Highly Inappropriate! (2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19)

dancing man

This is a pretty famous picture in Australia’s history. It is of a man dancing through the streets of Sydney at the end of World War Two. After nearly six years of fighting, the arrival of peace brought this man such joy that he danced through the city. It’s interesting to look at the people’s reactions around him. Some of their faces reflect his joy, while others are confused and a bit surprised at this actions. I wonder if anyone disapproved of what he did.

What motivated King David to start dancing in 2 Samuel 6:1-19 was the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. The Ark had been made almost five hundred years earlier by Moses when the Israelites had left slavery in Egypt and were camped at Mount Sinai. It contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, a jar of manna – the food God had provided for the Israelites during their forty years in the wilderness – and the staff of Aaron, Moses’ brother (see Hebrews 9:3,4). For the Israelites of the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. They believed that wherever the Ark was, that was where they could find God to give them blessing and peace.

We don’t know whether David’s dance was premeditated or spontaneous. There is also a bit of disagreement among biblical scholars about what the ‘linen ephod’ (v9 NIV) was that David was wearing. Some argue that is was a garment that priests wore (see Exodus 28:6,7). It would have been extremely controversial for the king to be dressed as a priest. They were two very different roles in Jewish society. If the ‘linen ephod’ meant that the king was dressed in a ‘priestly garment’ (NLT), effectively bringing the two roles together in one person, then this can point us to Jesus, a descendant of David, who functions as both our eternal King and High Priest.

What was most scandalous about David’s dancing was that he was ‘shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls’ (v20 NLT) while he danced. Michal in particular was upset as she looked down at the spectacle from her window (v16). David’s relationship with Michal was already complicated. She was the daughter of Israel’s first king, Saul, who had given her to David in marriage as part of his reward when David killed Goliath (see 1 Samuel 18:17-29). Saul had then married her to another man when David had fled from Saul’s court (1 Samuel 25:44). David reunited with Michal when he took the throne (see 2 Samuel 3:12-16) but I can imagine that their relationship would have been strained after Saul had died and David took his crown. Their relationship hit an all-time low when Michal watched David dance through the streets of Jerusalem in what many interpret as his underwear, and ‘she was filled with contempt for him’ (v16 NLT).

Where might we find ourselves in this story? Can we picture ourselves in the procession, dancing with David, celebrating the presence of God with us? Or would we be more comfortable upstairs with Michal looking down on something we think is an inappropriate, unacceptable, or even blasphemous expression of worship?

I guess most of us have ideas of what we think are acceptable worship practices. I grew up in a church culture where there were very strict expectations and unwritten rules about what a person did or did not do when we came to services. In my ministry, I have often seen disapproving looks or even outright condemnation because of how people might be dressed (including myself as the pastor!), how they might be behaving, or the amount of noise their children are making (again from personal experience). If we are going to approach worship with a set of rules and expectations, and if we are going to look down on people who do not live up to them, then what makes us any different from Michal, sitting up in her room, looking down with contempt on what she saw happening below her?

When Michal challenged David about his dancing, however, he explained that he was celebrating what God had done for him by making him king (v21). David’s dance wasn’t a choreographed performance for him to look good in front of others or somehow gain their approval. Neither was David dancing because he thought it was fun. David danced because of his joy in God’s goodness to him and to celebrate God’s presence with him. His dance was all about God: it focused on the goodness of God and it celebrated God.

We have even better reasons to celebrate like David. God has made us his ‘royal priests’ and is forming us together into the spiritual temple where God’s presence resides in the world (1 Peter 2:5) through the grace of Christ Jesus. We have not just been given an earthly kingdom like David, but an eternal kingdom through Jesus’ death and resurrection and our adoption into the family of God. We don’t serve at a temporary altar like in the Tabernacle in ancient Jerusalem, but we have access to the throne room of heaven to present our prayers, praises and thanksgivings (see Hebrews 10:19-22). God’s presence isn’t hidden behind a veil, obscured by rituals and religious observances, but we have his presence with us in the nitty-gritty and messiness of life through the Holy Spirit in God’s Word, in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and the body of Christ that is the community of believers. David celebrated the presence of God who was still obscured to a large extent. As God’s New Testament people, we celebrate the God who is fully present with us in Jesus through the Holy Spirit!

