I love optical illusions and “trompe l’oeil” drawings and paintings– artwork that either forces the eye to see things as though they are three-dimensional, or fools the eye into seeing something completely different if you look at it from a different angle or perspective. A duck turns into a rabbit, or a hairy face turns into an ape, or a vase turns into two faces…it is not enough to take a quick glance– you are “drawn” into looking deeper, and studying the art from many angles.
What if we approached prayer this way? Sometimes, I pray from a very fixed perspective– my own desires or in my own wisdom– instead of giving my thoughts and worries entirely over to an all-knowing and all-wise God. What if God wants me to see the situation from a different perspective– HIS?!
Instead of instant healing from an injury, what if God wants me to work harder to maintain my overall health as I recover? Instead of mission work in East Asia, maybe God needs me to work in East L.A. (or vice versa). Instead of my child having the “perfect” job, what if God’s plan is for her to be challenged and unsettled for years before finding the most fulfilling career?
Jesus gave us excellent examples of praying with the proper perspective. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:10-12) “..yet not my will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).
I tend to pray “two-dimensional” prayers. Lord, help me to pray with Your eternal perspective!
One of my favorite old hymns is the ancient Irish tune, “Be Thou My Vision.” I have heard it jokingly referred to as “the optometrist’s hymn.” But there’s a lot more to unpack in the title than just a plug for good eye care.
God’s word is full of references to sight, seeing, blindness, light, lamps, darkness, night, day, visions and dreams, foresight and prophecy, images and reflections, and much more. God is both the source of our sight, and of our insight. God sheds light on our deepest secrets of the past, and provides a lamp allowing us to see the obstacles ahead more clearly. Jesus came to be the Light of the World, and bring sight to the blind, both physically blind and spiritually blind.
Many times, we pray for answers– we want a quick solution to our circumstances, or a definitive direction for our next step. But God sometimes wants to show us a bigger picture. Sometimes, he wants to show us more intricate details. Instead of asking for what we want God to give us, we need to ask for God to give us the vision HE has for our future. He may not reveal every detail– or he may only reveal the next detailed step. But God’s vision is clearer and bigger, and more glorious than we will ever know if we aren’t willing to look with His eyes to see.
We also need to ask God to BE our vision– that we would see him more clearly for Who He Is! Whatever is in our focus will appear bigger and clearer than things in the periphery. When we allow Him to be our vision, we start to see things from His perspective, which makes all the difference. What we see on our own is often an optical illusion– problems look bigger than they really are, hurts and grievances grow larger, and people become distorted by the lenses or mirrors we use to view them. And we lose sight of God’s glory, wisdom, majesty, power, and everlasting love. But God restores our focus and our perspective, so that we see problems in the light of His power to overcome; we see people who are made in His likeness and image– people who are loved by God, even if they are in rebellion against Him. We see the glory of God’s creation as it was meant to be, even as we see the wreckage of pollution, corruption, disease and disaster. We see God’s mercy as lives are transformed and families are mended and justice is finally achieved. And we see the rays of hope in God’s promises fulfilled and those yet to be fulfilled.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Both the scripture text and the children’s song above are often used in the context of watching pornography or violent images, and their negative effects. It is true that if we fill our sight with negative and sinful images, we will be impacted negatively. We become desensitized to violence and evil; we become addicted to images that shock or excite us.
But I think there is more going on in this text, and I think it has a bearing on our prayer life. What we choose to see also involves what we choose NOT to see. We talk a lot about what we shouldn’t be watching or seeing, but there are some things– even unpleasant things– that we MUST see if we are to be the light of the world. Not only must we see such things, we must shine a light on them and cause others to see them. Injustice, corruption, dishonesty– we must be careful to see them for what they are.
We live in a world of optical illusions, and it can be very difficult to see clearly. But that is what we are called to do. If our eyes are good/healthy, we will let in the light of truth, so that shadows and illusions will become stand out. If our eyes are bad/unhealthy, the shadows and illusions will trick us. We will see only what can be seen in a glance, and miss the bigger picture.
John the Baptist had excellent “vision.” As he was out in the hot sun glinting off the Jordan, he looked up to see hundreds of people waiting to be baptized. But his eyes were searching the horizon, seeing all the others, but seeking one face. And when he saw it, he drew everyone’s attention to it– “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Our eyes, like those of John, should be looking with purpose and hope.
Throughout the Bible, God looks at people with love and compassion. Several times in the gospels, Jesus looks upon or takes note of people (some of whom are seeking him, and others who know nothing of him) and has compassion on them. Our eyes, like those of our Father, should be looking in love. Love sees things as they really are– it sees sin, pain, disease, betrayal, war, hatred, greed. But love sees beyond to people who need salvation, healing, restoration, peace, compassion, and hope.
I need to give careful consideration to what I allow myself to see– do I see all the negative, hateful, sinful things going on around me? Do I see such things with a sense of purpose and with compassion? Or do I ignore them and turn my gaze inward, shutting out the hurt and need all around me? Do I see all the shadows and illusions and let my own light grow dim? Or do I see the Light of the World, ready to shine (even through me), with hope and redemption? Will I pray with my eyes closed and shuttered, or wide open?