Lies make one blind to the truth, slowly creeping upon the vision of the soul and trapping the ensnared victim in a world of false reality. It is here where decisions and actions are made upon premises that do not exist outside of the deceived mind.
Far too often I have sat as the blind man, trapped, miserable and purposeless by the side of road, the dead weight of lies turning my heart to stone. I have lived under distorted perceptions regarding God, myself, and the people around me. Though I may not dare to openly admit it, I have lived with the underlying belief that I am the central player on the stage called life, and that every other player, including God, is accountable, in some way, to me. My true intentions become evident as my actions form the mirror that reflects the inward perceptions of my heart, the ones I live by rather than the ones I profess. It is only when I honestly face the attitudes of my heart, calling them the ugly things they are, that I can be freed of their hold and granted the vision to change.
Vision has the power to change my relationship with God. When I understand that God is not trying to steal anything from me, but only has my best in mind, it frees my heart to trust and allow Him to rule in His rightful place. When I catch a glimpse of His incredible goodness and majesty, it invokes a response of worshipful obedience within my heart. When I see his bloodied form upon the cross on my behalf, I cannot help but throw my all at His feet in response to such a gift. But so many do not understand the why behind His ways. They cannot see who He is through the fog of this world. I also lack the capacity to fully understand the truth of His being…for now we see in the mirror dimly. What I do know is that if a glimpse of His face were possible I would not be able to muster the strength to continue to reject the immenseness of his love, nor would it be my desire to do so any longer.
Vision also contains the power to change my identity. When I see myself in proportion to the God I serve, it keeps me humble. It reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. Yet when I see myself as the joyous motivation for Christ’s endurance upon the cross, it frees me to walk in the confidence of being chosen. Too long have the children of this world seen their identity as worthless. They sit by the roadside in the bondage of a misconstrued perception while the creator of the universe sees their true value as priceless. Freedom lies in the enlightenment of the inward eye.
When I catch a glimpse of God and allow Him to set the perspective of my identity, then vision is free to breed a heart of compassion within me for the people whom God loves. When I begin to understand that those who insult me do so because of their own insecurity, it motivates me to impart value into their lives rather than hold offense at their words. When I listen to the story of one who is struggling in their pursuit of God, I can be encouraged to lift them up instead of condemn their apparent failure. Jesus took time to sit with broken people, to become a part of their world, and to hear their stories. His eyes saw past their failures and accepted them for who they were as God created them to be. My quest for vision requires me to do the same.
Last September I met someone, beyond which fact there was not much to tell. I met a lot of people last September and did not see much significance in one introduction among so many. She, along with many other faces, began to find a small place in my world. She made her presence known here and there among the moments of studies, meals, and the occasional Friday night excursion. Our relationship lay somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend, but I had no intension of pursuing it further. I took a sweeping look at her life, passed my judgment, and placed her in a box along with countless others who I would exist with but never care to sincerely know.
There she remained in my box for months, until, in January, God saw fit that we meet again, on His terms. For the first time, my deceived perception slipped away and I was introduced to the real person behind the one I saw on the surface. I stood in her hospital room at two in the morning watching her sleep. As the snow outside was falling into a paper-thin blanket over the streets of Cleveland, the grace of God was falling upon my heart, cloaking it in a blanket of compassion. Up to this point I had looked upon this person with physical eyes, filtered by the world. I had seen a girl who I believed did not measure up in the kingdom. But God gave me new eyes for her: His eyes. In that brief moment I saw what God saw when He looked at her. I saw a scared and hurting child desperately in need of love. Yet I also saw immense beauty waiting to be found and a picture of the wholeness that God intentioned for her life. Something within me was forever changed. Suddenly I cared, immensely. I felt the passion rising within me to fight for her and for the fullness of life that God desired when he took the time to delicately craft her soul into existence. The eyes of my understanding were opened, and I would never be the same.
The two of us have seen many hours and months together since that snowy January night. Walking together in the kingdom has not been easy, but neither of us regrets the care and intensity that has been invested in the relationship. On my part it has been an immense privilege to walk beside her and glimpse the potency of the love of God at work. The shared tears and laughter has changed both of us and knitted our souls together in a way not many understand. The one who I wrote off as incapable of depth has become a deep friend, a confident, and an encouraging voice in my life, and I would have missed it all if I had not cared to look and truly see.
To see correctly, one must look past the world of touchable things and find a window into the soul. Reality hides behind appearance. Those that appear to have it all together are usually the ones who are falling to pieces inside. Those who come across tough and harsh usually have the deepest wounds festering in their hearts. Those that have everything one could ask for can feel the most empty inside. Those that seem to have an answer for everything often feel secure about nothing. Likewise those that are quiet usually have the most to say, and those that are overlooked often have the most to offer. Things of the greatest value tend to slip past our eyes unnoticed while we are looking in all but the right place.
The blind man finally found the right place to look, straight into the eyes of Jesus. What he saw changed his life forever. It gave him purpose. It caused him to follow after the Healer and I doubt he ever chose another path. Vision set his world aright and has the power to shape yours and mine. There are moments when I see the truth. It is in those glimpses that I sense the rightness of the ways of God and have no doubt for how I should then live. But, at best, my vision flickers dimly, so my quest continues and will not end until the light of heaven fully sheds its illumination upon my sojourning heart.
The light of this world is nothing but a false reality. We live in this reality because, like the blind man, we know nothing of what the true world really looks like. Yet we must not allow our hearts to be content with the fake. As the blind man asked Christ to open his eyes, we must ask the Spirit to open the eyes of our heart to enable us to see the world beyond our physical senses, the world that shall not fade. This is the one true reality, and we must learn to live according to its principles. Then will the song of gratitude and victory be released to rise with renewed understanding from our hearts:
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”


Eric said...

well there is really so much to comment on that I am shocked out of saying much of value. I love the first part of that essay. I loved reading it and hearing your voice reading it to me. I look forward to letting God use your words to evoke thought as I try to gain a different perspective over here on the water. I'm finding that this is a good place to learn but that it doesn't happen without determination, honesty, longing, and the love that makes it all worth it. You remind me of many of those things within the first few sentences. thanks, and I'll keep coming back for more.

Pastor Carl said...


Your writng blesses and inspires me!

Pastor Carl