I’m confident that there was at least one pastor near you smiling a year ago as they crafted their new series for January: “2020 Vision!” There was widespread excitement around doing a series with invitations for God to show Himself, and for us to see more clearly.
Not a single one of those pastors saw this version of 2020 coming. And I imagine many Christians were left scratching their heads; after all, they spent the first several weeks of the year getting hyped up to look for God, and they ended up seeing something very different. Many churches presented it as “seeing your victory”, and congregants prayed into life changes, business plans, and other moves for success; many of them may now be sifting through the rubble of those plans.
Easy: God answered our prayers for vision.
Before there is any confusion, I’m not asserting that God caused the tragedies of this year to show us something; getting into the theology around that would necessitate another post altogether. Instead, what I’m saying is this: many people prayed that God would open their eyes, and they are now seeing things this year that they hadn’t before.
The other day I saw a video of a baby getting tiny glasses, and seeing his mom for the first time. His smile communicated more than you’d think a smile could, and the mother’s tears as well. What hit me most, however, is how without the acknowledgement of the vision problem, and the invitation to change it, this child’s story would have been very different.
The child knew nothing other than what he saw, and because he was born with limited vision, he assumed that’s not just how he saw the world, but how everyone saw the world. He knew of no need for glasses.
Were it not for their love and understanding, the parents could have taken a different route. Because they could not see what their child could, they might assume he saw as they did. So when they smiled, and he didn’t smile back, they might think he was upset, or even unkind. When he struggled to learn, instead of a vision problem, they may assume it was a developmental issue, or worse, laziness.
Between their observations and the expertise of an ophthalmologist, they were able to discern the vision problem, and provide a solution.
And then, everything changed.
The world opened up to the child in a way he never imagined possible. And the parents felt a connection with their child that was deeper than they believed it could go. What seemed impossible for the future now seemed limitless, and what had always felt wrong, now felt right.
Coming into 2020, we were that baby. We had no idea how little, nor how poorly, we could see, and thus believed what we saw was exactly as we understood it.
Then our Father prompted us that something was off in our vision. As we prayed, He sent the Spirit as a new set of lenses to see the world. And just like that baby who saw details and intricacies like never before, we were not expecting what we’d see in the months that followed.
I heard someone share that 2020 isn’t creating new issues, as much as it is revealing what was already there. In other words, while there are massive issues — the pandemic, injustices against minorities, the election, wildfires — these are not causing our responses, but rather magnifying them. Things that we could once keep buried, are now coming out for all to see.
This works in both positive and negative ways. For the former, we are seeing strength, compassion, and generosity coming from people who may not have thought they had the capacity to produce anything; biblical love — as my pastor puts it, a love that seeks the greatest good of the other, no matter the cost — is being displayed more than we usually see. For the latter, we are seeing expressions of self-preservation and selfish ambition hitting heartbreaking extremes.
We prayed for “20/20 vision”, and while we hoped we’d see something like on the Mount of the Transfiguration, we are instead seeing what is happening in the valleys and on the streets. Put another way, we are seeing exactly what God wants us to see. However, because of His love for us, He is not forcing us to look.
And this is where the problem can occur.
The best scenario is that we choose to look, and then humbly respond to what we see. Perhaps you had been wounded and became jaded; if you saw something good — love, compassion, generosity — you could choose to trust God and the hope and peace he promises. Perhaps you had been prideful and self-confident; if you saw yourself responding in negative ways, you could choose to repent and invite God to transform you. Unfortunately, these are not our natural responses.
After all, if the baby sees a smile through the glasses, she may be happy to keep them on; but what if she sees something scary? In an episode of “Black Mirror”, technology was developed that could allow a parent to block out anything they didn’t want their child to see. That meant, when they mom’s daughter walked by a scary dog, the child would just see a blur. This was appealing to the mom who wanted to protect her daughter, and is appealing to us and what we want to protect; why would we want to choose to face something awful?
Quite simply, because whether we look or not, it doesn’t change the fact that it is there. The mother learned this the hard way when the daughter couldn’t see something she really needed to; too often, we do not learn this.
In a year when we have seen so many hard things — externally, internally, against or within people we love — we may find ourselves longing to take off the glasses. You may know people who have not only removed the glasses, they’ve thrown them on the ground and stomped on them.
Praying for vision ended up being a dangerous prayer. Twelve years ago, when catching up with my friend “Tennessee Dan”, he asked if I wanted to hear “the most dangerous prayer in the world.” I foolishly said yes.
“Just pray, ‘Lord, show me my heart as you see it.'”
Simple enough. I did it. I didn’t hear anything.
Two weeks later, I found myself frustrated with an array of annoying issues, and, as I pressed in, my response in the midst. I happened to look back in my journal, where I saw a note about praying the dangerous prayer, and it hit me: God was showing me my heart. I don’t remember what the issues were, but I do remember the moment that I recognized the response of my heart in the midst. God very gently and graciously allowed me to see something I had been ignoring up to that point, and fortunately I chose to humbly respond.
In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables, and he responds,
Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them… This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”Matthew 13:11,13
He then continues, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
What this stirs in us is images of sitting at Jesus’s feet, hearing his wonderful words, seeing his miraculous acts, and having a grand time. This, surely, is what many prophets and righteous people longed to see and here, right?
So, what did they see and hear?
They saw and heard Pharisees threatening and mocking Jesus, making attempts at his life and calling him demon-possessed. They saw Jesus humiliating himself by washing their feet, and heard him talk about dying. They saw him get beaten, flogged, and crucified, and heard his last breath.
After telling them they’d eat his flesh and drink his blood, John 6:66 says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Soon after, Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, and most of the rest fled.
The vision Jesus gave them seemed too much for them to bear, and far from what they wanted. Most of those that had once joyfully followed him smashed their glasses to the ground.
There were a few, though, that didn’t. Peter likely thought that Jesus would never give him vision again; not only did Jesus welcome him back, he took it a step further. He sent the Spirit, the Helper, who would continue to reveal more and more.
It’s like Jesus was saying, “You couldn’t see the world around you accurately, and so I gave you glasses. Now I want you to see abundantly more, so here’s some night vision goggles, thermal vision, and some goggles that let you see things you wouldn’t understand even if I explained it. You won’t just see the world more accurately than others, you’ll see things you didn’t even know were there.“
God hears our prayers. If you prayed for “20/20 vision”, He heard you, and He answered you; it likely wasn’t the answer you wanted, but it was what you needed to see. Now that you’ve gotten the vision, how will you respond?
Will you close your eyes?
Will you take off the glasses?
Will you smash them?
Will you convince yourself that your vision is just fine as it is?
Or will you continue to look and humbly respond?
James 1:23-25 puts it like this:
“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.James 1:23-25
If you feel as though you’re vision is just fine, that’s a solid red flag to check yourself; every one of those disciples who left Jesus probably felt the same. The Pharisees who killed Jesus were utterly confident in their vision and devotion to God. Our confidence is often born not from Truth, but self-preservation and selfish ambition. Humility is the key; humility reminds us that we will spend a lifetime learning to see, taking in more details and learning how to process them. If you feel like you see perfectly, you don’t; 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” However, if you invite God to continue to improve your vision, He is willing.
This is good news, friends. God wants us to see the world, to see ourselves, as He sees them; He is holding out the glasses for us to put on. He knows what we see will simultaneously amaze and wreck us, and He will be with us if we choose to keep going.
He won’t force you, but the invitation is there.
Read more at www.wheredidyouseeGod.com/writings