This doesn’t mean that worship can become a self-indulgent free-for-all or a chaotic exercise in self-gratification. There is still a time and place for reverence, humility and good order in worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:26,40). Maybe what this story can do is broaden our understanding and expressions of worship to include a greater sense of celebration and joy, not at the expense of reverence and good order, but alongside those times when it’s appropriate to be silent before Almighty God and always to build others up in their relationship with our loving Father through Jesus.

Not everyone celebrated the end of the Second World War by dancing in the street. In the same way, not all of God’s people need to celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus by dancing. For some of us, we will celebrate by dancing on the inside. However, if people want to celebrate God’s goodness to them in Jesus by dancing, I’m not going to look down on them like Michal. Instead, we can give thanks that God is at work in each other’s lives through Jesus, making us his royal priests and giving his full presence to us in the Holy Spirit.

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Sufficient Grace (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

2 Cor 12v9 03

I gained a new appreciation for this text one day a number of years ago when I was working in my garden. I was trying to prune some roses without wearing gloves and a thorn got lodged in one of my fingers. It was such a small thing but it constantly irritated me for days. I couldn’t get it out because it was so small, but it was consistently painful no matter what I did. I was amazed that such a small thing could hurt so much and for so long.

Biblical scholars have a lot of theories about what Paul’s ‘thorn’ was. Over the years, I’ve read people arguing that it might have been poor eyesight, a physical disability, mental illness, struggles with his sexuality, or demonic oppression. I like that Paul doesn’t tell us what his ‘thorn’ was. It means that we can hear what Paul is saying from the perspective of our own ‘thorns’.

Just about all of us have something that makes life hard or causes us to suffer. If you’re not, then please stop to thank God for his blessings to you. However, if you’re hearing Paul’s words about his ‘thorn’ and can identify with his struggle, then it might be disappointing to hear God’s reply that his grace is all you need.

When we are suffering from thorns, it’s fair and right to ask God to take them away, just like Paul did. It makes sense to think that because God loves us, he wants us to be happy. We can also assume that because God is all-powerful, he can take away any thorn. When he doesn’t take the thorn away, no matter what the thorn may be, we can start to doubt the love and goodness of God. We can begin to question if he cares, or if he is able to do what he promises, or even if God exists at all. When God fails to take away our thorns, we can start to feel like God has failed us.

When God says that his grace is all we need, he’s asking us to look for him beyond our immediate experiences. Rather than focus on our own subjective understanding of God and what he can do, God wants us to look to the most complete expression of his grace – the person of Jesus. When we contemplate Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we can encounter the grace of God in three main ways:

  1. God is with us with our thorns because Jesus suffered from his crown of thorns, the metal ‘thorns’ of the nails that held his hands and feet to the cross, as well as the spiritual thorn of being abandoned by his Father. No matter how isolated we might feel, we are never alone because Jesus has shared our thorns and still carries their scars in his flesh.
  2. Jesus trusted his heavenly Father even while he was enduring his thorns. He never gave up on God and so, as ‘the champion who initiates and perfects our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2 NLT), Jesus will carry us through the times when we find it hard to trust in God’s goodness and love because of the thorns we are enduring.
  3. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we can look forward to the time when our thorns are removed and we are free from their infliction. As we heard a couple of weeks ago from 2 Corinthians 4:18, what we endure now will pass away, but the life we have to look forward to through the resurrection of Jesus will last forever. That life will be thorn-free!

It would be poor pastoral care to say to someone who is suffering their own particular thorns not to worry about them because God’s grace should be enough. It can trivialize both the thorns they are enduring as well as the grace of God. However, I do believe that whatever our thorns may be, God’s grace in Jesus has everything we need to not only endure the thorns we may be experiencing, but for God to work good through them in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. Paul’s thorn was given to him so he would rely on God’s grace rather than his own experience. What if it is the same for us – that God allows us to carry our own thorns so that we would learn to rely on his grace, grow in that grace, and become more grace-giving to the people around us?

The challenge for us, then, especially when we are carrying thorns in our lives, is to dive deeper into the grace of God for us in Christ Jesus. We talk about Growing as the second stage in our congregation’s Discipling Plan. One way we can understand that is growing in our understanding of God’s grace to us in Jesus and how it has all we need for our lives with all their thorns. As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s grace to us in Jesus, God also equips us to bring his grace to others who are also carrying their thorns.

Over the last decade or so in the church I have witnessed a desire for ‘more.’ I’m not really sure what people want ‘more’ of. If people are looking for ‘more’ of God’s grace in Jesus, then I’m all for it! Paul believed, with his own particular thorn, that all he needed was God’s grace to get him through. What if that is true for us, too? What if, no matter what our personal thorns might be, all we need is the grace of God in the person of Jesus. Then maybe, the more we find God’s grace in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the more we’ll find that his grace has everything we need with the thorns we carry.

Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people

Already But Not Yet

I came across this article from Caleb Roose of the Fuller Youth Institute today entitled Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people. It’s worth a read if you know a young person (or anyone really) who has tough questions or going through a challenging time in life…

Generous Grace (2 Corinthians 8:7-15)

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What do you believe is more important: what you get or what you give?

I suspect that most of us would think the correct answer is that giving is more important than getting. We applaud and admire people who are generous with what they have, such as Bill Gates who donates a significant percentage of his fortune to those in need. I think that most of us would agree that it’s better to give than to get.

However, that’s not always the reality in our day to day life. In our consumer-driven culture, what we get can often end up being more important to us than what we give. For example, we can see this in relationships which break down because one person isn’t getting what they want from another. We can see it in our work where we look for greater job satisfaction or personal meaning out of what we do. We can also see it in the church, where people’s involvement with a community of faith depends on whether or not they are getting something out of it.

I actually hear the language of ‘getting’ a lot around the church. I hear it from people who want to ‘get’ something meaningful, relevant or enjoyable out of their experience of church. I hear it when we want to ‘get’ people more involved, ‘get’ them on positions of leadership, ‘get’ them on a roster or serving in some way, or ‘get’ people to give more money. I also regularly hear it from parents or grandparents who want to ‘get’ their children or grandchildren back to church.

In contrast, Paul wanted Christian congregations to be giving, not getting, communities. When he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth, he talked about money he was collecting for Christians in Jerusalem who were in need. The Corinthian Christians had previously offered to give some money and Paul was encouraging them to fulfil their commitment. He wanted to test the sincerity of their love for Jesus by comparing their giving with what other congregations were contributing. Paul’s point is that Christian communities are meant to be places where people encounter the grace of Jesus through the giving of God’s people. God wants us to be giving communities, not getting communities.

Paul argues that giving is an act of faith. He gives two reasons for this. The first is that when we are willing to give to others in their need, we are trusting that God will give to us when we are in need through the people around us. Paul writes,

Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.
(v14 NLT)

When we trust that God will give us what we need through others, we participate with God in his grace by being the means by which he provides for others. Believing that God will always give us what we need makes us more willing to give to others. This means that we also need to learn how to receive from others. We have opportunities to participate in God’s grace through what we both give and receive. In this way, the equality Paul talks about is realized as we live in mutually giving relationships and communities. Grace isn’t just about how much you give. It’s also about the ability to receive God’s grace through others.

The second reason why Paul talks about giving as an act of faith points us to Jesus. Paul uses a financial transaction as a picture of how Jesus won salvation for us when he writes,

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.
(v9 NLT)

As the eternal Son of God, all of creation belonged to Jesus because he made it with the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus gave it all up for our sake. He literally became poor when he was born in a manger. Jesus depended on the generosity of others throughout the three years of his earthly ministry. He died as a penniless pauper on the cross as the soldiers divided his clothes, Jesus’ only earthly possessions, between them. Jesus did all that so that we could become rich in the grace and love of God.

Imagine what it would be like for the richest person in the world to give everything he owned to you because he thinks you are worth it. That kind of generosity might be hard for us to comprehend, but it is a picture of the generosity of God’s grace to us in Jesus. He totally emptied himself of everything he had by going to the cross, and he gives all of himself to us as an extravagant act of selfless love. This is Paul’s understanding of grace: Jesus giving everything up so that we can live in the riches that come with being children of God whom he loves and with whom he is well pleased!

How do we grow as a community which reflects this kind of generous grace? How do we participate in the giving nature of Jesus so that others can encounter and experience Jesus’ generous grace in their relationship with us? My hope is that we might grow as a church which is known for its giving heart. There are so many opportunities to give our energy, our time, and our money so others can encounter God’s grace through us. Our congregation can only exist and do what we do because of the generous grace people show through your gifts of time, effort and money. On behalf of the congregational leadership, thanks to everyone who contributes to the life of our church for what you give!

We all give to our families, friends, work, social groups and others in many different ways. My intention is not to ask you to give to our church at their expense. Instead, Paul’s words are a reminder that we are called to be a giving community so people can experience God’s grace in relationship with us. There are many opportunities to give our congregation, from cleaning the church or serving morning tea after worship, to contributing to our financial commitments, to learning to live in the way of Jesus together in small groups. As our faith in God’s generous grace to us in Jesus grows, we will also grow in our willingness to give what God has first given us so everyone who connects with our church can experience the generous grace of God in community with us.

