This morning, I woke up. I took a breath of clean air. I opened my eyes. I heard my clock ticking. I took another breath. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up inside– protected from the rain and wind and cold. I woke up in a bed. I woke up with blankets for my body and a pillow for my head. I woke up, and moved my head, my hands and feet, arms and legs. I sat up and wiggled my toes. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up to hear my husband’s breathing. I woke up to the knowledge that I am not alone. I woke up to the knowledge that I am loved. I felt safe and comforted. Thank You!
This morning, I woke up knowing that even if I had none of the things I just mentioned, that I still have reasons to Thank You– Things I take for granted; things I haven’t even noticed; things I have not yet seen. Thank You for who You are. Thank You for Your Faithfulness; Your Majesty; Your Sovereignty. Thank You for the beauty of sunsets and snowflakes; for the seasons and the centuries; for family and friends; for triumphs and even for the tears that sometimes come my way. Thank You that you are greater, and deeper, more powerful and more tender than all that I know or imagine.
As we approach the arrival of a new year, there is a lot of talk about vision–20/20 vision, that is. For the past few years, I’ve heard of companies, community groups, even churches using the year 2020 as a target date for planning, and using the phrase “2020 Vision” in their mission statements, fund-raising drives, and talking points.
The phrase comes from 20/20 vision, considered clear or “good” vision. Someone with 20/20 vision has no need of corrective lenses or surgery to improve their reading, or correct their sight. Figuratively, 20/20 vision suggests good planning or foresight. So it is desirable to plan with clear “vision” and forethought, rather than jumping into a project, or from one unmet goal to another.
But, while it’s clever to borrow the idea of 20/20 vision and tie it to the coming year, it doesn’t guarantee that our future plans will be wise or successful just because the calendar says 2020. In the same way, just because we have 20/20 vision, it doesn’t mean that we can see everything around us perfectly. We will see clearly those things on which we focus– those things that are right in front of us and not obstructed. Even with “good” vision, we cannot see things that are hidden from sight or things that are outside our scope of vision.
Even the old phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision,” doesn’t mean that we will always gain clarity with time. Sometimes we understand past experiences in a different light after time has passed. But sometimes, we are still left wondering and asking about events from our past; no wiser or less damaged by setbacks or failures, and no better prepared for future trials and pains.
If vision, even good vision and planning, is no guarantee of future success, perhaps it would be better to trust to “blind faith.” After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “walk by faith, not by sight?” Except the Bible doesn’t exactly say that. Instead it says:
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
This verse often gets taken out of context and twisted to suggest that “faith” is opposed to “sight,” and therefore faith must be “blind” to reason, experience, or reality. Many good articles and sermons have been written to clarify the concept (see one example here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/theologically-driven/walk-by-faith-a-misused-verse.html). Faith is not blind–or should not be blind. Rather, it utilizes the ability and practice of seeing what is hidden or indistinct in the present. If our faith is based on empty myth, rumor, conjecture, or cloud dreams, it is not faith at all–it is nothing more than a mirage. Faith is seeing beyond the obvious, the blatantly visible, and trusting more than just what we can immediately see. We don’t walk through life ignoring reality, or dancing across a superhighway full of speeding cars. But we see our circumstances as having hidden elements; our lives have unseen depths, and are lived on both physical and metaphysical spheres. There is more to life than meets the eye– and while faith may not always show us a clear picture of what lies beyond our sight, it causes us to know that something beyond our “20/20 vision” exists and matters.
The great old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” speaks to this as well. No matter what our circumstances look like, we can have confidence that “It is well, it is well, with my soul!” “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight..” We look forward, even as we look around, and look back to the finished work of Jesus our Savior. We see the present, but we walk in the knowledge that there is more than what our eyes behold.
Faith doesn’t negate the need to use our senses and common sense to navigate life. And using planning and vision for the future doesn’t negate the need for faith. Rather, they work together. And they work together best in prayer.
When we pray, we are exercising our faith– speaking to the One we do not see, though we know Him and trust Him. And we bring to Him our plans and visions and hopes and dreams. We lay them in His Hands, trusting that where our vision is “good,” He will empower and bless us; where our own vision is lacking, His Spirit will help us to refocus and see enough of what lies beyond to keep walking forward.
As we walk into a new year, may we have more than just 2020 vision– may we have faith and hope in the One who has perfect vision!
22 And they came to Beth-sa′ida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Have you ever wondered why certain stories and events are recorded in the Bible while others are not? Scholars and theologians have been trying to make sense of this story for centuries. Why did Jesus spit on the man’s eyes? Why did He do the healing in two stages, when He had the power to heal the man instantly? Why did He grab the man’s hand and lead him out of town? Why did He tell the man not to enter the village on his way home? We are left with dozens of questions and no definitive answers.
This is not the only gospel story (or Biblical story for that matter) that raises questions and includes inexplicable elements. In fact, many people, wanting to discredit the Bible, point to stories like this as “proof” that the Bible is not “true”; there are too many unanswered questions, inconsistencies, gaps and omissions. Why is God silent for hundreds of years between the prophets and the gospels, or why do we have no account of Jesus’ teen years? Why are there stories of some of the Judges, and mere mentions of others? Why did some writings become “canon” and others became apocryphal or even heretical? For my part, I find such stories to be proof that the Bible IS inspired by God– Truth really is often stranger than fiction!
