It’s happened before, numerous times actually. God shifts my gaze from myself and my so-called problems to Him. Unfortunately, I seem to gradually rotate back to my old way of thinking and often need Him to turn me around again and again, back where I see only Him.
Last weekend he turned me around by letting me see a special friend who is in the midst of her fight against cancer. I hadn’t seen her in person since her diagnosis and it moved me more than I expected. Though she has lost her hair and we both look older, in her beautiful eyes I still saw the real her. Love flooded through me and then shame for being so caught up and overwhelmed by my “problems.”
I’ve been listening to “The Shack” on CD as I drive to and from work. Yesterday, I was listening to the part when Mack, the main character, is visiting with “Papa” (God) in the kitchen of the shack for the first time. Mack experienced tremendous loss and had some unresolved issues stacked up in his heart against Papa, anger and confusion on the top of that pile. At one point Papa says how dearly it cost when Jesus died on the cross, to which Mack replied,
“At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him – you know – My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
“You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.”
“How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!”
“Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
…”Will you at least consider this: When all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?”
(from The Shack by William P. Young ©2007)
When I heard that I got a big lump in my throat. It made a lot of sense. It’s so hard to feel God’s presence or to see Him when we’re consumed with the stuff and struggles of life. In those moments, the enemy is sure to whisper in our ears and lie telling us God doesn’t love us, that He’s mean, He isn’t good, He isn’t all He claims to be, blah, blah. When we’re hurting we’re just silly enough sometimes to listen to those lies for a while. At least I have been.
Even in learning about God’s discipline and how he sometimes allows disappointments or shattered dreams to cause us to seek Him, I’ve let my heart become too serious in my view of who He is. It’s true God disciplines us and lets hard times come, but it’s also true that He loves us and gives us many good things. Even though tough times cause us to press closer to Him and grow, I don’t think He expects us to live in constant pain, disappointment, discouragement without ever receiving a blessing, a break, mountaintop moments here and there.
A stark contrast to me being fixed on problems and not seeing God is the apostle John in the book of Revelation. John had been exiled to the island of Patmos, a small, rocky, volcanic island where he was given insufficient food, scanty clothing and probably had to sleep on the hard, bare floor of a cave. It was not a tropic paradise by any means. Fettered, hungry, dirty, surely bored and discouraged He forgot all about his meager, dismal surroundings when he had a vision of Jesus. Listen to how he describes what he saw:
“… He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:13-18) NLT
If I saw Jesus like that I’d be completely overwhelmed! It would be wonderful and terrifying at the same time. The image of Jesus’ power and presence so consumed John that he fell down and worshipped, suddenly unaware of the “yuck” around him.
I want God to shift my gaze so that I’m consumed by Him, straining to see Him more than anything else, so caught up in who He is that the other things around me pale and fade out of focus.
I believe you’re good, Papa, and that You love me. Forgive me for being almost cynical about you while I learn about yielding to your discipline. You are steadfast and sometimes your love is tough but you do love, you ARE love. I believe You’re always there. I believe You want good things for me and my family, but I don’t want to focus on those things. Your compassion and patience overwhelm me. Captivate me. Consume my attention completely.