What is one way you might be able to ‘excel also in this gracious act of giving’?

Sleeping Jesus (Mark 4:35-41)

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Storms can be scary.

I’m not just talking about the time I was riding my motorbike through the Sunshine Coast hinterland and I had to get home through pouring rain, thunder, lightning and poor visibility. Or the time I was driving our family to Brisbane from the Gold Coast, trying to negotiate through the one-way streets of an unfamiliar city in the dark while a storm raged around us.

I’m talking more about the storms that hit our lives from out of nowhere and we have no idea how we are going to get through them.

These storms are the things that happen which are out of our control and seem too big for us to cope with. They are the dark times of our lives when we feel like everything is pushing against us and it’s hard work just to get through the day. The storms we face can take many forms. They might be short-lived or last for a long time. They might be severe or constant. We might be able to see our way through them or they might seem to have no end. In one way or another, at some time or another, we all go through storms in our lives. And they can be scary.

When the storms hit, we can be a lot like Jesus’ disciples in the story from Mark 4:35-41. It is a natural human reaction to look for God in the storms, but not see him. Like Jesus, God can seem to be sleeping through our storms because if God really was all-powerful and all-loving, wouldn’t he do something about stopping the storms? As far as we can see, it can seem like God doesn’t care about us when he is silent in the middle of our difficulties and suffering. Doesn’t God care, even if we are drowning in the storms that surround us?

Jesus’ reaction to his disciples when he wakes up challenges me. He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v40 NLT) Of course they were afraid – they thought they were going to die! What were they supposed to do? And if they had the kind of faith or the amount of faith Jesus expected, then what should they have done different?

The best I can come up with at this stage is that the faith Jesus was looking for was the assurance that everything was going to be alright because Jesus was with them. After all, here we have the Son of the almighty God in the same boat with them, right in the middle of the storm. But he isn’t afraid. Instead, he’s sleeping. He could be grabbing some shut-eye because he’s exhausted from telling parables all day, but maybe he’s sleeping because he’s at peace. Maybe Jesus’ faith in his heavenly Father is so strong that, in the middle of the worst of storms, he trusts his Father enough to sleep like a baby in the peace that comes with believing that everything’s going to be OK.

Imagine having this kind of faith. What would it be like to trust Jesus so much that in the storms of life we could still find the peace to know that everything’s going to be alright?

This Jesus, whom the wind and the waves obey, is in the boat with us through all the storms of life. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus experienced the storms of human existence and came through them. I’m not just talking about the storm on the boat that night. I mean the storms of rejection, loneliness, physical pain, emotional suffering, even the experience of being abandoned by God. Jesus weathered the storms of shame, suffering and death. But just as he commanded the wind and the waves on that lake and they obeyed him, so he commands even death itself to let us go, and death can only obey him. The One who has total authority over the elemental forces of the universe is in the boat with us. While it might seem like he’s sleeping, the fact is that he’s there and he will bring us through the storms.

That means that we can find peace in the storms of our life. Trusting that Jesus is with us and he has authority over our storms means that we can live each and every day in the assurance that the wind and waves will not overwhelm us. The storms will not end our lives because the One who is in the boat with us is bigger and stronger than the storms.
With Jesus, everything’s going to be OK.

It felt a bit simplistic saying that to the people of our congregation on Sunday because I know that some of them are going through some very serious storms right now. But that’s really what it comes down to –Jesus is in the boat with us, and his resurrection says to us that he is stronger than all the storms, so we’re going to be OK when we stick with him.

When the storm hit, instead of freaking out and accusing Jesus of not caring about what was happening to them, maybe what the disciples could have done was grab some pillows of their own, lie down with Jesus, and get some rest. Maybe that’s what Jesus wants from us as well. Instead of trying to struggle on our own or try harder to battle through the storms, maybe Jesus just wants us to get close to him, trust him like he trusted his heavenly Father, so we can find peace and rest in the middle of our storms.

It might sound simple, but I know it’s often not that easy to do. That’s why we need to recognize that we’re all in the same boat together. We all have storms in our lives. Jesus is with us all in the middle of it. The more we are able to find peace and rest by trusting that Jesus will bring us through the storms to a better day, the more we will be able to be the presence of the sleeping Jesus to each other, so we can all find the rest and peace of a sleeping Jesus.