I don’t intend to try to answer all the unanswered questions, but since I think that ALL scripture is inspired by God, I’d like to look at what this passage might have to say about prayer, sight, and walking with Christ.
First, this story comes about because, as Jesus is coming up to Bethsaida, he is approached by a group begging him to heal their blind friend. Jesus responds by taking the blind man by the hand and leaving– taking him out of town and away from his friends. We aren’t told why, but I think even without explanation, there are two “takeaways” here:
The blind man was not asking for healing– for whatever reason, his friends were the ones asking for help on his behalf. We jump at the chance to pray for people who ask for help and prayer, but are we as eager to pray for those who do NOT? The passage says the friends brought the blind man to Jesus– it doesn’t say if the man came willingly, grudgingly, unknowingly, or eagerly. His friends brought him and begged for Jesus to touch/heal him. We should have the same passion for lifting up our friends, family, neighbors, bosses, community workers, leaders, and even enemies.
Jesus took the man out of town to heal him. Nowhere in the passage does it mention that his friends followed or saw the healing take place. The story includes them, and their actions, but it is not ABOUT them. Just because we beg God for a miracle, or ask Him to help us plant a seed or make a difference, doesn’t mean that we will get to see the result. Often, God will remove someone from our life just as they are on the verge of changes– even miracles– for which we have prayed. That doesn’t negate our need to keep praying, nor should it diminish our joy at the ultimate result.
Next, there is the curious circumstance of the two-phase healing. Jesus spits, touches the man’s eyes, and then asks, “Do you see anything?” It is a unique question from Jesus. Normally, in the healing process, Jesus doesn’t ask, he commands..“I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11 NIV); When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! (John 11:43 NIV); He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”) (Mark 5:41 NIV). Just as curious is the answer from the man. Yes, he can see, but there is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed. In this instance, healing did not come instantly and completely.
My point here is not to speculate, or try to find answers as to why this story is so different. But once again, I see a couple of points to ponder:
Jesus often leads us to a place of questions instead of clear solutions, and it can be frustrating and uncomfortable. But he doesn’t leave us there, alone and with no remedy (even if it feels scary in the waiting!) Jesus did not torment the man with a hundred questions; he didn’t blame the man for not seeing clearly right away; and he didn’t leave him unable to see clearly. Instead, he asked the man a simple question, “Do you see anything?”
When I am in a season of questions, am I listening for and listening TO the questions or merely itching for an easy answer?
Jesus didn’t explain his question or justify his healing. He didn’t redirect or ask a hundred clarifying questions. He was more interested in the man’s response. The man could have answered, “Yes, I can see,” and walked away disappointed and half-healed. He could have answered in anger or bitterness or sarcasm and unbelief. “How could you do this to me?. What good is my sight if everything looks wrong?”
How do I answer when Jesus leads me to a place of questions? Am I honest with myself and with Him about what I see (or don’t see clearly)? Do I answer with the truth, or do I answer with impatience and distrust?
Lastly, we have a curious ending to story, though one more consistent with other healing events– Jesus restores the man’s sight so that he can see perfectly. Then he directs him NOT to enter the village when he returns home. Once again, I want to look at what I can learn and apply from this passage:
God wants to bring restoration and correction. He wants me to see clearly. He wants me to see others clearly; he wants me to see Him clearly. It isn’t just physical sight that is important to Him. He wants me to get insight as well. I don’t need to have all the answers to the many questions this passage brings up to get insight and wisdom from it, but I do need to see that there IS wisdom to be gained from studying even the odd passages He has chosen to give us in His Word.
God brings healing and insight, but He also gives us direction– in this case, the man was NOT to enter the village. Once again, we are not given a reason why. And we are not given any information as to the man’s response. Did he obey? It is a curious feature of many of Jesus’ healings that He commands people not to run off and tell others. On this point, since it happens often, I will speculate..I don’t believe that God wants us to stay silent about miracles and blessings, but I do believe that there are good reasons to pause and reflect before we spread the word:
So often, in our elation and wonder, we trumpet “our” miracles and blessings– as though we were singled out because of who we are or what we have done or how we prayed. We don’t do this on purpose; we’re normally not even aware of how it sounds to others…In time, the wonder sinks deeper, the humble awareness of God’s mercy and grace replaces the initial euphoria and self-congratulation. We bring more glory to God and less attention to ourselves. In my excitement when God sends me blessing, do I try to take some of the credit, or take pride in His gifts?
Related to this is the temptation to forget that others around us are still in pain or darkness. God’s power to heal is absolute, but He doesn’t choose to remove all pain, nor does he prevent us from experiencing suffering and tragedy. We NEED to share stories of His power, mercy, grace, and joy, but we need to do so with loving insight into the hearts and lives of others, remembering to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) Do I spend equal time listening to others, praying for them and sharing their burdens?
The commands of Jesus are not arbitrary or capricious. We may not understand why, but we should trust that they are for our good and God’s glory. We don’t know what might have awaited the man in Bethsaida. What we do know is that Bethsaida was singled out (along with Chorazin) as a village of unbelief and stubborn refusal to accept miracles. When God closes a door of opportunity in my life, do I keep trying to break in? Or do I take the next step in faith?
So I ask myself today– “Do I see anything?” “Do I see clearly?” and “Am I obeying Christ’s direction for the next step?”
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?