In this Restoring Vitality series, we are trying to address those times in life when God seems distant, our hearts have grown leathery and dry. We need a new infusion of life. We need a new direction. We need a new hope to fill us. We need to grow. We know we’ve been stuck in old ways of thinking.
Finding that life depends on asking some important questions. It means we have to start being honest about what we’ve been doing instead of pursuing a relationship with God in Christ. We also need to enlarge and invigorate our vision of what it means to be invited into life with the triune God.
Once we have come to grips with where we are and what God has invited us to, we can begin to put some new pieces in place, or some old pieces in new places in order to reorient our lives into the image of God. Today I want to help you discover a new orientation for life and faith. That is, simply Jesus.
Have you ever played with a pair of binoculars? We had a pair that our family took with us on vacations and major league baseball games. We had to share. But when it came to be my turn, I remember they always felt heavy. And they smelled like plastic, but with hints of leather from the case they were stored in most of the time. When you wanted to see something up close, you put the small lenses up to your eyes. You adjusted the width, so both eyes were looking out at the same time and then the focus control would be turned left and right in order to bring that player, deer, or cute girl into focus. But then as kids do, we also would flip them around and look at the brother next to us. Looking through the big end, made everything seem so far away!
As we live our lives of faith, it is easy to get the binoculars flipped around. And before you know it, God seems so far away. At times, we can barely make him out. We can’t really see what he’s doing. We can begin to feel alone and tired. Faith feels more like living in the dark than living in the light. It’s because even if God is sitting right next to us, that’s not what we see. We see a God we can’t touch and probably can’t touch us.
We have to flip the binoculars around. We have to look through the correct lens. And that lens is Jesus. Let me run through a few examples.
- Some of us orient our faith around certain theology, or church tradition. When we do that, we shape a Jesus who fits our style. Jesus becomes a Calvinist. Or, Jesus becomes a Baptist. And the real Jesus who confronts our beliefs stays at an arms distance.
- Some of us orient our faith through our vision of abundant life. We have an idea of what a blessed life looks like. And if that is our primary lens, God becomes a bit more distant, especially when he disappoints us. We quickly question his goodness, his wisdom, his strength, or all three.
- Some of us orient our faith by our political philosophy. It doesn’t take long on social media to see people on all sides of an argument appeal to God, the Bible, or Jesus himself. How does this happen? We come with our own notions and paint Jesus with that brush. And then miracle upon miracle, Jesus becomes a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or Socialist.
We have all kinds of lenses that we choose. Certain Bible teachers, our personal preferences, religious practices, moral convictions, life priorities, ministries and careers, even relationships easily become our primary lens. And when we look through these, Jesus becomes a bit player in the story of our lives. And then we miss the way to life because none of these things is life. Only Jesus is. He said it himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6). We will never find life if we don’t find Christ. And not Christ as a principle, or an historical fact, but Christ as a person.
When we filter Jesus through our lenses, we keep him at a distance. We find he has no power of transformation. He looks like we want him to look and our faith is lifeless. How do we turn this around?
I recommend you start with Scripture itself. Look at the Scripture through a Jesus-lens. When we do this, things get closer and clearer. Here’s an example. In Genesis 12:3 God said to Abraham, “and in you all the families shall be blessed.” If we read that in the context of Israel, the Law, the promised land, we would think that God is talking about Israel being a nation of prominence and power. And that as God blessed them, they would share their bounty with the people of the world. That’s a grand vision for a nation but it is lifeless.
In Christ we see something else at work. We see that the blessing is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The blessing is the ultimate restoration of all things. It is complete worldwide reconciliation. It is the dethroning of sin and death. It is life forever. It is in Christ, we see Abraham’s promise more clearly. In Christ we understand the role of the Law. In Christ we see David, Israel, the church, the coming Kingdom. By starting with Christ, we put him back in the center of our faith where he belongs. We shouldn’t try to understand, or do anything without him!
- Colossians 1:19 “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
- John 14:9-10 “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?'”
Once we put him at the center, we see that Christ, his ministry, and his presence give meaning to everything. We see him at work in us and in the world around us. We realize his ministry is just as real and life-changing as it was 2,000 years ago.
In the last article, we talked about the relationship with the Trinity that we’ve been invited to. What we need to know is that this relationship is only entered into through Jesus. In Him, we know the Father. In Him, we experience the Spirit. Here’s a few things you can do to turn those binoculars around.
- Read one of the Gospels.
- Spend time in Matthew 5-7 (one of Jesus’ most complete sermons).
- Reflect on how Jesus’ ministry and teaching starts to confront any old notions you have.
- Ask him to give it his clarity on what that means for you.
I’d love to read your comments. And as always, I appreciate your likes and shares.
Move on to the next article: “Faith dries up when it gets too personal.”