Looking Past What We See (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

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Most of us have heard the saying to never judge a book by its cover. There are always dangers with coming to conclusions about people, circumstances and other things by taking a superficial view of them and not taking the time and effort to find out what’s going on under the surface.

So why do we do it so often?

We live in a very superficial culture where appearance is everything. The media emphasizes looking good, wearing the right clothes, having the right body shape, and so on. Marketing often makes the packaging more important than what the product. Social media dictates that people’s perceptions of us are based on our profile pictures, so we can be constantly taking selfies or paying for professional photographers to find a picture which will help the world decide that we are acceptable or worthwhile.

The way something looks is often more important in our society than what it is.

In the church, we have also fallen into the trap of making conclusions about people or situations based on appearance. We can be judged by people in the church by the clothes we wear to worship, how we wear our hair, whether we have tattoos or piercings, or other ways in which we might present ourselves. Our actions and behaviours are often judged by others, especially if we don’t come up to expectations of what is acceptable behaviour – just ask any parent of young children who are noisy during worship. When we make decisions in our congregations about changes or new directions in ministry, people can be critical without knowing the full story. We tend to make decisions and judgements in the church based on what things look like rather than what they really are.

But God doesn’t work that way.

I love this story of Samuel anointing David to be the new king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 because God tells Samuel that he doesn’t look at outward appearances. God looks at the heart (v7). God looks beyond the superficial things that we are usually preoccupied with. He looks beneath the surface to see what’s really going on in our hearts.

For God, who we are is much more important that how we look.

In the Hebrew way of thinking, a person’s heart isn’t just an organ in our chest that pumps blood around our bodies. A person’s heart is what lies at our core, at the centre of our being. During my student days I worked in a supermarket and used to put cans of artichoke hearts on the shelves. I was surprised to learn that artichokes are a vegetable, not a small, furry animal. An artichoke’s heart is what is at its centre. In the same way, when the Bible talks about our hearts, it is referring to what lies at the centre of who we are. What lies at the centre will shape who we are and what we do.

We aren’t told in 1 Samuel 16 why David’s heart was different from his brothers, so we can only guess, based on the stories we have of David in the Old Testament. As we get to know David, we find a person who made mistakes and did some pretty horrible things. But what seems different about David is that he had a heart that was open to God and was turned towards God. The centre of David’s being was oriented towards God’s goodness as he relied on God’s grace and love.

Maybe, in the same way, God is looking for us to have hearts that are turned towards him and are open to his goodness. God looks past our appearance, how we look and even what we do, to see if our hearts are turned towards him. Whatever our hearts are turned towards becomes our god, so God looks to see whether our hearts are turned towards him or away from him. He is looking to see if our hearts are open to his grace or closed to the goodness he wants to pour into them by the power of his Holy Spirit. It’s not up to us to try to work that out for other people because we can’t see into people’s hearts. But God is looking to see what lies at the centre of our being and whether or not God has a place there.

Because God wants to give us new hearts that are orientated towards him and open to his goodness. Everything that lies on our hearts which would be an obstacle to or disqualify us from a relationship with God has been taken by Jesus and put to death on the cross. The message of forgiveness is that Jesus removes everything which lies in our hearts that is wrong or bad or unclean. He has carried it to the cross and put it to death once and for all. In its place, Jesus fills our hearts with goodness and love and purity and peace. He mends our broken hearts with his grace and gives our hearts new life as he gifts us with his Holy Spirit and restores us to being the people he created us to be. This love re-orients our hearts and turns them towards God who fills us with his grace.

That is why Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16,17 not to evaluate others form a worldly point of view which only looks at superficial externals. Paul wants us to see each other from God’s perspective, as he looks into our hearts and sees Jesus. Everything about us that is old, broken and wrong is gone. In its place, God gives us the life of Christ which is new and full of shining goodness and purity. This is how God wants us to see each other, as well as ourselves: as people whom Jesus loves, for whom he died, and who are made new through the gift of his Spirit. When Jesus lives in our hearts, at our core and the centre of our being through faith, then we are a new creation and his life has begun in us.

Whether we are talking about or ourselves or others, it’s good to never judge books by their covers. God never just looks at the external appearance, so why should we? Instead, God looks at our hearts and sees Jesus who fills our whole being with his goodness, grace and love. The challenge is to see each other in the same way.

So, this week, who could you look at in a new way from God’s perspective? Is there a person or situation where you’ve only seen the external appearance? How might your perception of other people be different if you looked at them with God’s eyes and saw them as people for whom Christ died?

Looking Past What We See (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1)

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One question in particular nagged me as I prepared my message on this text last week:

How do we ‘fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen’?

It doesn’t seem to make sense. If we cannot see something, it is out of our sight. So how are we supposed to ‘fix our eyes’ (NIV) on something when our eyes can’t perceive it in the first place?

I understand the theory behind what Paul is saying. He suffered a lot for bringing the gospel to people. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul describes what he went through for the sake of Jesus – beatings, shipwrecks, various other dangers, hunger, thirst, nakedness and more. However, through it all Paul kept his focus on the glory of eternal life God promised him through the gospel. Paul didn’t go through all of these hardships to gain eternal life. Instead, he endured them because he considered the life he had been given through faith in Jesus to be so valuable that we wanted others to share in this life. He figured that if his suffering meant life for others (v15), then it was worth it.

So he kept his focus on what he had to look forward to and it gave him perspective on what he was suffering. He believed that his difficulties and hardships would one day come to an end. When they did, and he entered into the eternal life Jesus promised him, then the life that would never end would make his suffering seem very small and light in comparison.

So I think I understand the idea. I still wonder, though, how do we keep our eyes fixed on this eternity which we cannot see?

Most of the time, our sense of reality is based on and determined by what we see. One of the basic ideas of a scientific worldview which is foundational to our culture is that for something to exist, you have to be able to see it. If you can’t see it, then you can’t be sure it exists. Which, in the world of science, I understand. However, when what we see in our lives is darkness, pain, regret, disappointment, or suffering of any kind, then that becomes our reality. Sometimes it is impossible for us to see beyond our hardships or suffering. This becomes all that is real to us, and we can’t see anything else. To a small degree, I can understand what it is like to see nothing but the problems we face. At those times, it looks like there is no way out, no future, or no hope. Life can just look dark.

It is good to remember that scientists are continually looking at things they cannot normally see. They use instruments like microscopes to look at things that are too small for the eye to detect, or telescopes that are far beyond what we can perceive with the naked eye. Even from a scientific perspective, it is possible to gaze at things we cannot see if we are using the right lenses.

Maybe the key to what understanding Paul’s words about keeping our gaze fixed on what we can’t see, then, is to view our lives or our suffering through the right lens.

For Paul, that lens was Jesus.

When he looked at his life through the lens of Jesus, Paul saw that God was with him in his suffering through his suffering Son. He also saw that God had overcome and defeated his suffering through Jesus’ resurrection. In Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we can see that God enters into our reality of suffering but also carries us through it to a better future. Like Paul, God gives us the promise of an eternal life with him where ‘will wipe every tear from (our) eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’ (Revelation 21:4 NLT). All we will experience will be love, joy and peace. This is God’s gift to us because of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for us. This is the good news that Paul dedicated his life to bring to others. This is the gospel for which Paul suffered. This is God’s promise to all who need hope.

Just like scientists look through a microscope or a telescope to gaze at what they cannot see, so Paul is encouraging us to look at our suffering, our hardships, our pain, grief, regrets or loneliness through the lens of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we dismiss or ignore the darker realities of life in this world. Instead it means we recognize that our suffering or hardships had a beginning and they will have an end. They are finite and temporary, but what God promises us in Jesus is infinite and eternal. Keeping our gaze on the glory that is ahead of us helps us to keep what we are going through now in perspective. It gives us the confidence to face each day in the hope that what we endure will not overcome us. It does not define us. It will not defeat us because Jesus has overcome the suffering of this life in his death and resurrection. He gives us an eternal future which will be good in every way, where what we suffer now will be a distant memory which pales in comparison to the glory of life with God for ever.

I understand it can hard to hear that when we’re trapped in our suffering or difficulties because we just can’t see it. We might be able to understand the theory of what Paul is saying, but living it out can seem impossible. That’s when we need the Holy Spirit to be working in our lives to give us this focus. As we remain in God’s word, the Holy Spirit can work through God’s promises and the stories of people God brought through hard times to give us faith. As we remain connected with Christian community, the body of Christ can walk with us, support us, and even carry us to give us a glimpse of what is coming. As we hear the stories of how Jesus brought God’s eternal realities into people’s lives, and when we bring the reality of God’s love, grace and hope into each other’s lives, the Spirit of the living God can lift our eyes from the hardships and difficulties we experience every day and give us a glimpse of what God has for us in the future.

So, how can we help each other fix our gaze on the goodness of God in Jesus, even when it’s really hard to see?